The hardest part is getting out.
Standing on the beige dock where the Wissahickon Creek meets the Schuylkill River, Lev Barinov is helping novice kayakers remove themselves from their water craft.
Barinov, a member of the Philadelphia Canoe Club since 1976, is said to have introduced more people to the pleasures of watercraft than anyone else in the club’s 100-plus year history.
“They learn after a while,” he remarked after witnessing some marginally successful extractions. The trick, it seems, is to address the dock, place your hands on the rim of the cockpit, and lift yourself out.
Or you can do what club member Renee Winters did, and perform a barrel-roll onto the dock, with kayak still attached.
With the black Jackson kayak propped up by her legs, she looked out from underneath and remarked, “Such grace at all times.”
Boating demonstations and rides
On Sunday, current and prospective paddlers descended upon the Philadelphia Canoe Club to take part in the organization’s annual open house, a tradition at the club since 1989.
The event featured boating demonstrations and an opportunity to take a kayak or canoe on a short ride up the Wissahickon Creek to the Ridge Avenue bridge crossing.
“It’s an opportunity for the public to see what we’re about and get involved,” said Andrea Bruno, PCC’s social chair.
At present, the club averages approximately 190 members, who volunteer their time and expertise to keep the club running smoothly.
“The members are generous with their time,” said Rosemary Rau, who is not only a 25-year member, but the “Commodore,” or chief officer, of the club.
Serving her seventh term as Commodore, Rau said the unity of purpose brings members together.
“They love the club,” she said. “It’s their beloved canoe club – it’s their community.”
Impens takes the trophy
The open house evolved from PCC’s annual races, which were first held in 1984, according to Glen Green, a member of the club since 1974.
Since then, the race has largely remained the same, but somewhat to Green’s chagrin, “the open house took over.”
On Sunday, 12 participants took part in a six-mile race, which looped a course between the Manayunk Bridge and the twin spans of Rt. 1 in East Falls. Normally, Green explained, the race is an eight-miler, but owing to the previous day’s heat, the race was truncated somewhat.
The winner was Craig Impens of Toms River, N.J., taking the trophy with a time of 41:52.
Impens has been a competitive racer for about 15 years, and he explained that he is on the water three to four times a week to train.
“I love coming here,” said Impens of PCC, shortly after his win. “There are always a lot of competitive people.”
Another part of the open house was the sale of paddling accessories and equipment, the centerpiece of which were several used fiberglass kayaks –a few bearing multiple layers of duct tape – being sold for the bargain basement price of $15.
“It’s a good place to get great deals,” Bruno observed.
But there’s a story behind the battered boats. Paul Liebman, a member since 1967, said that in the early years of his membership, there were no commercial boats available, so he and other members built the club’s first kayaks in the club’s barn.
When other members became interested in acquiring a boat for themselves, Liebman guided them through the process, passing on his knowledge – and the tradition – in an informal boat-building apprenticeship.
Asked what it takes to become a solid paddler, Liebman said strength wasn’t the core attribute; rather, balance, reflexes, and timing are the essential components.
“It’s a dance between the boater and the water,” he observed.
‘You don’t ever want to see it end’
The dance will continue as the club continues to evolve and the open house continues to draw new members.
“We get new people who are curious about paddling,” said Rau. “This is the place to do it, and they’re the ones who stay.”
It’s an observation reflected in the experience of Charlie Guido, a retired Philadelphia firefighter. He originally came to PCC after a one-day “quick start” kayak course – and never left.
“I made it down to the Lehigh River without flipping,” he recalled, “and I was hooked.”
It’s a sentiment shared by many at the club. Rau reflected that paddling – and the friends she made at the club – rank among the highlights of her life.
“You don’t ever want to see it end,” said Rau. “You want to see it last for 500 years.”