Launching Sea Kayaker Magazine
by Michael Collins, Publisher
In the late 1970s, when I began sea-kayak touring, sea kayaks were still a novelty. Seeing them on car racks was rare, and meeting other paddlers on the water was rarer still. While camping in Washington State’s San Juan Islands, my paddling partner Rana Fitzsimmons and I often had sailors and power boaters dropping by our camp interested in where we stowed all our gear and how we could be safe in such small boats. Rana and I spent many evenings at island campsites explaining kayak touring to other boaters. So many people expressed an interest in trying sea kayaking that Rana and I established our own tour company.
While we were attending one of the Northwest’s first symposiums in Victoria, British Columbia, we went out to lunch with several owners of other kayaking businesses. During the conversation, we realized that, although we each knew most of the people in the fledgling industry, we rarely if ever got together to share business knowledge.
Someone suggested that we form a trade organization, and within a few minutes, we agreed upon the basis for TASK (Trade Association of Sea Kayaking). From there, the discussion turned to how we could share our experience with each other and with the nascent sea kayaking community. The first thought raised was to create a newsletter, but we quickly realized a magazine would have a broader appeal and stronger presence.
My “day job” was with 48˚ North, a monthly sailing magazine. I suggested to the group that 48˚ North had the resources to publish a magazine devoted to sea kayaking. John Dowd, a well-known kayaker and owner of Canada’s largest sea–kayaking retail operation at the time, spoke up saying he had written a book on sea kayaking and could be the magazine’s editor. John had a wealth of knowledge about the sport and knew almost everyone in the sea-kayaking industry. We started with a working title of Open Water: A Journal of Sea Kayaking.
During the winter of 1983-84, I regularly visited John and his wife Bea in their idyllic mountain cabin overlooking Vancouver, B.C. Working by the glow of gas lamps and the warmth of a wood stove, we made a list of ideas for editorial content and of potential advertisers. We decided to call the publication Sea Kayaker.
In the months before the first issue was scheduled to hit the street, we began our marketing effort. Both Ecomarine, John’s store in Vancouver, and Pacific Water Sports in Seattle had regular mailings going out and were willing to include a printed sheet about the upcoming magazine encouraging paddlers to subscribe. The mailings brought in the first 1,000-plus subscribers. We also arranged to ship Sea Kayaker to kayak shops across North America.
We met at 48˚ North’s office to assemble all the pieces for the first issue. John and Bea sat down with the editor of 48˚ North while I began laying out ads, and within an hour or so, we had established the original page design for Sea Kayaker.
When the printer delivered the magazines to us, I had to apply all of the subscriber labels to the magazines, sort and bag them, and drive them to the post office. I got some much-needed help from my girlfriend, Joan Steck. (She and I had only just begun dating back then. She stayed on with Sea Kayaker and is the company’s senior full-time employee. She also stayed on with me. We’ve been married since 1986.)
As work on the new publication continued, we all kept our full-time jobs and squeezed the Sea Kayaker work into evenings and weekends. Every three months, we met at the office on a Friday evening after work to get started on Sea Kayaker. The out-of-towners, John and Bea—and for a couple of issues, shareholder David Smith and his wife, Judy—would camp out on the office floor. By Sunday evening, we were exhausted but would have the next issue typeset, proofed and pasted up ready for the printer.
During our second year, Bea Dowd took over the production of the magazine in our newly opened Vancouver, BC office. Joan and I got some help with shipping by enlisting our local Explorer Scout Post to pitch in as a fund-raising project.
In 1989, John and Bea decided to leave Sea Kayaker to spend more time with their kids. We needed to find a new editor. John called Christopher Cunningham, the author of an article in the Summer ’87 issue. He had written about paddling from Quebec to Florida, so he had plenty of first-hand knowledge of cruising, and perhaps more importantly, he edited his own writing to a degree that left us little to do to get his article ready for press.
In the course of putting out his first issue, Chris not only reestablished the editorial and production operations in Seattle, but also took Sea Kayaker from typeset copy and paste-up to electronic desktop publishing. As Chris settled into the editorship, Sea Kayaker expanded its horizons from the initial focus on ocean coast paddling to reflect the increasing popularity of sea kayaking on fresh-water lakes and rivers.
Sea Kayaker continued as a quarterly through its first 10 years. In 1995, Sea Kayaker went to a bimonthly schedule. The magazine has occasionally taken on a new look to keep up with the times, but our goal is the same as it was in the beginning: to provide our readers with the most accurate, unbiased information available on the exciting and still-growing sport of sea kayaking.
Michael Collins is the publisher of Sea Kayaker magazine.