Got your seatbelt on?

The paddling season is here! As we venture onto the water the question is whether or not you’ll be wearing your ‘seatbelt’ aka life jacket, buoyancy aid also known as a personal flotation device or pfd.

Carrying your jacket is one thing, putting it on in an emergency situation in the water another. Why not set the new trend and wear it during all paddlesport activity this season and forever more?

When out with your friends practice trying to put your pfd on in the water after doing a wet exit with your jacket in the boat, how long does this take? Is it easy to do? Can the jacket be put on in the water under conditions, i.e. wind, waves?

The law for requiring mandatory wearing of seat belts passed in NY in 1984. New York was the first state to pass this law. The whys and wherefores for wearing seat belts is well know, many people were injured in accidents as a result of not having a belt on. The same could be said for paddlesport fatalities and rather than wait for the statistics to increase, lets do our part and wear ours on the water.

The coast guard recreational boating statistics are in for the number of casualties in paddlesport. Sadly, the death toll is going up. Even with jackets on as hypothermia comes into play if the correct paddle clothing isn’t worn.

As a paddling community we can do our part to educate ourselves and friends about the benefits of wearing pfds, least not is that there are people on land who want to see you return.

For a full copy of the report and presentation please email Andrea on Alternatively you can contact the ACA for the same report,

To check the laws in the states you’re paddling,

The goal for our paddling community is to see a fall in fatalities, wear your ‘seatbelt’, learn the rules of the road, leave a paddle plan, paddle together, have fun and enjoy!


Creative Collaboration- Adaptive Paddling in Western NY

On June 3-5th 2016 ten ACA Adaptive Paddling Endorsement candidates representing organizations across New York State, New Jersey, Ohio, Maine and Virginia came together in Western New York to learn best practices for working with people with physical disabilities in paddlesports.

Southern Tier Stand Up Paddle Corp, Binghamton University, LLBean, Stride, Fairfax County Park Authority, City of Light Fitness, Island Paddlers, Buffalo Riverkeepers, Heritage Christina Services, YPRC club, Breakaway Excursions and Seabirds International were represented. The camaraderie amongst the candidates was apparent throughout the course as new friendships and partnerships were formed.

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The APW was funded through a variety of sources to make the workshop more financially accessible to the candidates. Joe Moore of Adaptive Expeditions,, was the lead instructor for the course and shared that ‘this was likely the lowest cost APW in history of the ACA’. Each candidate paid only $150 towards the course costs.

Donations were received from the 2015 Paddlefest in Buffalo, NY, (, Eric Hahn and the Blue Sky Grant. In addition the Cattaraugus Community Center in Irving, NY donated classroom, workshop and pool time as match funding. We are grateful for their support.

In exchange, newly endorsed ACA instructors are expected to deliver at least two adaptive paddling classes or excursions over then next year. As we strive to develop the paddling community in Western NY State, working in partnership with these committed instructors is essential.


We are fortunate in this part of the planet to have access to many places to paddle. There are historic waterways, beautiful rivers and a couple of great lakes to enjoy. Physical access is being improved as the waterways develop here so that paddlers can safely access the water. With over 350,000 physically disabled people in Western New York and the growing paddlesport community here in Western New York the need for accessible opportunities is apparent.

Steve Spitz of the Western New York Adaptive Water Sports,, is developing a paddling program for their members.

“The diverse resources and skill sets that came together in this APW was unique.  Upstate New York presents excellent potential to become a hub for all types of adaptive paddling.” Joe Moore


Luther Vic expressed thanks as ‘the candidates I worked with made me feel extremely comfortable and at ease as they didn’t treat me differently ’. The feedback from the volunteers is key as we grow our skills as instructors and coaches.


During the evaluation Marty Grew shared that ‘Good things happen when we try’.

Others commented that ‘the course started me thinking’, ‘I overcame my fear of kayaking’, ‘flexible and patient instructors’, ‘wonderful venue’, and ‘hands on learning- I was in my glory!’

