Sea kayaking is a sport predicated on the individual. Its largely one paddler per boat, and its an easy sport to do alone. We spread out along vast coastlines, rarely running across one another, and when we do we pass with a nod or a wave. The West Coast Sea Kayak Symposium in Port Townsend, Washington is the rare event that brings the core of our sport together, building connections and community. We took the opportunity to pin down a few of our favorite members from that diverse community for a photo and a few words.

Four Paddling Personalities

McKinley Rodriguez

Wendy Killoran

Ginni Callahan


The Kid

The kid is stealing the show.

Half a dozen well-known kayakers are demonstrating their rolling skills in a shallow patch of Puget Sound framed by a sandy beach and a brace of wooden piers. The crowd is here to see a paddling savant calling himself Dubside, and his flawless routine—rolling with a lighted candle, rolling while clutching a brick, now rolling with no hands at all—draws roars of applause.

But the best kayak roller on the planet can't compete with that smile.
She is just sitting there in her three-quarter-size skin kayak, clutching a miniature Greenland stick, beaming cherubically behind braces and a thick neoprene hood.

Occasionally she rolls too—back deck, front-deck, hands-only, and with the norsaq, a traditional Greenlandic spear-thrower the size and shape of a windshield ice-scraper. When she misses a difficult roll she calmly sets up again and nails it, with textbook-perfect technique, and—wait for it—that dazzling smile. The crowd goes ape.

The photographer sidles up to the writer, says "What about the kid?"
"Of course the kid," says the writer. He already has a plan: Talk to the dad first, the one out there in the big skin kayak, not rolling, looking proud.

Now Dubside pulls out his bowling ball. This is the newest parlor trick in kayak rolling, and the crowd oohs and aahs in anticipation as Dub hefts the eight-pound orb, clowning a bit, milking it. He pauses, smiles knowingly, flips left and rolls up again, still clutching the ball. He repeats the trick on the right, passes the ball to Leon Somm, who makes it look easy and then sculls over to the kid, hands her the bowling ball.

The smile, if possible, gets bigger; the crowd roars its approval. The kid can barely hoist the ball. The finger holes are too wide and far apart, so she clutches the thing in both hands, looks at her dad, takes a deep breath . . . and rolls on the first try.

The kid has stolen the show.

The writer wades knee-deep into the sound, corners the dad, says leadingly, "You must be very proud." And of course Marcel Rodriguez is proud. He talks about the kid's kayaking program he runs, and how his daughter McKinley helps teach the other kids at the camp, and the adults too. Marcel helped McKinley build her first skin kayak four years ago, when she was seven. The family is just back from a six-day kayaking expedition in Chile, and has sampled whitewater on Washington's White Salmon River. "I swam," says the dad, obviously pleased, "and she said 'I'm gonna do it again!' She spanked me."

Now McKinley is out of her boat, asking her dad, "Can I jump off the dock?" And she does, a half-dozen times, before sitting down in the sand for her first-ever magazine interview and photo shoot.

Read about McKinley’s kayaking trip to Patagonia with her family.

She enjoys these gatherings, where she can paddle and play with a group of instructors' kids. "I also like to do mulage—that's disaster-simulation makeup," she says. "I've got an arm and a stump that squirts blood. That's not my main hobby though. I do Tae Kwon Do too."

"And the violin," prompts dad.

Yes, the violin. How does a kid find time? That's easy. She doesn't play video games, and doesn't really care for television. Says dad: "You couldn't reproduce our Chile trip in an X-Box game."

by Jeff Moag