Hello Fall!

Well that went quick! It feels like only weeks ago a group of us were huddled on a ledge near Seawall for a cold wet lunch during this spring’s first 3-day course! Despite that nasty beginning, it’s been a lovely sunny paddling season, with great conditions.

"Why am I doing this??"


Getting lost is more than just a navigational problem for kayakers. If our mind isn’t focused on what motivates us, this whole kayaking thing can feel a bit pointless.

This spring I’ve had a few people confide in me that after many years of kayaking, they’ve found themselves in the midst of a kayaker’s existential crisis - some variation of “What am I doing this for?” After kayaking for decades in some cases, routines can become a bit stale; initially thrilling rates of skills development can plateau; once lofty goals may look quite a bit smaller in the rear-view mirror; and sometimes the wake of our friends’ ambitions may have drawn us along on daliances that were more of a shrug than an enthusiastic nod. We may have lost sight of our goals, or simply moved past them. Whatever the cause, when we’re not in touch with what motivates us we suffer a double-whammy effect. We feel less enthusiastic about paddling, and - because state of mind has enormous effects on technical performance - we actually get worse at doing it!

Kayaking is an optional activity for all of us. None of us is out here because we have to spear the next meal, or ferry our family to far off islands to follow the seals. Even those of us who call kayaking our job have chosen that profession in lieu of pretty much any other, more prudent choice. It’s a passion, so understanding what motivates each of us to paddle is critical to enjoying it; and enjoyment is essential to doing it well.

When a friend confessed to me that their paddling verve was on a bit of hiatus, I shared the motivations that have driven me in my kayaking lifetime - and how those have changed a number of times. I came to the hobby of sea kayaking from coastal sailing, where my most enjoyable days were spent weighing my own abilities and judgement against the forces of the wind and waves in boats that weighed in tons, and hitting stuff wasn’t an option. Challenges in those boats were found pretty far from shore, and would take me a few days or a week to find. 13 years ago I had a couple very dependent humans at home under my care, so I needed a way to test my mettle against the ocean closer to shore, in much smaller time-slots. Having just moved to the Mount Dessert Island area, exploring my new Downeast surroundings by sea kayak one morning at a time seemed like a good fit. What motivated me in these first years was the quick-learning curve that we often experience when we’re quite new at something, and a good dose of adrenaline every now and then.

I realized a few years in that, while I was still having fun challenging my personal skills, I wanted to mix in something new. Training to lead kayakers, and working as a guide for a couple summers provided fresh challenges, but to be honest that path was a bit short-lived. I soon realized that I found conversations with tourists a bit dull, and what I looked forward to the most in a day with guide clients was the little bits of teaching. Following that motivation, I took off on a somewhat dizzy path of instructor training, practice instructing, starting a kayaking business, more training, shadowing mentors who seemed to teach so effortlessly, and so on. Trying daily to unlock the puzzle of how to foster learning in a particular student and in a certain environment is what drives me today. It’s a living passion, and following it is a joy - even as it makes me do all kinds of otherwise illogical things, like eating lunch on a rain-drenched rock in the ocean, on a miserable 40-degree afternoon in early May.

The question of what drives you as a kayaker, is worth reflecting on from time to time, because I’ll bet that answer has changed or evolved for most paddlers through their years on the water. The magic of sea kayaking is that it has so many facets. It can be a vessel for a wide variety of goals - serene camping explorations to charming little islands, complex expeditions to remote destinations, playing with boat control in menacingly rough waters, guiding clients in a coastal environment, or introducing friends to new skills. Knowing what excites us helps us spend our time more purposefully, whether that’s another stage of instructor training, a challenging tour with friends, working towards surfing some gnarly standing wave with grace, or doing more weekend camping with your kids.

Each of those conversations I had this spring, initiated by a kayaker’s existential woe, ended with a clearer idea of what excited that paddler. The result for one was to work towards a new certification, and for another it was turning a more analytical eye to their personal paddling skills. Personally, with my now-teenagers becoming far less dependent on me than they were 13 years ago, I’m realizing that I want to spend more time on the water with them before they move out!

Wherever the reflective process takes you this spring, I hope you find what drives your kayaking forward, and craft your paddling season to serve that passion. A meaningful destination on your horizon can be the difference between a long upwind slog, and ripping down-wind with the hissing crest of a wave under your stern.

Good luck! - Nate


I’d be interested to hear what’s driving you these days, and how you’re feeding your passion. Drop me a line at pinnipedkayak@gmail.com

Need some inspiration? Have a look at what’s on offer this season at Pinniped Kayak. Course schedule

Paddling Season is on the way!