Thanks to everyone who made this course possible and especially to the participants and volunteers who gave up their time to join us for the first Adaptive Paddling Workshop in the beautiful and inspiring Buffalo Niagara region. We are making a difference in Western New York by working together to share our passion for this growing discipline.





Tis the season for safety on the water

GLSKS rescues copyThe sun is shining, the kayak is on the car and the destination is set. Before any paddling activity, planning is key. Have you checked the weather, shared your paddle plan with someone who isn’t going on the adventure and packed the essentials?

The essentials can save your life. Do you have a buoyancy aid or life jacket; will you wear the correct clothing, i.e. clothes that can tolerate immersion? The sun may be out and feel warm as we sit in our boats, should we end up in the water however due to a rouge wave, jet ski wake or misplanted paddle blade, the conditions can change rapidly leading to hypothermia as in the case with the North Face Founder, Douglas Tompkins – Even experienced paddlers run into difficulty when least expected.

Know your limits. If you are on a paddle and start to feel out of your skill range head back, ensure your paddling partners accompany you. Exhaustion on the water can lead to difficult situations and the lack of ability to get back into your boat, even if you’ve practiced self-rescue a thousand times. Paddle with at least two friends, preferably five so that if help is needed, two can paddle back to get help and two can stay with the injured paddler.

Why is safety so important? Kayaking is a risk sport and anything can happen on the water. In my paddling career, I’ve rescued sailboats, rowers and other kayakers. Hypothermia was a factor due to lack of correct clothing. Having experienced hypothermia first hand, I can attest to the seriousness of being prepared on the water.

Why not take a course to get you started? NY State parks offers smart start paddling as part of their education programing. You can also take a safety and rescue or a skills development course with local American Canoe Association instructors, Paddlesports North America also has instructors who are able to offer these courses,

If you are new to the sport and want to try kayaking, ensure that the company you choose to paddle with employs qualified instructors and licensed guides. You can check on the DEC licensed guide list-, guides are also listed with the NY State Outdoor Guides Association

Your safety is paramount! When going out on the water for instruction or a guided tour, ask to see proof, i.e. the licensed guide card and instructor qualification card. Being on the water with someone who is not only qualified but knows how to rescue you and will follow safe practice is a great start to your paddling career.

Before venturing onto the water, learn the ‘rules of the road’. The American Canoe Association has great information to help you on your way,

IMG_0025 copyPractice your skills with your kayaking friends and never paddle alone. Always wear your pfd/life jacket and let someone know where you are going. Always carry a spare paddle, have a repair kit, marine radio, cell phone in water proof case, high energy snacks and fluids, a whistle, chart and compass, pump, signal, spare clothing in a drybag, be able to swim with your boat, depending on your ability- paddle close to shore and always check the weather before starting the car. You can download a packing list in downloadable forms on the bottom right of the page-

Learn how to use a spray deck/spray skirt if you are planning on paddling on the lake or ocean, even for trips on rivers. The deck helps keep your boat dry, when paddling in waves or rough conditions without a deck water can enter your cockpit and cause you to loose balance as the water quickly fills up your boat.

Taking a lesson from a qualified instructor will insure that you know what to do in any situation whilst wearing a deck or not. The spray deck can be a trap hazard if the toggle at the front of it is not out of the boat, always check it’s on top so that you can grab it as you lean and pull the toggle towards the bow to exit your boat. If it is trapped, you can release the deck from the side of the cockpit and pull it up to free yourself.

As it’s the start of the season and many of us are rusty from lack of paddling over the winter, practicing rescues and working on improving your paddling skills will help you avoid the ‘catastrophe curve’. This is something that can happen very quickly on the water with or without paddling partners.

