Blazing Paddles

A world of water



WHAT: Blazing Paddles: A Celebration of Paddlesports Around the World
WHEN: 7-10pm Thurs., June 6
WHERE: Mount Vernon’s Lincoln Theatre, 712 S. First ST.
COST: $12
INFO: http://www.paddle4ever.com or www.lincolntheatre.org

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The last time I heard from Susan Conrad, she was helping raise money for Bellingham’s Community Boating Center by giving a presentation focusing on the 1,100-mile kayaking journey she’d undertaken in 2010 that focused on her solo adventures throughout the Inside Passage. 

When Conrad contacted me a couple weeks ago to alert me about “Blazing Paddles”—Reel Paddling Film Festival’s 8th annual showcase of flicks featuring sea kayaking, whitewater kayaking, canoeing, rafting, stand-up paddle boarding and other footage from around the world—I paid attention. After all, if a woman as daring as Conrad is was excited about the roster of films, they must be worth paying attention to.

“Highlights include an accomplished Class V whitewater paddler finding strength, challenge and meaning on the river after being paralyzed from the waist down in a skiing accident; a surf ski flick that will get your heart racing; and some incredible whale footage so close you’ll feel like you’re right there next to them in your kayak,” Conrad says of the June 6 event, which will take place at Mount Vernon’s Lincoln Theatre.

And, since long-distance expedition paddling is Conrad’s specialty, she’s happy to report the film festival will also include a documentary following four men in canoes through approximately 2,600 miles of self-propelled adventure—beginning in Alaska and ending in Hudson Bay. Another film, she notes, highlights a British couple’s 1,000-mile sea kayak trek in South America’s Tierra del Fuego islands.

“Shipping delays, a stolen kayak, endless red tape, incessant winds and injury all added drama to this amazing undertaking,” Conrad says.

Although Conrad stresses that “Blazing Paddles” isn’t just for those who make paddlesports a part of their everyday lives, she does allow there are common elements for those who love to get from point A to point B via lakes, oceans, rivers and various other bodies of water.

“I think paddlers love the sense of adventure and freedom that comes with being on the water,” she says. “From the vantage point of a low-slung cockpit, one’s perspective, sense of scale and appreciation (and sometimes fear!) for all that we encounter is pretty amazing stuff.

“When I get into a kayak my mind defaults into a sublime state within a few strokes. No matter how crummy my day might be going, settling into a kayak is like pressing the ‘reset’ button. Paddling helps me establish and maintain balance, stability, grace and focus in life when off the water.”

As a year-round kayaker, Conrad is aware that not every moment spent paddling is going to go perfectly. But after traversing more than 1,100 miles from Anacortes to Skagway, Alaska a few summers ago—and dealing with bears, bad weather, hypothermia and other obstacles along the way—she’s confident she can take care of herself while still doing what she loves.

It’s likely that among the gathering of people who show up to watch “Blazing Paddles,” Conrad will be asked if she plans to paddle the Inside Passage again. It’s a question she gets often, and the answer is that she’d repeat the journey “in a heartbeat.”

Meanwhile, she and her boyfriend are tackling legs of the trek she made in 2010, with an autumnal journey planned that will take them from their house on the Stilliguamish River to Powell River, which was her first re-supply point when she made the trip on her own.

“We’ll get it done!” Conrad says, and, given her past, I believe her.

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