You know what I did this week, instead of going surfing during a lovely February thaw? I finished up the 2019 course schedule for you! Proof that even extreme procrastination eventually must end! With all those hours at a keyboard finally behind me, I’m really excited to share another year on the water with all of you!

I’ll be kicking off my season at the East Coast Paddlesports Symposium in Charleston, SC at the end of March, and I’d love to see you there. It’s a perfect warm-water venue for those of us looking to escape the New England mud-season. (March 29-31)

I’ll start up in my home waters in early May, with a visit from Todd Wright. Join us for a 3-day “Season Opener”. We’ll hit some of our favorite paddling spots around MDI, including Reversing Falls, the spectacular cliffs, and wherever else the conditions take us.

You can take a look at the entire schedule at PinnipedKayak.com, and if you have questions about anything, or want to discuss your personal goals for the upcoming season, don’t hesitate to call or email me. I’d love to hear from you.

Among our varied course offerings, here are a few highlights:

  • Whitewater for Sea Kayakers - Sure 97% of the earth’s water is salty, but some of the other 3% is actually pretty fun too! Let us introduce you to WW kayaking, to hone your rough water skills, improve your sea kayaking, and give you a taste of our other favorite realm.

  • A hat-trick of our popular "3-Day Paddler Development Intensives" - Designed for maximum skills improvement, it’s sort of a soup-to-nuts instructional feast. We’ll make use of the best training venues that the MDI region has to offer, from Sullivan Falls to Otter Cliffs and beyond. Rocks, Tide Races, Open Water, etc. Available in May, July and August this season.

  • Downeast Journey Training - Wondering what lies beyond the Schoodic peninsula? Come explore a vast coastline of challenging touring opportunities - the Downeast Coast! Nate will again run a fall training expedition to the Jonesport or Machias region for those who want to expand their trip-planning skills, tour through more dynamic waters than they’ve previously paddled, or just enjoy a great fall paddling adventure with a fun group. “Hey! I can see Canada!”

  • ACA Instructor Training and Assessment available at Levels 2, 3 and 4. Sure it’s great for teachers and guides, but the biggest benefits I see from instructor training is the insight that candidates gain about their own paddling. It’s a worthwhile investment in your own personal paddling performance, and it can be a very rewarding process.


For those paddlers who are looking to make big strides in their kayaking this year (regardless of your current level), I am accepting Long-Term Students.  The most rewarding relationships that I have with students are ones which allow us to consider the long-view, and build a comprehensive plan for individual paddler development, throughout a season and beyond.  If you are interested in committing to 6 or more days of instruction this year, I will commit to helping you to make long-term gains in your paddling development, and spending time with you on goal-setting and practice-planning, as well as incorporating some more time-intensive coaching tools like video analysis into our sessions.  Please get in touch with me to discuss this possibility in more detail. 


Now is a good time to think about Equipment needs for the upcoming year.  I keep a number of items in stock, including a variety of Werner paddles, Kokatat vests, and Northwater tow systems. And I’ll be receiving orders from Kokatat, Northwater, Snapdragon, Werner, P&H, and Pyranha this spring, so I can help you out with anything I don’t currently have on hand as well. Drop me a line. (Discounts for Pinniped students!)

I hope you continue to find adventure in the outdoors this winter, and spend some evenings by the fire plotting grand summertime exploits on the water!


See you soon!

- Nate

"What will be covered during the Paddler Development Weekend?"

Recently, I received an email asking what is taught during the Paddler Development Intensive (next offered on August 25-27).    I'll admit, I've chosen a vague course title for these popular intermediate-to-advanced clusters of courses, so that I can individualize instruction to each paddler's needs and create learning experiences that are responsive to the students' skills, their state of mind, and the opportunities that the environment presents us with.  Fixed curricula or specific course titles sometimes impede learner-driven instruction.

"But really, what's covered in the course?"  Fair enough - you want to know what you're signing up for.  Specifics vary somewhat with weather and the group’s needs, but here’s a likely example of how it might go.


We’ll spend day one in a coastal venue with some surf, some ledges, some swell - working to refine existing strokes, and utilizing the energy in the environment to make maneuvering more effective.  One of our goals might be to improve our understanding of how the environment effects the boat, and learn how to select strokes to use that energy to our advantage.  

DSC_1241 (2).JPG

Day two will be at a Reversing Tidal Falls, and we’ll work on crossing eddy lines (from mild to extremely pushy, depending on each student's needs), use those skills to surf standing waves (from pequeño to grande, depending on each student's needs), practice rescues and perhaps towing in current, and maybe touch up our rolling technique in flat water and then in more challenging conditions.  Throughout, we’re looking for similarities between the different venues, and fundamental principles that improve our performance in all of sea kayaking.

