Wednesday, August 11, 2010

10 Questions with Joe O

Joe O'Blenis is just about set for his Vancouver Island expedition later this month. He will attempt to paddle 1150km in under 16 days to reclaim his record. Trying something different on a whole bunch of ings were gonna be adding a few interviews from other paddlers to the site occasionally. Hope you enjoy!

1. When did you get into kayaking?
I first began paddling a little over 33 year ago. Back then it was in a Chestnut canoe with my Dad. First started playing around in kayaks back in the 1980’s and became more serious about kayaking in the late 1990’s.

2. Any kayaking role models while growing up?
Well, when I got the kayaking bug in a big way, some of the guys I thought were doing the cool stuff and were leaders in the sport were fellow like Nigel Dennis, Frank Goodman, Nigel Foster. Then Chris Duff came along, having done some epic expeditions. And of course Paul Caffyn.For whitewater, Corran Addison and Steve Fischer for sure, these guys were raising the bar for a long time.

3. You refer to your Vancouver Island Expedition as 16 days of pain. How long have you been training? What have you been doing to prepare?

Actually, the “training” is just normal paddling for me. I’ve always liked to push it a little for speed and distance. For me, that’s just “fun”. Training is at about half of what I’d planned though, mainly due to trying to keep up with orders for the custom paddlers that I build. Basically business exploded this past winter and I’ve been scrambling to keep up ever since. So the training is not where I’d like but that’s okay. I’ve adjusted my training to fit in with the hours I have available and I’m now ready to head to BC and give it a go. In past years, I’d do more long distance training for something like this. This year though, I’ve switched to short distance workouts, 20-30 kilometers, but a higher pace. For the expedition, I’ll back off on the speed and just increase the time on the water. My last “long” paddle, at 7.5 hours (all in the kayak with no breaks) actually felt really good, despite paddling against gale force winds most of the day.

4. Largest frustration while planning the trip?

Tricky question really. I can’t honestly say that getting ready for a trip should seem “Frustrating” in any way to be honest. But overall, I guess being stretched so thin as to time to commit to actual training? I’m heading out west feeling confident as it is. But I know that with a little more training time, I could be a long ways ahead in terms of fitness. But that’s fine, I feel good as it is and will give it a good effort.

5. What are your daily goals while making the attempt?

We are aiming for a daily average of around 65 to 70 kilometers per day. In “Decent” conditions, it is easily doable. But for Vancouver Island, I know that often times, conditions are going to be far from “Ideal”. But that is what makes it interesting.

6. What kayak/equipment have you decided on to use and why?

I’ve decided to stick with a kayak that I know very well and that has served me well in the past. The fact that it is built by a company that has been involved in more major expeditions than virtually everyone else COMBINED does not hurt either. So I’ll be paddling in a Nigel Dennis Greenlander Pro. I was fortunate enough that after emailing Nigel, he once again jumped on board and donated one of his amazing sea kayaks for my bid to reclaim the record one more time. Paddle wear, PFD etc is all supplied by Kokatat, another great company whom I’ve been associated with now for several years. Paddles of course will be two of my own Greenland paddles that I build and now sell all throughout North America, Scandinavia, the UK and beyond.

7. Do you make a full time living at kayaking? If not what is you occupation and if so any suggestions for other who wish to do the same?

Yes, paddling has pretty much become my full time occupation over the past number of years. First and foremost is my own paddle company, “Joe O’ Paddles” but I also sell Tahe Marine kayaks, am bringing in the Nigel Dennis kayaks soon as well as a variety other paddling products.Between that and instruction, it certainly keeps me busy. The nice thing is that my “Commute” to work is about 7 seconds…from the house to the garage where I build the paddles.Advice to others? Don’t pursue it if you are looking to get rich. Do it only if you love the lifestyle and love the paddling culture. You CAN make a good living in the business but it certainly takes a lot of effort. For me though, the reward is in the lifestyle itself, more so than the financial rewards.

8. Largest obstacle you foresee on the trip besides time?

This one is easy. There are only two obstacles.One, is simply getting to the start line. Getting everything in place, getting in the training, organizing the gear, the food, logistics etc (and lining up the free time to put it all together).The second part is the weather. The weather is pretty much the only thing beyond my control. If I get insane conditions and am wind bound for two or three days, that’s pretty much it. The last time I did this, I had headwinds for 18 of the first 19 days. The weather is the one variable beyond my control. I’m pretty much ready for everything else. If I have decent weather, well then things should go well.Other than that, the big things are to make sure that nutrition and hydration are well looked after. Keep the body fueled and hydrated and that’s half the battle right there.

9. When you completed the trip last time were you meaning to set a record? How are you approaching this trip differently?

Yes, last time around, it was to set a record. The solo record at the time however was 28 days. Something easily breakable. I was able to do that expedition more as a “Fast Tour”. I slept in most days, took longer breaks than needed and did a little beach exploring. I still beat the old record by nearly 5 full days!Since Sean Morley raised the bar so much in 2008, I won’t have those luxuries this time around. This time, it is more like a race. The “Great Island Race” as it has come to be called recently in the media. I’m really looking forward to this challenge, it is going to be a lot of fun.

10. Plans for day 16 when it's all done?

Good question! Win or lose, there will be a celebration. Seriously though, there is no “lose” in the equation. The great part, for me at least, is in simply being out there and pushing myself, dealing with whatever conditions are thrown my way. Hopefully a new speed record comes out of it. Well, either way though, I just look forward to paddling around that big, beautiful island again and this time really pushing myself to the limits. I’m really looking forward to it.Upon completion though, what I really look forward to is just going home again and focusing on day to day life. Back to building our paddlesports business. Lots of projects are coming together right now behind the scenes. Carbon Fiber paddles, Australian distribution, some other stuff that I don’t want to announce just yet. All fun and exciting stuff. Oh yeah..and trip planning for next year… lots more to come ;)

You can check out Joe's blog and follow along VIA SPOT. GOOD LUCK FELLOW EAST COASTER!


  1. Interesting blog entry - the interview I mean.

    That's the trouble with records, they're meant to be broken.

    Tony :-)

  2. Thanks Tony. Ive got a few more lined up over the next few months as well! Hopefully Joe get her back for another spell!