Two years ago I traveled to Washington to help my friend Bob Kelim build my first skin-on-frame qajaq. I remember the excitement of taking it on the water for the first time… the snug fit, the slightly unstable feeling from never being in a kayak of such low volume, my first roll in it. I even remember hearing a Merle Haggard song playing loudly from a truck parked in the parking lot… Mama Tried. I was happy that the qajaq not only floated, but moved in a straight line… and I had played a huge part in building it.
Over the past few months the qajaq had begun taking on water. The skin was cracking, and the bottom of it clearly showed three distinct marks on each side from where my heels pressed against it depending on whether I was doing layback rolls, forward finish rolls or just out for a paddle in the majestic Pacific Ocean or one of the lagoons nestled amongst the redwoods where I live.
The qajaq needed some TLC, and I took it to my friend Michael Morris’s house, to begin the process of re-skinning it. As Michael stood over it with a sharp knife, I was surprised by all of the memories that jumped through my head. I had looked at this as a project, a chore in a way, but as I looked at my qajaq I thought about all of the places that it had been… the rolls I’d learned in it and the rolling demonstrations that I’d done. I was concerned that this project might change my qajaq. Would it be the same?
The sharp blade slowly cut the skin, and I was happy with how intact the frame remained. There were two broken ribs, the one at the very front and the one at the very back. I have never used a seat or any kind of padding, and Michael and I laughed that the rib that I sit on had taken on my shape of my butt. The cockpit had two small cracks, and there was a thick line of packed sand on the bow and stern, probably picked up from many beaches, many surf launches and landings and the sand that inevitably had been knocked off my feet from hikes on beaches that only kayakers can get to and explore.
Michael and I stood in the rain, hosing off the sand and laughing with the memories of paddles of the past two years. Now my kayak sits in his garage, slowly drying. Soon we will fix all the flaws that have developed over time, each with its own memory. It has been two wonderful years, and I look forward to the new memories that will surely form as this qajaq once again hits the sea.