Our venue for day three might depend on what the conditions are offering us, and perhaps what the students would like more of.  A likely option would be to seek a more exposed coastal venue, perhaps with a bit of offshore tide-race and do some more surfing and rock gardening, as well as a bit of safety and decision-making in rocky environments.  Incident management, difficult rescues, surf landing/launching, no-landing zone landings are all on the menu of possibilities.  In addition to continuing some existing themes (such as use of momentum, or stroke placement to improve turning effectiveness), this day might include some of the leadership concepts involved in planning and managing play in more complex coastal locales, and evaluating play spots for safety.  

This 3-day format has been well-received by students over the last few years, and I've been offering more of these options each season.  Participants have said that they appreciate the way concepts build through the three days, and how commonalities are woven from one venue to the next.  

If you've taken one of these 3-day clusters in the past, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the format, either in the comments here or in an email.   If you haven't, consider giving it a try, and let me know if you have any questions.  I'll try not to be purposely vague!

Looking forward to paddling with some of you in the coming weeks!



Leadership and Instructor training

Long before I was a sea kayaker, one of the common threads in my most enjoyable pursuits has been an interest in risk mitigation, leadership, and feeling prepared for challenges.  With my brief stint in firefighting and the swashbuckling ocean sailing adventures quite a few years behind me, I've been more than satisfied to challenge myself as a leader in the cockpit of a sea kayak for the last decade.  

While teaching leadership skills to guides and recreational paddlers has been a part of Pinniped Kayak since I started the business,  I've steadily expanded opportunities to offer leadership and instructor certifications at various levels to serve experienced ocean paddlers as well as those who are exploring more protected waters, so you too can get a flavor for one of my favorite aspects of taking to the sea with a cluster of small single-person boats.  Here are some of this year's offerings for Leadership and Instructor development, challenging paddlers at a wide variety of skill levels.

IMG_0252 copy.JPG
IMG_0284 copy.JPG
IMG_0633 copy.jpg

For paddlers and aspiring guides who are seeking leadership training for the first time, I've scheduled a 5-day Leadership and Guide Training, May 29th-June 2nd at Old Quarry Ocean Adventures, in Stonington, ME.  This course includes navigation and trip planning, as well as basic incident management, towing, rescues, and other leadership skills appropriate for everyone exploring protected coastal areas, recreationally or as part of a commercial guiding operation.

For those with established skills, who want to expand their existing skill-set with an emphasis on leadership, I am offering an ACA Level 3 Coastal Kayaking Trip Leader Training and Assessment, June 9th-10th in Ellsworth.  This leadership course caters to paddlers with previous training, who have passed a L3 Skills Assessment, or have the BCU 3-star Award.  With boat-handling and rescues already under candidate's belts, this course will be able to focus on more advanced principles of leadership, trip-planning and incident management in the coastal environment.  Successful candidates will leave with the ACA Coastal Kayaking Trip Leader Award.

Experienced paddlers who are ready to expand their leadership and paddling skills into more advanced conditions may be interested in the BCU Sea Leader Training (formerly known as 4-Star), offered by guest Todd Wright (BCU L5 Coach, Sea) of Saint Michael's College and Synaptic Sport.  This 3-day training, June 14-16, based in Ellsworth, will use the diverse paddling venues surrounding Mount Desert Island, and includes the BCU Coastal Navigation and Tidal Planning course.

Paddlers who would like to be more effective at introducing others to the sport, as well as covering aspects of effective leadership, may want to explore ACA Instructor Training, to teach paddling skills in Coastal and Advanced Coastal paddling environments.  In partnership with Carl Ladd, of Osprey Sea Kayak, we are offering ACA Level 3 and Level 4 Instructor Development Workshops on July 26-29.

Regardless of how long you've been involved in ocean paddling, and whether you aspire to guide commercially, or just want to be more effective and safer in organizing your own adventures with friends, leadership skills are fundamental ocean paddling skills that will benefit every kayaker.  We have diverse offerings that be a good fit for most every paddler, and I'd be happy to discuss which options are best suited to your needs.  Give me a call at 207-669-2174, or you can send me a message here.

Enjoy your spring paddling!



Class schedule now available!

Hello Paddlers, 

IMG_0291 copy.JPG

Your patience is finally being rewarded.  Our 2018 Course Schedule is available!

Today feels like spring!  And while a paddling friend didn't quite succeed in tempting me away from my kitchen renovation to join him on the river this afternoon, I'm definitely having a hard time keeping my mind off paddling these days!  Spring will be here before long, and with it, all kinds of adventures on the water.  I hope you all have big plans this year, and I hope to share a paddling day with you at some point.  


