David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

A couple of weeks ago I found a FedEx package at my front door and opening it up I was excited to find a Motionize paddling tracker inside.

It you haven’t seen it before, Motionize is a system of two sensors (one attached to your paddle and the other on the deck of your kayak) that when used in combination with your smartphone can provide instant feedback to help dramatically improve your forward stroke.

Motionize tracker

The Motionize system measures a wide variety of specific items including, strokes per minute, stroke length, distance traveled per stroke, total number of strokes, all instantly displayed on your smartphone via the Motionize app.

Initial setup is pretty quick and easy. After attaching the paddle sensor you need to wirelessly connect both it and the kayak sensor (this is built into the housing) to your smartphone via Bluetooth. The Motionize app itself is easy to configure as it walks you through a series of questions to get an idea of the size of your kayak and length of paddle. It also takes into account if you paddle with a wing, euro or Greenland paddle which I thought was really interesting.

I will be honest with you, before using it, I was super skeptical as I wasn’t sure how accurate the data it collected was or even if it would useful. But it didn’t take to long for me to realize just how accurate the sensors were and after about 10 minutes I looked at the data and the first thing I saw was that I was pulling harder on one side and compensating by increasing my stroke length slightly longer on the other. It was subtle enough that I had no idea after all these years.

Motionize tracker and paddle sensor.

Now you might be asking yourself, "but that deck housing seems super big and clunky." It is. It’s big and heavy but in the time since I received this review copy the people at Motionize released the completely redesigned unit called the Edge which replaces the big housing with a small deck sensor and a universal smartphone holder that fits most waterproof cases and bags. Just looking at it, I think it’s a much improved system over the older version that I tested. If you are thinking of purchasing, you should consider that option.

If you are a kayak instructor I think this could also be an interesting tool. While the sensors are designed to stick with double sided tape, you could temporarily attach it to student’s kayaks with electrical tape which would provide them with instant feedback on their forward stroke performance.

What I liked:

  • Super easy to set-up
  • Paddling tips and analysis is clear and to the point
  • The sensors are hyper accurate for data analysis

What I didn't like:

  • Got to say that I was nervous of keeping my smartphone in a waterproof bag but still exposed on my deck to the elements or possible loss (it’s expensive!). The included tether helped keep that at bay.
  • The unit I had was big and clunky though it shouldn’t be a problem for the newly released smaller version.
  • Depending on the age of your smartphone, battery life could be an issue due to the fact that the screen is always on and Bluetooth activated.


The MSRP the smaller Motionize Edge is $249 and can be purchased on their website at motionizeme.com.


While there are several other kayak training/recorders out on the market, Motionize is one of the only ones able to develop a product that’s also very accessible for recreational paddlers. Most of the other ones I’ve seen are either super complex to operate or are specifically designed for one type of kayak (surf skies for example) making them limited to anything outside of the competitive world.

If you are looking to squeeze out a bit more performance you should check out the Motionize for sure.

Motionize tracker

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the Motionize system from the manufacturer in consideration for review publication.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016 10:24

Why do Rivers Curve?

Looking at curvy rivers on topographic maps or Google Earth has always been really interesting to me and for the longest time I’ve wondered how that snake like shape came to be. You would think that since a straight line is technically the shortest and easiest route to the ocean that nature would like straight lines. Nope.

After stumbling upon the video below about why rivers curve, I discovered that all it takes is a little bit of disturbance and a lot of time. Take for example a tree falls over and into the water. The current is diverted slightly allowing the riverbank to slowly erode on the opposite side. The slight change in current direction then bounces off that bank and gets diverted back over to the other side causing more erosion and eventually a curve in the river. Of course this doesn’t happen overnight and that is where time is the key factor.

A diagram of a river starting to curve due to erosion.

Check out this time lapse of a river Peru to how much the river chances even over that short number of years.

River erosion timelapse.

Here is a final fun-fact for your next boring office party. It doesn’t matter how wide or big the river is, if it is flowing over soft ground, the length of an s-bend curve will be roughly six times the width of a river. So that means while a narrow river will look wigglier when comparing to a large wide river the ratio of length/width of the wiggles will always be the same no matter which river it is. Hydrodynamics are amazing.

River curve ratio. The length of an s-curve is six times it's width.

