Friday, May 30, 2008

Canoe Club Offers More Than Rowing

Story by Sharon Kivisto Photos by Sharon Kivisto and Matt Pranger
originally posted 08/14/2007
David Halpern's expertise and enthusiasm and a 400-pound outrigger canoe on loan from Everett will open up a new world of experiences for islanders. The former Olympian has started the San Juan Island Canoe and Kayak Club. The open house held on Sunday, Aug. 12 was typical of the family-oriented relaxed type of gathering, the club has in mind.
People of all ages paddled, six at a time, in the sturdy outrigger canoe. Meanwhile others talked around the campfire, children played in forts made out of driftwood, others strolled up and down the beach.
"It's amazing," said Willow Seaton, a Friday Harbor fifth-grader after a ride. "I've lived here all my life and the island is much more beautiful from the water."
She sat in five of the six positions in the boat - all but the steering position. She now plans to take up rowing in college.
A fellow elementary student also was impressed. "It's cool, it's quick, it makes good time," said Matthew Stepita.
Halpern started paddling when he was 10-years-old. In high school, his instructor taught white water slalom racing, believing the precision required made the students safer kayakers. Later Halpern switched to flat water kayaking and became "really good suddenly" and ended up qualifying for the Olympics. He competed in the 1984 Olympics.
Ten years ago, Halpern developed a club in Seattle which won the National Championship three years in a row. The San Juan Island Club is not about racing, per se. The choppy water is not conducive to the racing kayaks which require flat water. "It's not about the racing, it's about the teamwork," he said.
Halpern's family has had a place on Lopez Island for 30 years. He's been on Lopez full-time for three years and moved to San Juan Island a year ago. When he thought of forming a club here using an outrigger, things fell into place. The Hui Wa'a O' Puget Sound (Everett) club provided an outrigger, the Port of Friday Harbor provided storage.
In an interview Simpson said, "It's one of our policies to promote boating and this seems like a perfect fit."
The outriggers are traditionally used in Hawaii. The 400-pound weight is required to keep up the tradition. The original outriggers were constructed from koa wood. If the San Juan Island Club decides to race, they will be able to do so under the Everett club so they won't need to transport the outrigger. The ferry fees for the long boat would be too costly, said Halpern.
"I hope the club ends up multi-purpose," Halpern said. Racing, kayaking, overnight trips or just exercise. "There are fabulous marine trails up and down the Sound," he said. "People will need to make the club their own. The key is it is family-friendly and there is no pressure on the kids."
The San Juan Island club usually meets at Jackson Beach beside the net shed on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 to 6 p.m.
For more information contact Halpern at 360.378.5721 or email Halpern has an email list he sends out with updates of the club's schedule.

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