Paddling Year Round In Michigan

John Loomis has paddled his Arctic Tern 17 every month for the last 6 years; a feat that’s put into perspective with the knowledge that he lives in Holland, Michigan.  It’s a deal he made with himself after being inspired by another group of paddlers who did the same. “I initially thought they were nuts but as the year wore on and there was an unusually warm December 6, it occurred to me that I just had to paddle January and February and I would have paddled every month.” This March marks his 6th consecutive year of doing just that. February is always the hardest. “It can be the coldest and snowiest and finding safe access to open water can be a real challenge. I always feel good when February is in the books.”  This February (2015) proved to be the coldest month on record but he still managed to take advantage of a sunny 18° day. He creatively found open water where a power plant dumps its warm discharge water into Pigeon Lake. By following the warm flow from the smaller lake out into Lake Michigan he was able to paddle for a little over 2 miles before being stopped by  ice. He marvels, “The ice is incredible! It is anything but smooth. It’s a mass of jumbled chunks pointing in every direction for as far as you can see. The upper side of each chunk is snow covered but the lower side is thick ice. Sometimes the ice is blue or turquoise or green. Very cool.”  Here John shares with us what gear he wears in winter and why he loves the sport.

Why do you enjoy paddling?

“There are a number of different reasons why I like to paddle.  In no particular order: It’s good exercise, the awesome sunsets, it is a great escape from the everyday stresses (it really clears my head), for camaraderie (people who paddle are a friendly group), it’s a great sport that I can do for years to come and its a great way to enjoy so many aspects of such an awesome creation that we live in.”

Why do you paddle a wooden kayak? 

“Wait…you mean there are other materials that kayaks are made of??!! I have owned and paddled a 1932 Old Town wood and canvas canoe since I was in high school. I was thrilled to hear about Pygmy Boats from a couple paddling 2 Pygmies on our nearby ‘inland’ lake. I HAD to have a wooden kayak, too.

The boat does very well in the ice, whether I am paddling through thin surface ice to get to open water or paddling through water that is littered with floating chunks of ice. The boat is quite hard and the ice does not scratch the finish. It is also quite slippery on snow.”

John's Arctic Tern 17 ready for a winter paddle.

John’s Arctic Tern 17 ready for a winter paddle.

What’s your favorite place to paddle?

“I really enjoy paddling in Lake Michigan in the warmer months. Calm, flat water is fine if you want to get somewhere, but when the lake is rocking and rolling…it’s “the bomb”. I’ve spent much time sitting in the mouth of the channel playing in the waves coming in, whether heading straight into them, or in following seas. Each time we head out into active water, It’s different and adds to your experience. I used to get nervous heading out the channel into the big lake, but now I am more confident and look forward to having fun in the waves. Confused seas are the best. You just have to dig in and paddle hard through them, and yell when you do. It is not unusual for Fred (my good friend and paddling buddy) and me to hang out in the lake, just outside the channel, and do some wake hopping when the boats power up to head out into the lake or slow down when entering the channel (no wake zone). I have a great respect for the water…but it is fun to push the envelope a little  in the right circumstances.”


What place would you love to paddle but have not yet?

“Top of the list are the lakes at the base of the Tetons…Jenny, String, Long, Jackson…someday…”

What’s your favorite memory of winter paddling?

“A flock of swans taking off when you approach them….paddling through an obstacle course of ice chunks in the channel…..marveling at the expanse of upheaved, jumbled ice that blocks your way….the fog rolling down the hill with the sun shining on it….the solitude. Sorry, too many to choose just one. Just being on the water.”


What gear do you use in the coldest months to stay warm?

“I have heard there is a Midwest proverb that says, ‘There is no bad weather, only the wrong gear.’ I suit up smart as follows:

1. Thick Smart Wool socks

2. Fleece pants

3. Polypropelene shirt (Lotus)

4. Pendleton wool shirt

5. Fleece top

6. Dry suit (Kokatat)

7. Booties (NRS)

8. Hat that covers my ears (Kokatat)

9. fleece/neoprene face protector

10. NRS toaster mitts are the best!”

Many thanks to John Loomis for sharing his story with us here!  Happy and safe paddling to all!


“Michigan is a great place for getting out and enjoying the winter, otherwise you’d go nuts! I remember several times snow shoeing and paddling in the same day!”


John prepares to paddle with his neoprene face mask on an 18 degree February day in Michigan.


John Loomis volunteered at the Canoecopia booth this year and we were grateful to have his passion and enthusiasm.


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