(note to my readers: This post begins an occasional tribute to individuals who have made major contributions to sea kayaking)
Derek Hutchinson could be called the father of modern sea kayaking for his paddling prowess, long distance journeys, kayak designs, his entertaining talks and advanced bracing classes worldwide. To me, he earns the title by penning the first book on how to sea kayak. Called SEA CANOEING, it was published in 1976 and has been reprinted many times. I bought the third edition, published in 1984, when it first came out, and it transformed me from a wannabe to a full-fledged sea kayaker (read more about what I and many top kayakers learned from this book and Derek by linking to: http://tsunamirangers.com/2010/12/28/four-ways-to-learn-sea-kayaking/). From this book I learned how to outfit my kayak, how to navigate, how to surf, self-rescue, and roll my kayak.
Derek led a grueling North Sea expedition in 1976 from Felixstowe to Ostend. This was a long open-sea crossing, which many kayaking mariners would agree is more difficult than a coastal expedition, because there are no landmarks to guide you along and you feel so vulnerable when out of sight of land (at least I do). He also paddled in the cold Aleutian Islands—without immersion clothing!
And that brings me to an important aspect about Derek. He is very knowledgeable and opinionated—downright cantankerous in fact! If you ask him, he will tell you all about boat design, Alaskan paddles versus Greenland paddles, soft cover versus hardback books, and his development of self-rescues (for example, the “all-in” rescue). And if you prod him a bit, he will describe and then show you his patented hat trick! To see and hear him discuss various kayaking topics, click on http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1885031127921188402# and enjoy Derek pontificating in 2007 at the kayak symposium in Port Townsend, Washington. Note that not everyone present at Derek’s interview agrees with him on everything!
I don’t go along with him on some things either—for instance, his insistence that an advanced kayaker is unlikely to capsize and can at any rate roll easily on the first try in rough conditions and therefore should dress like a “sensibly turned-out hill walker” when kayaking, instead of in “a stinking, sweating, steaming and prickling” wetsuit “like an out-of-work frogman.” I think he is dead wrong about that—as even experts can mess up big time on occasion and end up swimming (I’ve blown my roll and swam dozens, perhaps hundreds of times—of course, this could be because I’m a lousy roller).
But even though I don’t always see eye to eye with Derek, I respect him for all he has contributed to sea kayaking. He has designed over a dozen sea kayaks, he has written several seminal sea kayaking books, he has made long distance trips and surfed and did seal launches and landings and paddled in ice and wind. He has developed innovative ways to rescue. And he was the first modern kayaker to accomplish these feats, now standards of modern sea kayaking. We have all benefited greatly from his contributions.
I owe Derek so much for what I know about sea kayaking, and for inspiring me to go for it and pursue my kayaking dreams. Decades ago I tried his seal launch—and it worked, even 25 feet up! And then I tried his seal landing—and it worked, even in big crashing surf on hard rocks. So when Michael Powers and I wrote our book, EXTREME SEA KAYAKING, we asked Derek if he would write the foreword, and he graciously obliged. We consider him our Sea Daddy, because even though we never took an on-water class from him, we absorbed every word he wrote.
Further, Derek is a great orator. He is the most entertaining kayaking speaker I have ever heard. He doesn’t need a multimedia show to keep his audience riveted. His sharp mind and dry British humor, combined with his myriad experiences and unique perspectives gained over a long lifetime of paddling, make for a spellbinding talk. If you ever get a chance to see and hear Derek give a presentation, and you have box seats for the symphony at the same time, give away your symphony tickets and walk right up to the front row and enjoy the Derek show.
Though Mr. Hutchinson is getting up there in age, he still goes out and paddles, still designs and produces. And he is still teaching people how to go “beyond the cockpit” in style. For those lucky enough to be in the San Francisco area next month, Derek and Wayne Horodowich will be teaching a master on-water class on bracing and edging a kayak on October 8th and again on the 9th in Emeryville. Sponsored by Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK), it will be a memorable seminar. Contact Mark Silowitz at marksilOO@msn.com for more information.
Please share what you have learned from Derek C. Hutchinson, a living legend. I didn’t have space to talk about all his books, his innovations, his years as a senior BCU coach, his sea stories, and his artwork and illustrations. So please, tell us your Derek story or share what you learned from him by commenting below this post.