Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sacramento kayaker club makes big splash

About four years ago, Sven Lund was visiting a friend at Echo Lake when he stepped into a nine-foot kayak and promptly flipped over into icy water. Call it glub at first sight.

Today, Sven takes kayak trips throughout Northern California as founder of SacYakkers. It might just be the fastest-growing recreational kayaker club in the state. The private, non-commercial group has added more than 100 members since its launch less than six months ago. That takeoff has been boosted by a clever online organizational structure that encourages paddlers to get involved in every aspect of the club. (Sven and friends above.)

“I want it to be a dynamic group, not just me posting the next trip plan,” says Sven. “My main focus is to begin uniting the kayakers in our area.” Sven had some previous experience organizing outdoor recreational groups, but still had to devote “an enormous amount of time” into launching the new club. That effort clearly shows.

SacYakkers operates through Meetup, an online network for community groups. Meetup allows access through Facebook. The two networks sync easily and make it easy for club members to keep up with activities – and each other – without the hassle of playing ping pong by e-mail or phone.

The system also restricts club info to members only. Dues are $15 per year. For club details, go to the SacYakkers homepage. Also read the “About” page carefully to get a feel for whether the group is right for you. Club rules are clearly spelled out.

I initially felt a bit put off when I couldn’t review specific trip info before I joined the club. But Sven explained that he and others put a lot of work into planning trip details, and dues-paying members rightfully deserve the benefits. Plus, members might have personal privacy concerns, so restricting access to the site helps there.

I joined SacYakkers just a few days ago and haven’t yet been out on one of their paddles. But NorCal Yak friends in the group are enthusiastic and recommended it. (Thanks Scott and Rose, and enjoy your SacYakkers trip to Mendocino.) The club averages about three trips a month, with a variety of river, lake, and coastal destinations, including places beyond the ho-hum.

(Photos above, taken by SacYakkers photographer Ken Doty, are from a Shasta County area paddle: Snake suns itself on a kayak in Ja-She Creek; vista from Horr Pond; white pelicans on the move in Tule River, and Native American fish traps at Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park.)

SacYakkers online network enables members to find what’s going on at any time. When NorCal Yak listed some paddling groups around the state a few months ago, I was amazed at how many had no current info online – and it was impossible to determine how active they were. That sure isn’t a problem with SacYakkers.

There's also an emphasis on "green" paddling, Sven said. In addition to carpooling, club trips are planned to minimize the impact on the destination waterway and encourage good relations with others who live or are visiting there.

For the most part, the club is for kayakers with at least some experience, said Sven, since individual paddlers must ultimately take responsibility for their own safety. But he added that outings are led by experienced members, and some paddles are specifically planned for beginners and promoted that way.