An incident happens leading to the curve, i.e. someone comes out of his or her boat, other paddlers go to assist and others end up in the water as the weather changes, lack of experience and exhaustion kicks in, we know what happened to Mr Tompkins. A few months prior, a University of Buffalo student also died from hypothermia whilst kayaking in New Zealand And sadly closer to home a solo paddler got into difficulties, This is not uncommon for the sport and can happen to anyone at any time, be prepared!

As a paddler you have a duty of care to others on the water. As your safety, rescue and personal paddling skills develop so do your responsibilities within the group. Those in the group with the highest level of training and experience can be held accountable in the event of an incident. When paddling in groups, it’s important that the group works together so that the ‘unknown unknowns’ can be met and dealt with swiftly and safely. Know your group and ensure everyone’s paddling skills are suited for the activity.

When working in groups, Instructors follow strict ratios, one instructor to five paddlers (sometimes the number of paddlers is smaller due to the conditions)- this is to ensure safe group management. Paddlers are no more than two boat lengths away so that a rescue can be dealt with quickly. If you are with a large group, identify who the competent paddlers are and know your limits! There are five coaches in the picture below making the ratio almost one to one for the sea environment we were paddling in. 

Seabirds International

While out enjoying the waterway, always consider your impact as this can have safety implications with wildlife. There are reports of bear encounters in the Georgian Bay islands ( and on the Allegheny River corridor. Black bears have learned that kayakers carry food, dry bags have been removed from boats and bears wanting to share the food have approached paddlers refueling. Be bear wise and don’t leave food unattended, never throw food at a bear in an effort to distract the animal as this practice has helped the bears to associate paddlers with food, use a bear vault and/or bear hang on your adventures.

The sun is out, the kayak and gear are packed, the paddle plan has been shared, marine radio and cell phone are charged up, long term forecast is clear and conditions are perfect. With everything planned and packed, the paddle is a go!

Paddle safe, paddle smart and enjoy the season 😉


Women’s Only Paddle Sessions

Buffalo Trek June Issue

Support for womens only sporting events is growing. This is great news as the benefits of encouraging females participation in sport (any sport) is evident.

For women and girls the world over there is a strong link between participation in sport and physical activity and their health and general well being.

Being active not only improves health but self worth. There is evidence that mental health can also be improved by becoming involved in sport.

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Barriers to sport are often to blame for lack of participation.  Lack of time, cost, lack of courses and opportunities, a general fear of being physical in front of other people can all have a negative effect on females in sport.

One of the women involved with the Seabirds Network in the United Kingdom shared her own experience of learning a new kayaking discipline and how, once the women decided to train separately from the men, her skill levels improved much more rapidly.

Gender ‘norms’ can lead to a lack of confidence in sport; sometimes participating with other genders can also lead to feelings of inadequacy.

Having mixed courses has tremendous value as both genders can challenge each other to promote learning. Having all female groups however brings a new dynamic to a course. One that naturally lends itself to a less competitive learning environment and is often more suited to potential paddlers who might be a bit unsure of their skills.

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Clearly there’s no shortage of female interest in paddlesport especially paddleboarding which has the largest number of qualified female instructors compared with kayaking and canoeing.

For now, however, kayaking is male-dominated. The 2014 Outdoor Participation Report highlighted that ‘both females and minority groups are significantly underrepresented in every paddlesport category.’

The United Nations created a Sport and Gender: Empowering Women and Girls document and state:

Despite such widespread global recognition of the important empowerment potential of sport for women and girls, and sports’s specific role in attaining the goals of gender equity, the recent UN report on women, gender equality and sport, Women 2000 and Beyond: Women, Gender Equality and Sport, found that the extent of discrimination against women and girls in sport demands further action and successful strategies and programs must be scaled-up and expanded.

I’ve had many women say to me ‘my husband is out paddling, we bought a boat and share it’. I’ve also had others say that ‘my husband/boyfriend is out fishing with his friends and I want to try kayaking’.

