Kayaking in Style


Today is, as promised, a very special photoblog and it’s because of one person: Skip Izon.  He owns Shadow River Boatworks.

Skip is an amazing boat builder and Peter and I met him last Saturday when we were wandering around peering at the art galleries and boats on River Road in Grand Bend.  Which, honestly, is fast becoming my favourite place to be.  I LOVE the lake and the people we’ve spoken to.  

Today’s pictures are courtesy of the kayak Skip had on display outside one of the galleries.  It is a work of art and you’ll see why.  

One of his rowing shell designs, designed with Hudson Boat Works, went to three Summer Olympics starting in ’84 and brought home medals with the Canadian teams.  Awesome eh?  Mad River Canoe put one of his designs into production with the help of Gary and Joanie McGuffin, a husband and wife team of Canadian adventures.  (Phew that’s a lot of links!)

He builds custom boats and takes great care to make them the best available.  With lists of goals, constraints and specifications, he does everything by hand and in his head.  

This sounds like an advertisement doesn’t it?  It’s not, I’m just so impressed with this guy that I can’t help but tell you about him.  I’ve always wanted to learn to kayak and if I had the money I’d learn in one of Skip’s boats.  

This particular canoe is his 2011 Chipmunk design.  It is roughly 14’3″ long and 45-50 pounds.  It’s made of British Columbia red cedar and trimmed in white ash (I believe that’s what this one is) with touches of mahogany.  This video talks about the design, though the pictures here are not of the canoe he was displaying last weekend.  This one talks about Skip and his successes.

Let’s get on with it, shall we?   (It is obvious in some places that I don’t know kayaks very well, forgive me and keep going eh?  😉 )

Nice sharp line in the bow plows through the water with ease. And right away you can see the craftsmanship.

Skip builds the boats then coats them in fiberglass.  He follows that up with three or four layers of epoxy, sanding  carefully and thoroughly.  Then it’s finished with three or four layers of varnish.  The result is something that appeals to my collector-of-shinies side.  

Down the starboard side you can see the overhang that not only gives this boat its name but throws the water outwards and helps keep her bow up should a wave come at you from behind and try to force it down.  The boat surfs well.   

You can see part of the double paddle he built as well.  It too is a beautiful piece of work.  

Along the port side here you can get a feel for the length of the boat. And a better view of the wider gunwale he’s created for stability. Makes it less tippy.

 You can also see the length of the cockpit and the open storage space.  The coaming he’s built here helps keep the water out.  

Here’s the stern. He’s created the stern to lengthen the water line as you pick up speed. And the wing shaped skeg below helps force the bow up in the event of a wave from behind.

Skeg is a funny word and it took me some time to figure out what he was saying in the video and how to spell it.  *laughs*  Kudos to google for finally getting it right after a dozen tries.

Peter and Skip tipped the boat over (and I’m sorry for cutting you out Skip!) so I could photograph the top. It gives you a good view of the cockpit and open storage. And a good impression of the 14+ feet of the kayak.


Here’s the yoke he’s built. It bolts on so you can hoist it to your shoulders and carry it easily. The fact that the boat weighs less than 50 pounds is astonishing, especially for a wooden boat. Peter had a Kevlar canoe in the 80s that weighed 55 pounds and everyone thought that was super light then.

The interior of the bow and the foot braces. He’s made them fully adjustable so that if you’re 5’6″ or 6’5″ you can paddle this particular canoe.

Some four hundred hours went into the creation of this craft.  Peter and I fell in love with it and, if we could afford the price tag, we would buy one each.  

We did the math and divided the price tag by the number of hours Skip put into this kayak.  We figure that he’s making, after materials, $12 an hour, roughly.  So it’s not like Skip is doing all this work to make it rich.  He’s doing this for the love of it.  He is an incredibly talented man and Peter and I think this kayak, this particular Chipmunk, goes way beyond the label of “functional art.”  Peter says, “I think it’s sexy as all hell!”  And I agree.

I love canoeing, I haven’t been since I was a kid.  Peter loves being on the water probably more than I do and Skip’s boats are now a dream of ours.

I am taking walks every morning and taking pictures on these walks.  I am building a collection for a series of Saturday blogs I’ll call “Life in a Small Town.”  Next week though I have something fun that happened here last weekend.   

It may be that my definition of fun differs from yours but we’ll see. *laughs*