HBO released a new trailer for the fifth season of their amazing comedy show, Veep. I'm a big fan of that show and I've always thought that Julia Louis Dreyfus is one of the funniest women in Hollywood. She plays the role of a dumb President very well.

Watch the trailer below but keep an eye out for when she holds a press conference to congratulate the US kayaking team for bringing honour to America with their gold medal win only to be corrected by her aid (played by the amazing Tony Hale) that it was just a bronze.

What's that paddle she is holding? It's a Shuna sea kayak paddle manufactured by Werner Paddles.

Kelly Blades and I are super excited to let you know that the latest episode of the Kayak Mainline podcast is live and waiting for your beautiful ears to listen along.

For those who follow along on the Mainline Facebook page will remember about 2 weeks ago we recorded as well. Sadly when I went to go edit I discovered that a technical gremlin for into the works causing the recording to come out sounding terrible. The sound quality was amazingly bad. So we scrapped the whole thing. Luckily the latest episode turned out pretty good.

This was a podcast of discovery including:

  • a new piece of technology gear for communicating in the outdoors,
  • why whales blow bubbles (it’s not why you think),
  • a fantastic new Mosquito Repellent that smells as good as it looks.

Finally, we get excited to discover that swearing in front of children no longer a crime in Michigan. That’s FREEDOM baby!

I hope you enjoy this one as much as we did putting it together.

There are several different ways to get our sweet voices directly into your ears:

You can stream it live in your browser here:

 You can mp3directly download the mp3 (Right click and select, "Save target as..." or "Save link as...".

Subscribe via iTunes Subscribe via Stitcher

iTunes user? Subscribe and get each new episode downloaded directly to your iPhone/iPod as soon as it’s uploaded.


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Not an iTunes user? We distribute Kayak Mainline also via Stitcher. They offer a free fantastic podcast app for both iPhones and Android making it easy listen while on the go (or sitting traffic).


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Saturday, 05 December 2015 16:43

Playing in the Waves with the Marine Police

My buddy Erik and I were out for a short paddle in Toronto this morning and had a funny experience.
The plan was to go out the Toronto Harbour via the Western Gap then out and around Ontario Place (8.6km).
Paddling just south of Ontario Place one of the marine police boats went by us on a regular patrol. After it went by we did a bit of surfing from catching the waves from the boats wake. Just then the boat did a 180 and came back our way. The cop sticks his head out of the boats cab, "hey, you guys want us to make some waves?"
So we spent the next 15 minutes playing around while the police boat drove around us. Pretty sure they loved it as much as we did.

Arcata, California - For Spring 2016 Kokatat is expanding its offering of gear with the award winning SwitchZip technology, which features a fully separating watertight zipper allowing paddlers to wear a garment as a full dry suit or as an individual top.

Kokatat introduced the innovative zipper system that fully separates at the waist last year with the GORE-TEX® Idol dry suit.  For Spring 2016 SwitchZip will be integrated in the new touring specific GORE-TEX® Radius Dry Suit, the GORE-TEX® Surge Paddling Suit, and the GORE-TEX® Passage Anorak.  The Passage Anorak, as well as the tops of all suits with SwitchZip, can be warn alone or mated with any other SwitchZip compatible pant, including the Idol.


“Last season paddlers saw how fantastic SwitchZip is in one suit.  With the expansion of the technology, they get additional versatility as they can now mix and match tops and bottoms,” said Jeff Turner, Kokatat Sales Manager.


Kokatat Radius


The GORE-TEX® Radius is a fully featured dry suit designed for touring paddlers.  The Radius has a fully adjustable hood with reflective accents that can be removed and stowed in the jacket’s fleece lined outer collar.  There are easy to access, self-draining, zippered pockets on each sleeve and another pocket on the right thigh, and reflective highlights throughout the suit provides better visibility.  The Radius also features GORE-TEX® socks and latex neck and wrist gaskets to help ensure that no matter the conditions a paddler finds themselves in they will be dry.  MSRP – $1,295.00