Among our varied course offerings this year, here are a few highlights:

  • Whitewater for Sea Kayakers, to hone your rough water skills, and get a flavor for our other favorite paddling realm.
  • Two "3-Day Paddler Development Intensives" - sort of a soup-to-nuts instructional revue, making use of the best training venues that the MDI region has to offer.  
  • Offerings appropriate for those who are getting started, or have been paddling for a while but have not had a lot of previous instruction.  Refine your fundmentals, with me, with Mark Schoon, or with Gordo Wissinger in these courses ranging from half-day clinics to a 3-day journey.  
  • Leadership courses at a variety of levels, with everything from navigation workshops, to training for guides, and BCU Sea Leader Training.
  • Journeys from 1 to 4 days, in areas ranging from the islands of Stonington to some of Maine's most challenging sections of coastline downeast.


If you have questions, course requests, or any equipment needs for the new season, feel free to call or email me to discuss them.


Thanks, and enjoy the rest of your winter!








2018 . . . A work in progress!

Hello Paddlers, 


I'm popping my head above the surface for a quick gulp of air, and to say hello.  After a great 2017 season, I'm busily preparing an even more exciting and diverse schedule for 2018, and I look forward to spending some time on the water with each of you.  


I'll try to get all my dates published on the website in the next week or so, but here are a few teasers:

  • Baja, Mexico - April 22-28 - A week of Rock Gardening, Surfing and Leadership with Jen Kleck and Nate.  $995 (includes everything except getting yourself to San Diego!)  Contact me ASAP if you are interested - 2 spots remaining.
  • Whitewater for Sea Kayakers - May 23-25 -  We are repeating this very popular class from last year, with Todd Wright and Nate (in Colchester, VT).  Students from last year remarked at how these days in WW boats improved their sea kayak skills and state of mind while on the sea.  Plus, it's just fun!  
  • BCU Sea Leader Training (previously called 4-Star) - June 26-29 - Leadership training with Todd Wright at Pinniped Kayak (MDI area).  Includes Coastal Navigation and Tidal Planning.  Candidates need to have solid 3-star (~ACA L3) skills, and can receive a 3-star assessment during the training.
  • ACA L3/L4 Instructor Training Workshop - July 26-29 - With Carl Ladd of Osprey Kayak and Nate, at Pinniped Kayak (MDI area).  Preceded by L4 Skills Assessment on July 25.

A variety of Coastal Skills trainings and multi-day Journey Trainings will of course be offered throughout the season, at various skill-levels.  I'll be in touch soon with a more complete schedule.  In the meantime, feel free to contact me with questions, course requests, or just to let me know what you have planned for your own paddling season.


Now is a good time to think about equipment needs for the upcoming year.  I'll be receiving orders from Kokatat, Northwater, Werner, P&H, and Pyranha this spring, so let me know if I can help get you outfitted.  (Also, due to a design error on a custom boat, I have a brand new Carbon/Kevlar Aries 155, looking for a home, at a great price! Ready to hit the water immediately.)



www.pinnipedkayak.com      phone:  (207) 669-2174



Guided Group Paddles - Applying skills, and building a paddling community.


Hello Local Paddlers,

Becoming a better paddler involves the right instruction, but also plenty of time on the water.  This year I'd like to help provide more opportunities for local students to get out on the water and practice their skills, outside of the formal training environment, so some of the Pinniped Kayak assistant instructors will be running Guided Practice Paddles throughout the summer.  (Let me know if you have a better name for these!)

These outings will be facilitated by an ACA instructor, who can offer paddling tips and guidance, and generally help the group have a safe, productive and well-organized time on the water.  In addition to skills-development, we'd like to help build the paddling community in our area;  we hope that these outings will allow you to connect with like-minded paddlers, and spin-off your own group outings in the area. 

Gordo Wissinger (ACA L3 Coastal Kayak Instructor, Registered Maine Guide), will be running our first two Guided Practice Paddles in the Mount Desert Island area on Sat June 17, from 1 - 5 pm, and Sat July 1, from 9 am - 1 pm.  (2017 Dates, for current GGP dates, see our front page.)  The locations will be determined based on conditions, and shared a couple days before the trip.  The cost is $45 per person.  (To keep this simple and affordable, we'd prefer that people provide their own equipment, and pay cash or check at the put-in please.  If you are in a bind with gear, perhaps we can work something out for you.)

These first paddles will be fairly low key - perhaps 6-8 miles at 2.5 - 3 knots, and keeping to fairly protected waters.  If there is interest in longer or more adventuresome trips in the future we can consider that as we add more dates.

Contact me by phone or email with questions, and if you'd like to register you can do so on the Pinniped website.  www.pinnipedkayak.com/register

See you on the water!


To be added to the local paddler mailing list, please send a request using the Contact Us form.