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Holiday Gift Ideas for Paddlers

By Tom Watson

There was a time when gift giving between kayakers was pretty basic. Many of the items that can be bought today were only available if one fashioned it from items around the house: a used gallon milk jug became the first paddle recover float and compacter trash bags were rugged stuff sacks (they still work well today!). With the sustained interest in kayaking, and paddling in general, there are many more items and gadgets out on the kayak market to make gift giving easy – while still a bit challenging.

First and foremost, I seldom rely on my taste and judgment when it comes to serious paddling gear or apparel. By that I mean those things that must fit the paddler for safety and comfort – and their personal style. Most kayak clothing, PFDs, booties and paddles fall into this arena. Thank goodness for gift certificates! Most reputable stores would allow you to exchange a gift, too, but because length and fit for paddles, and most other items are so specific to the person, better to let them pick and choose. Believe me, if I got a certificate to purchase a snazzy PFD or $300 paddle, I’d be grateful no matter in what form that gift was presented.

That said, there are myriad items one can reasonably be assured will be accepted as a wonderful paddling gift:

Accessories are always a welcome gift. Think back the last time you went paddling? What was that one thing your buddy complained about not having? Was it a set of security cables for the boats? Perhaps it needed more reflective tape? How about a deck bag or more waterproof stuff sacks (I don’t know one kayaker who has too many stuff sacks) of various sizes and colors (bright ones to use for signaling)?

There are good towline kits and throw bags that are often used by paddlers, especially as they gain more experience and a larger circle of paddling companions. Even nylon marine type clips, cleats and buckles (metal ones tend to scratch the surface; these make handy gifts or stocking stuffer. A gift certificate from a well-rounded kayak store or marine supply house would be like a kid’s free pass to a candy store for many water enthusiasts.

Always remember to think “waterproof” when buying storage boxes or map cases. Speaking of maps, a bottle of waterproofing sealer would keep the chart addicts busy for a while. More so for coastal paddlers that inland waterway paddlers, are chart books or collections that cover popular paddling areas. I have a gazetteer map book for the state of Minnesota that shows me, county by county, every public landing and river access in the state. It’s also a great resource for finding campgrounds, too.

Most kayakers carry cameras so how about extra batteries or film or memory cards. In fact, batteries should just be included on your Christmas list every year!

I mentioned in a previous column about building a kayak and canoe library by starting with some of the fundamental books out there. Adding to that base is a simple task with so many great and wonderful tomes on the market. Besides books, consider tapes as well. Seeing a technique being demonstrated is usually more effective than merely reviewing a bunch of photos. Again, there are so many from which to choose. However, scout out any videos by Ken Ford – an early kayaking videographer other’s efforts still mimic.

A wonderful series of videos are those produced and hosted by Wayne Horodowich and his University of Sea Kayaking. They are clearly the definitive videos of techniques Wayne has been presenting at national kayak symposia for a couple of decades. Coupled with his mentor and world-reknowned instructor-author Derek Hutchinson, the pair of kayak experts share as much humor and antics as they do quality instruction. These would be “best buys” for beginner and advanced alike.

While we are on videos, if you want buy a gift for yourself – consider any of the videos by the certified crazies in the Tsunami Rangers! Their library of wild and thrilling rugged west coast kayaking videos will help you appreciate all that these guys know about handling a sea kayak in beyond-the-edge paddling conditions.

Are there fishing paddlers in your circle of friends? You might want to consider a gift certificate for a new rod, and if so, check out one of the telescopic rods by B’n’M Fishing Poles. Now I believe that any full size rod will work for fishing from a kayak. However, storage of shorter rods seem to be the preferred choice for securing on deck. A pole that telescopes from a little under six feet to out over over 12’ to 14’ feet is pretty darn handy. These poles do come in a variety of lengths, stiffnesses and styles so pickin’s should be easy.

Always good gift choices are lights and headlamps. There are many models from which to choose but brands such as Surefire, Princeton-Tec and Pelican are among quality brands with multiple models. Waterproofing is a must and a red or green light filter is an added plus most night paddlers will appreciate. Look also for a stout clip for attaching to your PFD or elsewhere.

A good knife, either with fixed blade for sturdier survival and emergency use or the quick-opening thumb release types, are always a welcome gift. Clips help knives attach to the loops on PFDs for easy access. Blades that continue on as part of the handle (as opposed to those on a hinge) are stronger but possibly more cumbersome. Brands such as Spyderco, Kershaw and Buck are good buys. Don’t forget the old reliable Swiss Army knife or the utility tool that nearly every one is making now. Many paddlers I know have several of these in their gear.

There are sunglasses that float, some binoculars that do, too. There are new waterproof and shockproof digital cameras on the market today. Sometimes things are long-lasting; they just need a touch – up. Mc Nett Corporation makes several items – from tent sealer coats to vinyl repair kits for most outdoor emergency repair applications

The list of gift ideas and sources are endless, the opportunities as broad as your pocketbook, and the joy of giving everlasting - so go for it.

Happy Holidays!


Tom Watson, an avid sea kayaker and freelance writer is also the author of "How to Think Like A Survivor" currently available on Amazon.com and most major bookstores.




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