Kokatat Surge


The GORE-TEX® Surge Paddling Suit is designed for paddlers who want a high performance lightweight suit that provides waterproof protection and high breathability for fitness, SUP, or touring.  It’s built with a light weight 3-layer GORE-TEX® fabric with 330 Cordura GORE-TEX® reinforcements in the high wear areas of the seat and knees.  The suit features a single hand adjustable NeoCinch neoprene collar and latex wrist gaskets, along with GORE-TEX® socks to keep water out.  For the sea kayaker looking for a lightweight expedition option, the bottoms of the suit can be paired with the GORE-TEX® Passage Anorak with SwitchZip.  MSRP – $850



Kokatat Passage


Available with and without SwitchZip, the GORE-TEX® Passage Anorak takes design cues from the Radius suit with its self-draining shoulder pockets, removable hood and reflective details, but in the lighter weight, high performance 3-layer GORE-TEX® fabric used in the GORE-TEX® Surge Paddling Suit.  The Passage also features a deep asymmetric front zipper that provides additional weather protection for its infinitely adjustable inner splash collar.  MSRP – $499/ $589 w/SwitchZip

SwitchZip technology connects the top and bottom of the suit with a fully separating waterproof zipper system, as opposed to traditional dry suits designs that have a large zipper across the chest.  SwitchZip suits are not only much easier to put on and take off than traditional designs, but without a zipper across the torso they also allow maximum freedom of movement with each paddle stroke.  Additionally, the SwitchZip design eliminates the need for an additional front or rear relief zipper and reduces the suit weight.

The SwitchZip’s flexible zipper sits below a dual adjustable overskirt, so when seated the zipper resides comfortably between the backband and seat inside the cockpit.  This below deck placement is designed so the system does not interfere with kayak rigging or PFDs.

As with all Kokatat suits, the Radius and Surge are guaranteed to be completely dry. Each and every suit manufactured in Kokatat’s Arcata, California factory is inpidually tested to be watertight before it leaves the factory. Further, Kokatat’s lifetime warranty and Arcata service facility ensures users that they will remain completely dry for the life of the suit.

Kokatat will introduce its Spring 2016 Collection at the 2015 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City, UT, August 5-8 (Booth 33051).

About Kokatat Inc.
Kokatat has been manufacturing paddling gear in Arcata, California for more than 40 years. At a time when many technical apparel brands were moving manufacturing offshore, Kokatat continued to invest in infrastructure in the United States. Kokatat founder Steve O’Meara was committed to the development of the finest and driest paddling apparel in the world and recognized the need to control and continually evolve the development of our dry wear. In the early days, Kokatat worked closely with W.L. Gore & Associates, makers of GORE-TEX®, to refine the sewing and sealing techniques required for full immersion suits and tops. Today, our hands-on approach to manufacturing continues to set the standard in paddling apparel. Into the water with Kokatat! Please visit www.kokatat.com and follow Kokatat on Facebook and Twitter “@kokatat”.

Ely, Minnesota (July 15, 2015) – Educators and explorers Dave and Amy Freeman will kick off A Year in the Wilderness this September, continuing their efforts to gain permanent protection for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. For this expedition, the Freemans will spend a full year in the Boundary Waters. Last year, for the pair’s Paddle to DC journey, they paddled and sailed 101 days and 2,000 miles from Ely, Minnesota, to Washington, DC, to help protect the Boundary Waters.

"We are wilderness guides and educators and this is our way of working to help keep this wilderness wild," said Amy Freeman. "We care deeply about this place and we will do everything within our power to ensure that it remains intact for the next generation."

Their new expedition will continue their efforts to permanently protect the Boundary Waters from the proposed sulfide-ore copper mines on the edge of the Wilderness and support the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. "We made a commitment to protecting the Boundary Waters when we took on the Paddle to DC, but we know we still have a lot of work to do to protect the Boundary Waters watershed from sulfide-ore copper mining and we want to do what we can to finish the job," said Amy Freeman.

"On September 23, 2015, Dave and I will launch our canoe in the Kawishiwi River and paddle into the Boundary Waters and become immersed in the Wilderness for a full year," said Freeman "We will camp at approximately 120 different sites during this Year in the Wilderness and travel more than 3,000 miles by canoe, foot, ski, snowshoe and dog team. This trip is about bearing witness to the very land and water we are fighting to protect."

Dave and Amy Freeman have traveled more than 30,000 miles by kayak, canoe and dogsled through some of the world’s wildest places, from the Amazon to the Arctic. They are 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year.

