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Canoecopia 2005: Trip Report

“It’s a Star Trek Convention for canoeists.” – Kevin Callan, he was asked what Canoecopia was by a border guard when crossing from Canada into the US.

This was the third year that I’ve attended the Canoecopia, the world’s largest paddle sport expo, and this year was the first that I could fully enjoy the show. The last two years, my old employer, a large retail chain, sent me to get ideas and spy on the competition, so this year, I went on my own. I drove 10 hours down to Madison, WI, camped out at Blue Mounds State Park, and attended two days of the show before driving back home. I’ll list my impressions, first starting with my overall impressions of this years show, and following that with reviews of the speakers I saw.

Impressions of Canoecopia 2005

My overall impressions of this years show, compared to the previous two years, were a mixed bag. The sales floor didn’t seem to be as crowded this year as in the last two years. I’m not sure why this would be, but it seemed like there may have been less vendors. I spent very little time working the show, but spent a couple hours on the floor walking around and talking to vendors.

Bell Canoe Works

The biggest addition to the show this year was the introduction of Bell Canoe Works. While I’ve always thought Rutabaga had a fine selection of canoes, they didn’t carry many that I would have actually purchased. With the introduction of Bell to their line up, they now have a ton of canoes I would buy. Bell’s booth, just like at the OR trade shows, is a large hoop that that holds all their models running from the ground to overhead. The whole crew was there including Ted Bell and their main designer David Yost. These guys are a blast and fun to be around, they love canoeing and seem to love their jobs. One sad note is that Craig Johnson, who is the national sales manager, is leaving Bell and moving to Colorado. I wish him best.

Valley and Impex Kayaks

The next couple of interesting vendors for me were Valley and Impex Kayaks. Impex had their new Outer Island kayak there. For those who don’t know, this kayak was originally built and sold as cedar strip kayak plans. It is designed by Jay Babina, and I believe still available in plans form. It made my short list of kayaks to build when I first decided to build a skin-on-frame. This kayak is absolutely beautiful. My old favorite commercially produced kayak had been the Necky Chatham, but now this one takes the cake. I’m going to build or buy one of these. Valley had their new Quarajaq there and I have to say that if I didn’t like the Outer Island so much, this would be number one. It had nice lines, and looked to be fun to paddle. I want to get this one on the water.

Ostrom Outdoors

I’m not sure if Rutabaga’s carried this brand before, but wow. As you walked into the hall, Ostrom’s booth stood big and tall. I’ve never wanted a barrel before, but now I want one.

Bourquin Boats

These cedar and canvas canoes were outstanding. They also offer classes in boat building.


Kelty had a nice display of tents, and had the Mantra 7 set-up. This has to be one of the best family big tents on the market. If you want luxury, then you should buy one of these tents.

Newfound Woodworks

These guys make some nice cedar strip canoes. I noticed on the inside of their canoes they used a semi-gloss or satin flat finish in the varnish. I will do this in my next canoe. It looked great.

Gary & Joanie McGuffin

These two photographers had a display of their photography that looked like a wave. All the shots were horizontals but all were beautiful, and gave me inspiration to get out at sunrise and sunset on the lake more often. For those that don’t know, I’m a photographer and you can see my stuff at Bryan Hansel Photography.

The Biggest News

There was a rumor floating around the hall that there was a big buyout going to happen in the paddle sports business. I’m not going to say whom, but there may be a huge shake-up in the next few months. If this happens, it will put the control of some of the biggest names in the paddle sports business under the umbrella of one big company. I hope that it doesn’t happen, because, in my opinion, less competition will result in less designs and innovation. It’s good that smaller companies, like Bell and Impex continue to produce high quality designs, because if this happens, I think the big guys will be stagnant.

The Speakers

There weren’t as many speakers this year that I wanted to go and see, which was a little disappointing for me, because I went to this show to see the speakers. I didn’t actually buy anything. There were a couple of hours where I just picked the lesser of two evils and went to that show. One note that I do need to mention is that if you are going to give a slide show, make sure that you tell the show as a journey or something other than “This is a picture of water”¦” It doesn’t mater if you make the best photos in the world if you give a slide show like this. It will be a boring presentation. Also, get excited! One speaker just mumbled on, and acted like he didn’t want to be there. Boring.

Cliff Jacobson

Cliff is a mandatory see. He has such a great pubic speaking personality, that all his presentations will be a good hour spent. I went to his Canoeing in Canada show and was impressed. Although, he started the show showing off some of the newest products that he had used in the last year. I’ve never been that big into the latest and greatest unless it makes the paddling experience simpler and lighter and more fun, but sometimes the stuff he recommends just seems to be extra stuff to drag along.

Jerry Karbon

Jerry spoke about Building and Repairing Wood and Canvas Canoes. I’ve read all the books, but never had seen one built. He had a good slide show that was fun to sit through. I learned a lot, but I think the best tip was to color the filler to the final color you will paint the canoe, so that if scratched the scratch won’t be white.

Kirk Wipper

Kirk Wipper is a legend. He is the founder of the Canadian Canoe Museum, and he gave a slightly slow slide show often going off on interesting and fun tangents. This guy has been around the world, and has probably forgotten more about canoeing than I’ll ever know.

Gary & Joanie McGuffin

Nice pictures in their slide show.

John Bauman

John is an Alaskan who likes to explore the Arctic. This slide show about the Rivers and the Artic Coast was enjoyable. I could see going on a trip with this guy, because he likes to do trips that to normal people would look crazy, like canoeing down a river and instead of finishing the river, portaging up over into the next drainage.

Tim Smith

Tim spoke about Wilderness Survival for Canoe Trippers. He is a guide from Maine and his philosophy seemed very close to that of this site and mine. The biggest thing that I took away from him was that “Shelter + Water = Survival.” And that you really need to go out use and practice skills. Reading books is fine, but knowing in your head how to start a fire in the rain means nothing when it is raining and you are cold.

Hap Wilson

This slide show was my favorite of the whole show. Hap talked about the Spiritual Sites of the Canadian Shield. He related stories of weird things that happened to him or others at pictograph sites and other spiritual sites throughout Canada. I’ve only been to one pictograph site in the Boundary Water, but I’ll have to say that I felt something there. Make sure you leave a tobacco offering at these sites.

Annie Aggens

Annie gave a presentation about paddling rivers in the Northwest Territories, and she was very inspirational for going up there. She had an unbelievable amount of energy, and gave great tips, including a top ten list.

Dr. Wendy Watson

Dr. Watson talked about Wilderness Medicine, and I went to this, because my mom told me that I should. I started to feel stick in the middle of this presentation and had to leave. I’m not sure why, but I almost fainted and had to run to the bathroom. I don’t think it was the slides, but maybe it was. It would have been ironically fun had I fainted during this.

Kevin Callan

How to be a “Happy Camper.” This was like watching the Red Green show live. It was so funny. I wish it had lasted two hours.

Bill Rogers

I’m a professional photographer, but I always am looking for ways to improve my photos. Bill gave a lecture on 10 Tips to improve your Nature Photos. I’m sure that it was great for most of the people in the room, but it was a little slow for me. Bill also does workshops, but so do I, and I go into the Boundary Waters with you and camp with you too. (Shameless self-plug over.)


Overall, this was a fun show. The speakers were top notch, and I suggest that you see Cliff Jacobson and Kevin Callan anytime that you get a chance. I will go again next year, even if I have to drive 20 hours round trip again.

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