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Seabirds International is working in partnership with the NY State Department of Environment and Conservation as part of their Becoming Outdoors Women program in WNY, to provide women’s only kayaking opportunities,

Womens Wednesdays and Seabirds Saturdays will be held throughout the 2015 paddling season culminating in The Big Sea Kayak symposium in England in September,

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Having a female focused activity provides an opportunity to improve paddling skills and learn new ones in a supportive, fun and non-competitive environment. When participants were asked what the best thing about participating in an all-female course was? They responded freely:

  • Similar learning style, no one person was trying to show off
  • Training with like minded people
  • Coaches that understand females
  • It was a more relaxed atmosphere and a more honest learning environment because everyone seemed happy to talk about their strengths and weakness openly.
  • It was empowering and made me feel proud to be a female paddler!
  • Great as a confidence builder as I realized that I am not the only one who has self-doubt, I don’t think that men would verbalize this fact. Can’t learn if you’re fearful!
  • Having the confidence to practice without feeling intimidated.
  • Atmosphere feels supportive and not competitive.
  • I can be me!
  • Considering I was a bit nervous that I wouldn’t be up to standard it’s been far from intimidating, very open and I’ve learned a lot!

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Interested in learning with women and girls in an all female environment? There are plenty of opportunities locally and further afield, Ladies of the Lake, held in Michigan since 2007 is a great opportunity to connect with other female paddlers, learn new techniques and have fun,

The WOW (Women on the Water) symposium in Ontario is in its second year and is so popular that it is sold out,


Additional resources:


For female runners:


Seabirds International

Does a bear sh#t* in the woods?

One educators experience with ADK’s leave no trace team.

Driving up to Heart Lake I was filled with anticipation. I’d been an unofficial advocate for LNT in the UK for twenty years and was excited to be participating in the master educator course.


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I was interested in learning new methods and being challenged to think and behave differently when in the outdoors.

The seven principles were introduced the first day and throughout the course participants delivered activities for the principles. We moved location each night in an effort to experience different environments and see first hand our impact.

We learned more than anticipated, shared much laughter and made new friends. Pooping in the woods with people you don’t know has this beneficial outcome!


Our first night in the field we camped on an island that was suffering from human activity. On the island was someone’s leftover dinner, toilet tissue from many, graffiti and an overflowing pit loo. We even met another visitor who chose to bully our group for setting up camp first. Humans ‘eh? Give me bears any day!

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The second day we paddled to a peninsula that was linked to a high impact campsite. We had trail visitors and shared the LNT principles to those who expressed an interest showing them the bear hang and describing fun ways to poop in the woods.


We landed for the final night as a bear was finishing his duty not far from our campsite. After three nights of erecting bear hangs and eating before dusk and well lets face it – not using any products with perfume or any flavor/smell that could entice our large friends- we were going to be sharing our space with a black bear.

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There was no concern about the potential for a bear blunder as we’d followed the principles and were especially respectful of the wildlife in our midst, including the loons and bald eagles. By the end of the course I most definitely had developed a new appreciation for being in and learning from the outdoors.

Upon returning to the woodland where I live, I began to mull over some of the thought provoking discussions we’d had during the course. One activity in particular posed a question about feeding wildlife. We know that feeding wild animals can have a severely negative impact on the species involved even changing reproductive systems of animals that eat our processed western food.

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So how does this relate to feeding birds from the birdfeeder? We are fortunate to have hummingbirds in Western New York and watching these winged jewels alight on our feeders brings pleasure to thousands of people each season. Not to mention all of our migrating birds and native species appearing to benefit from the additional food source in the snow-laden months.

I spend a lot of time outdoors and enjoy wildlife gardening. I questioned if my garden was enough for the birds and chose to stop filling the feeder. This self-imposed restriction as a direct result of my time on the LNT master educator course had a profound impact on me.