The Freemans also run the Wilderness Classroom Organization, an educational nonprofit geared towards inspiring kids to get outside and explore their world. Wilderness Classroom’s current reach is 100,000 elementary and middle school students, and 3,200 teachers around the world.

Throughout A Year in the Wilderness, the Freemans will invite others on resupply missions that will allow them to personally witness the beauty of the Boundary Waters and what’s at risk from the proposed sulfide-ore copper mining.

Dates and locations for A Year in the Wilderness kick-off events, resupply missions and other information will be announced closer to the launch of A Year in the Wilderness.

More info: savetheboundarywaters.org/WildernessYear

coffin sup

I love everything about the recent story in the Canberra Times newspaper in Australia where people have been reporting the eerie sight of a man dressed as an undertaker while on a stand-up paddle board shaped like a coffin. I'm serious; you can’t make this stuff up.

Jeanne Mclauchlan was one seasoned paddler who spotted the man during an early morning venture to the lake on Saturday morning.

"In the distance, as we came towards the Carillon we noticed a figure emerge from the thick fog," she said. 

"It was a figure of a man dressed in a tuxedo and top hat on a stand-up-paddle (SUP) coffin, complete with flowers, paddling toward us.

"We asked 'coffin man', 'Where are you going'? His response was, 'To Queanbeyan cemetery as I have a 3pm grave site to prepare'."

But of course some people have their coattails in a knot as some relatives of patients at Clare Holland House (a local hospice) felt that looking out and seeing him paddle by was both inappropriate and insensitive.

So the mystery lives on of who the paddler is and what I think is one of the greatest paddling costumes ever.

More info: canberratimes.com.au

Photo credits: Jeanne Mclauchlan

Thursday, 18 June 2015 11:00

Video: Learning to Roll with Dane Jackson

Check out this super succinct whitewater rolling instructional video posted by Dane Jackson. Five phases from zero to hero roller.

I just got word from the folks at Naturally Superior Adventures that trip I'm guiding this summer enough people signed up to ensure that it's a go. But I'm on the hunt for 1-2 more people to make it even awesommer.

Taking place July 31 to August 8, we are going to catch a boat shuttle who will drop us off our on the elusive, mysterious and hardly ever visited, Michipicoten Island on Lake Superior. Over the course of seven days we will circumnavigate the island then make the 16 kilometer crossing north between the island and the north shore. Once that adventure is complete we will turn right, keeping shore on our left and paddle back to Wawa.

So who is this trip for? Well, due to its extreme remoteness and long crossing, this trip is aimed towards the intermediate and above paddler. You should have a firm grasp on self and group rescue as well as the physical stamina of a crossing of this nature.

The thing that makes this trip unique is that it's a self-sufficient trip in that you are responsible for your own camping gear and meals. I won't be cooking for you but instead we will work as a group on decision making, risk management and route planning. It's perfect for those who have kayak tripping experience so doesn't need a guide to pamper them but appreciate the extra security blanket of somebody who has paddled the route before a couple of times.

Wreck of the Billy Blake on Michipicoten Island.

So what's out there to see? On a scale of 1 to wicked awesome, I would rank Michipicoten Island in the high fantastic to super cool awesome range.

It's got:

  • Wild Caribou
  • Shipwrecks (at the water's surface)
  • An abandoned fishing camp to explore
  • Three lighthouses
  • Sea Caves
  • An abandoned copper mine from the 1880's.
  • Extreme remoteness

So for me the two real gems of the place are the wild caribou (which there are about 100+ head) and the abandoned copper mine on the northwest shore of the island. Back in the 1880's the mining company packed up and went home leaving behind a large collection of mining equipment to rust. We will spend a good part of an afternoon exploring the site while at the same time avoiding the open mine shafts scattered around the now grown up forest.

Michipicoten Island copper mine.

Interested and want to come? You really should. To be quite honest, this is a very exclusive experience as only a small handful of people visit the island each year. The numbers are so low that a commercial trip (with the crossing) was only done for the first time when we did it two summers ago.

Here is a photo gallery of the trip I guided two summers ago.


More info: http://www.naturallysuperior.com/michipicoten-island-advanced.html

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