By Jeff Moag
I spent last weekend at Canoecopia, the biggest gathering of paddling aficionados in the world. For three days each March, a nondescript exhibit hall in Madison, Wisconsin becomes the center of the paddling universe. When this many paddlers, boatbuilders and gear purveyors gather in the same place, good things are bound to happen. Here, in no particular order, are nine of them.
1. One of the sport's legendary names, Ted Bell, is back in the game, building composite canoes under the aegis of his new company, Northstar Canoes. Seems I'm not the only one happy to see the master back in the game—when I stopped by on Saturday afternoon, all but one of the dozen canoes in the NorthStar booth already had a 'sold' sticker on it.
"We're not making a lot of canoes," Ted says, "but I've had my hands on every one of them. Just don't ask me to answer the phone."
2. My new friend Rob is sending me a new Helinox Swivel Chair (bigagnes.com; $140) to review. The rugged camp chair weighs all of 2.5 pounds, folds up as small as an umbrella and—spoiler alert—is really, really comfortable. Plus, you can spin it like an office chair, which brings out the kid in all of us. The Helinox line of camp chairs (there are high-back, ground-level and no-swivel versions as well) come from the folks who supply the ultra-light, ultra-tough poles for Big Agnes tents.
3 & 4. My old friend Justine has a new sea-kayaking film, "Kayaking the Aleutians," about her 1,500-mile expedition along the length of the Aleutian island chain with round-the-world adventurer (and rookie kayaker) Sarah Outen. Justine has been barnstorming North America the last few weeks, showing the film to rave reviews and doing a fair bit of paddling as well. I put on my fanboy hat and asked Justine to autograph a copy of our December 2014 issue, which has a feature story about Sarah and Justine's Accidental Epic. Not only did Justine sign the mag, she gave me a copy of the film to watch on the flight home. So that's two good things.
5. I met Troy Roper and his EmberLit stove. This lightweight wood-burning cookstove folds up to the approximate size and shape of a "Kayaking the Aleutians" DVD. The key is the patented feed hole, which allows you to stoke your cookfire all night with one medium-sized stick of deadfall. Available in either stainless steel (emberlit.com, $45, 11.3 oz) or titanium ($85, 5.45 oz), these little stoves are strong enough to support a cast iron Dutchie, and efficient enough to boil a liter of water in about 9 minutes.
6. Speaking of innovative, Troy's business card is a magnifying lens. You can use it to remember his phone number or start a fire.
7. I couldn't break Nova Craft's new canoe material, either. Billed as a replacement for Royalex, Tuff Stuff is a combination of molten-and-spun volcanic rock and a special plastic called Innegra. Sounds tough, is tough. The boys from Nova Craft threw one off a 100-foot building, and didn't break it. The MEC crew tossed it, wrapped it, pummeled it, and still didn't break it. With no tall buildings or canyons available, I played Hop-on-Pop on a 16-foot Tuff Stuff Prospector. I also failed to break it.
So how does it paddle, you ask? We'll let you know next month, when we take it and other potential Royalex replacements down Wisconsin's Apple River.
8. A guy named Randy Isselin from Bellingham, Washington, makes the most beautiful laminated Greenland Sticks I've ever seen (northpointpaddles.com; from $259).
9. C&K reader Kim Harper of greatlakespaddlers.org contributed my favorite paddling life-hack. Kim, who's about 5'2", uses a $10 bath mat to help load her kayak onto her car. She drapes the mat over the back of the car, sets the bow of the kayak on the mat, and slides it smoothly onto the rack.
Here’s that 100-foot canoe drop video, just because.