This month's Paddle Talk is with Suzanne Blackburn, a licensed Maine Sea Kayak Guide and ACA-certified Instructor who began working for Portland Paddle in 2014.
How long have you been a guide? With Portland Paddle?
I took the guide training with Maine Sport and passed the test in 1996. At that time the sea kayaking license and the recreational license were one. I actually had to answer questions about snowmobiling so apparently I am licensed to guide snowmobile trips. I wouldn't recommend myself though. I've never been on one. I've guided with Portland Paddle for four seasons, since 2014. I've worked for several other companies and Portland Paddle is a great place to be.
I've been kayaking since 1980 so that is definitely my strong suit. I started out with a passion for white water and transitioned to sea kayaking in 2002. Sea kayaking challenges me in a whole different way. Sea kayaking demands a tremendous amount of knowledge about the elements, about navigation and an awareness of other boat traffic. I just recently starting paddling stand up paddle boards and for so many reasons I love it! It's a whole new challenge. It's such a great workout and it's definitely improved my balance. I took an ACA (American Canoe Association) SUP training so that I can teach effectively. I'm really excited to do more of that in 2018.
In 1996 I was going through some really big life changes. I was newly divorced. My ex husband and I had been beekeepers so I lost that source of income in the process. I needed some income and I was ready for a new focus. I'm not a person who can stand being inside very much so I took one of the things I loved, kayaking, and turned it into a vocation. I found out that I loved guiding. Working with people on the water and seeing the delight they experience on the water makes me feel very good. I've never tired of it.
Favorite Portland Paddle guiding experience?
After so many years of guiding I have a lot of really great experiences and a lot of miserable experiences. There are days when I can't believe I get paid to do this work (and days when I simply can't believe I subject myself to this work). Last season I led a group of eight people on a three day/two night camping trip in Muscongus Bay. It was a big undertaking. That's a lot of people to guide, care for and cook for but it was a really great group of people and I organized everything in a way that I could easily delegate some of the responsibilty. Except for some challenging wind and a deluge of rain for our unloading we had pretty good conditions. Everyone seemed to enjoy the experience and I felt really good about it.
Favorite adventure (you've taken personally or guided professionally)?
In 2015 I finished kayaking the entire coast of Maine with my friend, Jenna. We started in Rye, NH and finished in Canada on Campobello Island. It took four summers to complete the journey. We had hoped to complete it in three summers but in 2014 hurricane Arthur decided we should end our adventure in Jonesport rather than finishing the coast. As you might imagine I've got stories to tell. That trip had some delightful moments and some real trials. It helped me hone my navigation skills and my tolerance for long open water crossings. On day two we paddled from Smutty Nose Island, which is part of Isle of Shoals, directly to York Beach. It was a nine mile crossing, really exposed. At one point a small fishing boat pulled along side of us. The driver leaned out and asked, "Did you mean to be here?". We giggled a bit and answered, "Yes, we actually planned this crossing and meant to be here." It was sweet that he was concerned.
An essential piece of gear or item to make a trip more fun/safe/enjoyable?
Other than the obvious safety gear: life jacket, pump, float, chart, compass, radio, etc having a waterproof camera is great. There are so many great photo opps though I have to admit that lately I've gotten lazy. I've been relying on friends who always have their cameras at the ready but I've got a decent waterproof camera so I plan to change my evil ways and start taking more pictures in 2018.