Not only did the hummingbirds visit my garden, I actually saw more. I found myself observing the activity amongst the flowers in the garden and in the woodland surrounding the property, experiencing the great outdoors more fully as a result.

How then would the LNT principles affect my work as a kayak instructor I wondered? I have noticed in just one season how greatly the sport is impacting on the environment. Especially with the bears…

Reports during the 2015 season included bears approaching kayakers in the Georgian Bay. A notice was posted in September for one island in particular,

Stories ranged from kayakers throwing their food at the bears to give them time to escape in the Georgian bay to a bear in Allegheny taking a dry bag out of a kayak during the middle of the day to each the lunch that had been stored inside it. The bears now know that kayaks are water coolers and are paddled by creatures carrying food.

On the course bear stories were shared one involving ‘Yellow’ who learned how to open the bear cans. Others were of cubs that had been taught to climb up the tree and chew the rope for the bear hang. Mama cub would wait below to get the hanging treats. Smart cookie!

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Many paddlers are new to the sport and may not have considered the full impact of paddling on the marine environment. Our use of water sites can cause erosion, rubbish can accidentally be left behind or blow out of boats if not stored properly, sunscreen in the water may also affect the marine environment,

When we don’t wash our boats and equipment we can unknowingly transport invasive species.

From a day paddle with a lunch stop to an overnight camp trip or expedition we have the ability to leave no trace and grow into better citizens of the planet by following the seven principles:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  3. Dispose of waste properly
  4. Leave what you find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife- don’t feed the bears when paddling or anytime!
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

As a Master Educator I am looking forward to sharing my new found LNT skills with my students, friends and family.

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Thanks to ADK’s fearless instructors Ryan and Seth, the participants who made the experience exceptional and LNT for a life changing course!


Andrea Vaillancourt-Alder
Seabirds International

Get Your Paddle On!

Paddling is one of the fastest growing watersports with boats available from most outdoor outfitters. Having access to affordable equipment is a huge incentive for people to start paddling.

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So you’ve got your boat and now what?

With any new sport instruction is recommended. A few lessons when you are first starting out could potentially save your life as well as preventing injury.

Paddling is an all body sport utilizing your arms, your core muscles, your legs and feet as well as the equipment. ‘Body, Boat and Blade’ is a common phrase amongst instructors as to be an efficient paddler you will use all three.

‘Why do I need kayak lessons?’ is a question I am often asked. ‘I used to kayak/canoe as a kid so don’t need lessons’. ‘I just like sitting in my boat and don’t go very far so I don’t need lessons’ are also common statements.

The important questions to ask before plunging into the water are:

Do I fit in this boat?

Can I get in without capsizing?

Is there enough body contact with my boat so I can control my paddling?

Do I know how to make the boat go forward, backward, sideways?

Do I know how to rescue myself?

Can I rescue my paddle partner?

GLSKS rescues copyLessons will not only help beginners learn how to be safe on the water but can help experienced paddlers improve on their existing paddle technique. With instruction you can gain the skills to take your boat on expedition-travelling the planet exploring beautiful waterways. You can learn to roll, become an instructor and even train for the Olympics.

To find an instructor, Buffalo Trek has a list of organizations and outfitters in the paddling directory who offer lessons as well as boat rentals.

The paddlesports organizations that ensure instructors are qualified and up to speed with current practice have a contact list for coaches, courses and clubs. This can be a great starting point for a long and healthy paddling career.

Paddlesports North America – covers North America,

The American Canoe Association – covers the USA

Paddle Canada – covers Canada

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How to choose?

Everyone learns differently and each instructor brings something unique to a lesson. It’s important to find an instructor or coach you are comfortable learning with.

Whether you are new to the sport or a seasoned professional in order to get your paddle on first learn what to do and then practice throughout the season.

Any sport that involves an element of danger be it drowning, a shoulder injury or hypothermia should be approached with smarts, learn first and always try before you buy a boat.


Safe and happy paddling 😉

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