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A Holiday Gift Guide for Sea Kayakers

From books that spark wanderlust to trip planning tools, here are four great gift ideas for past, present, and potential sea kayakers.  You can go beyond the obvious colourful new ‘mid-layer’ as a gift this holiday season and still keep it under $50!

1.  A Complex Coast: A Kayak Journey From Vancouver Island to Alaska

A Complex Coast: A Kayak Journey From Vancouver Island to Alaska (Heritage House Publishing, 2023) is a perfect pick for any aspiring adventurer. In 2014, 24-year-old geography student David Norwell set off on a kayak journey to find purpose in his life. For months, he journeyed north recording his observations, musings, and daily activities in a notebook. The result?  A unique travelogue filled with watercolour illustrations and a book that is part art, part exploration of place and part coming-of-age story.  It makes a splendid gift for West Coast dreamers and anyone seeking their place in the world.

We were captivated by Norwell’s storytelling.  What really sets his book apart are the evocative watercolour paintings that Norwell created during his journey.  These illustrations vividly depict the coastlines and wildlife he encounters. And the illustrations are not mere decorations; they are a visual narrative that add depth and emotion to his storytelling, helping to bring the coast alive in a way that few books can.

The book conveys not only the exhilaration of a successful journey, but also the misadventures along the way. Norwell’s willingness to set his ego aside and share his mistakes and challenges adds great value for other kayakers. His honesty about moments of fear, frustration, and failure reminds us that in sea kayaking, as in life, challenges are a part of the journey – and it’s how we respond to them that defines us.

To make his kayaking dream come true on a meagre student’s budget, Norwell used an unconventional approach to food procurement. In the wild, he foraged for seaweed, fish, and shellfish.  In the city, he would explore dumpsters for discarded food newly past its expiry date.  “Every now and then you have to frighten yourself to feel alive” seems to be Norwell’s motto.  The ability to depict his unconventional experiences with humour keeps readers hooked as we follow him on his trip.

Norwell’s journey is heartfelt and relatable, leaving seasoned kayakers nodding in recognition and newcomers inspired to dip their paddles.  The book’s publication just this year minimizes the risk that your intended gift recipient has already read it! You can check out this CBC News Interactive Feature for a sample of the book, and read the reviews below.

David Norwell has painted an intimate portrait of a journey that is as much about personal growth as the voyage itself.  Through art, observations, and natural science, he shares his youthful evolution of spirit in the indomitable setting of the Pacific Northwest coast.

John Kimantas – author of the “Wild Coast” series


“A Complex Coast” is a smorgasbord for the senses.  Beautiful watercolour paintings combined with thoughtful musing bring the West Coast to life.  I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who loves the ocean, is interested in adventure, or just enjoys evocative art.  A must read!

Colin Angus- author of “Rowed Trip: From Scotland to Syria by Oar and also Beyond the Horizon: The Great Race To Finish The First Human-powered Circumnavigation of the Planet”

2. The BC Coast Explorer and marine trail guide Vol 1 & 2, and Waterproof Mapsheets

At his Wildcoast Publishing website, author John Kimantas serves up a treasure trove of books and maps perfect for anyone exploring BC’s coast by kayak or on foot. Among his offerings, “The BC Coast Explorer and Marine Trail Guide Volume 1” and “Volume 2” are standouts.   Loaded with trip planning tips, detailed maps, recommended routes, and insights into the coastal ecosystems, these books have been called “nothing short of a kayaker’s bible for Canada’s West Coast”. Whether your gift recipient is a pro or a newbie, these guides are sure to both inspire future trips and enhance their safety. 

Kimantas has poured his passion and decades of firsthand experience into his books and maps, providing detailed route descriptions, essential safety tips, and insightful historical and ecological context. Each page is a window into a hidden coast that few ever see, making you feel like you’re paddling with a knowledgeable buddy. Meticulously designed waterproof maps add an extra layer of convenience to your journey (although paddlers should still carry detailed nautical charts and optionally a GPS device). 

These volumes are goldmines for those seeking to extend their explorations of Canada’s West Coast. Don’t dawdle on your orders though!  Kimantas hints on his website that he may cease publishing his BC Coast Explorer volumes in the near future, making these timely gifts for the 2023 holiday season.

3. Inside: One Woman’s Journey Through the Inside Passage

In 2010, middle-aged Susan Marie Conrad launched her 18-foot sea kayak on a solo journey from Anacortes, Washington through the 1,200-mile Inside Passage to Juneau, Alaska.  Battling prolonged rainstorms, wind-swept seas, a roller coaster of emotions, and encounters with wolves, bears, and whales, she persevered and lived her dream.

Conrad’s widely acclaimed book blends thrilling adventure, personal reflection, and practical wisdom, vividly capturing the essence of kayaking along this labyrinthian coast.  As a sea-kayakers equivalent to Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” (with less self-sabotage and more nature), Conrad’s book is perfect for adventurous souls dreaming big and armchair travellers alike.  As with “Wild”, Conrad’s book also delves into the transformative power of extended journeys into the wilderness. 

We first met Conrad at the BC Marine Trails 2022 Annual General Meeting where she spoke about her recent solo paddle to Alaska, 12 years after that first solo trip.  Afterwards, we exchanged stories about a wilderness cabin we’d both visited at Burnett Bay and the logbook entries made there by kayaking legend Audrey Sutherland and others.  Anyone interested in reading our article, Kayaking Wisdom of the Wild, about Burnett Bay and the cabin, can find it here here.  Conrad’s bravery and resilience inspire us.  She’s one tough cookie and a reminder that you’re never to old to chase your dreams.

Order Susan Conrad’s books.


4. One-Year Membership to BC Marine Trails

BC Marine Trails Logo
Group photo of paddlers before their trip

Unlocking public access to marine trail sites along the BC coast is a mission close to every sea kayaker’s heart. A one-year individual BC Marine Trails membership helps achieve this for just $30. Members get access to enhanced information that cannot be found anywhere else. Our awesome online map is just one of our trip planning tools, with locations, photos, and detailed descriptions of hundreds of water access camp sites, launch areas and rest stops. By gifting a one-year membership, you’ll be sharing decades of accumulated kayaking wisdom. You’ll also be supporting BC Marine Trails’ efforts towards conservation advocacy, stewardship, paddler safety, and collaboration with  First Nations. Your gift opens doors, and hearts, to the magic of our coast. Go here to purchase a membership!

Jerry & Julee Kaye

Jerry and Julee have been exploring the coast of British Columbia by kayak and sailboat for over 40 years. They live in Vancouver. Their children are now experienced sailors and kayak adventurers in their own right.