Photo: Darren Bush/Canoecopia

By Conor Mihell
Published: March 10, 2011

It can't be denied that many of the 20,000 enthusiasts who push through the turnstiles at Madison, Wisconsin's annual Canoecopia come for great pre-season deals. But the world's largest paddlesports expo—this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, March 11-13—is about more than deep discounts on boats and gear.

The long-standing event brings together some of the world's best paddlers and gives them lecture theaters in which to talk shop. For event organizer Darren Bush, owner of Madison's Rutabaga paddling shop, it's these presentations that best capture Canoecopia's mission to educate and inspire.

Photo: Darren Bush/Canoecopia

A rough history of Canoecopia goes as follows: In 1976, previous Rutabaga owners organized a "meet the folks who build the boats" sidewalk sale in Madison; it netted a grand total of 11 canoe sales. The expo took on its current name in 1981, and has grown in terms of exhibit hall square-footage and number of visitors ever since. Early on, a not so quiet, drapery-enclosed space acted as a presentation room; today, exhibits sprawl across the 100,000-square-foot Alliant Energy Center and ten presentation rooms (including a pool for on-water activities).

Bush has been involved with Canoecopia for 21 years, and each year handpicks a roster of presenters. This year, he's amassed more than 50 paddlesports experts to present on over than 90 topics. When asked Bush to list the presentations he'd most like to attend, we received a deep sigh and a long pause in response. "Gosh, that's a really hard question," said Bush, in a phone interview.

Eventually, Bush came up with the following selections: Professional photographer David Morlock will discuss the nuts and bolts of making great images on a wilderness trip. "His work is absolutely amazing," says Bush, "and he's great at inspiring all levels of photographers to capture their best images.”

For a laugh, Bush likes to drop in on a presentation by Canadian canoe-tripper and guidebook author Kevin Callan, who this year is highlighting the most scenic canoe trips in Ontario. Sea kayaker Kim McCluskey "is talking about paddling in Brazil, Vietnam, India and all sorts of cool places," says Bush.

Photo: Darren Bush/Canoecopia

For more tactile learning, Washington state sea kayaker and boat designer Steve Scherrer is doing pool demonstrations on boat control drills and Greenland-style rolling, and wilderness first aid instructor and American Canoe Association sea kayak instructor John Browning is leading workshops in first aid, chart and compass navigation and packing a kayak. Finally, Bush said he expects Mississippi River rat Kenny Salwey’s presentation about living a simple life as a trapper, hunter and paddler on the banks of the Big River to be a highlight. "Basically, you can't go wrong with any of the presentations," said Bush. "It's a matter of what you're interested in."

If you attend, be sure to visit Canoe & Kayak magazine's booth (sidenote: anyone who purchases a boat at Canoecopia will receive a one year subscription to Canoe & Kayak magazine courtesy of Rutabaga Paddlesports). For more information, including presentation schedules and a floor plan of exhibitors, check out