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Paddle Pushers at home on the river

Photo by Ethelyn Pearson Darrel Johnson of Sebeka, a member of the Paddle Pushers Kayak Club, talks about his experiences in a kayak.1 / 3
Photo provided Johnson has made some scenic voyages, like this one to Telemark, Norway.2 / 3
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According to statistics, kayaking in Minnesota is among the 10 most popular sports. It is challenging, fulfilling, and serene, at least those are the attributes Darrel Johnson of Sebeka and the rest of his Paddle Pushers Kayak Club have found it to be. They are headquartered in Brainerd where decisions and schedules are made. There are 50 members.

Since Johnson joined the club in 2003, there has always been something to look forward to, like river and small lake trips, or to the Apostle Islands out in Lake Superior on the Wisconsin side. Johnson tries to make it to the Sleeping Giant camp ground in Canada, north of Thunder Bay, once each year.

Before new members are allowed to take part in the main events of the club, on long rides or risky passages, they are required to take special training from experienced riders. They need to know how to exit, how to self-save if their kayak goes over, and ways to assist other riders in trouble.

There are special maneuvers, ways of paddling, to successfully make their way around rocks or other impediments in their path without damage or injury. They learn a bit about reading the water and weather. The ages of riders ranges anywhere between the late teens into the fit 60s.

Like cars, kayaks are designed for special conditions. The 15-foot-9-inch plastic kayak in Johnson's stable of three works well in local rivers and lakes. It is maneuverable in tight places. The next size, a 16-foot-9-inch plastic one, does likewise but is better for lake .

A sea kayak, the longest at 17-feet-9-inches, is made of fiber glass and often comes with a built-in compass and a rudder. It is made for long trips, with extra space for legs to keep them from cramping. They are made to fit the rider plus room for 100 pounds of tack.

A wet suit, specially designed to be worn in frigid wet conditions, is required for riders heading out into Lake Superior. Wet suits cost all the way from $100 to $1,000 dollars. All kayaks sport a skirt to keep the lake away from the riders. A bilge pump can be a part of the equipment.

Trips Johnson finds especially interesting and challenging the trips out to islands, many of which still have light houses. Some have camp grounds and they stay over a day or two.

How about white-knuckle trips? Have there been any of those?

"Yeah, there is one comes to mind," Johnson said. He tries not to think of it too often.

"That time seven of us paddled out to the Apostles to a camp ground. By the time we started back the wind had come up. Waves were building and cornering. Along with navigating four-foot waves, when turning parallel to a trough would be fatal, we also had to compensate for two strong currents going different directions. The lake was boisterous that day. It seemed like the Old Girl was bent on adding us to the sailors she already had in Davy Jones' Locker.

"Well, we paddled until our arms about fell off. That four miles out on the water seemed more like 100. Sometimes it didn't feel like we were moving.

"Finally, we got back to terra firma, exhausted but overjoyed. It took much longer than it should have but we made it! Seven very tired riders fell into their tents that night."

The Apostles, with their huge sea caves, where only experienced riders explore, or the upper St. Croix with its stretch of white water, and lakes in northern Minnesota's camp grounds are among Johnson's favorites.

Kayaking on Lake Nissee, Telemark, Norway, was a red letter day for Johnson. Great photography lies whichever direction a camera is pointed. There is no such thing as a bad picture day on any kayak outing. Kayaking is noted for being a safe sport, even though they are faster than canoes.

Kayakers fill a practical need by helping DNR keep camp grounds clean. They collect garbage out of the rivers. Each year they station themselves along the route of triathlon swimmers who need to catch their breath in the Brainerd competition .

Local kayakers enjoy what the Crow Wing River and the Huntersville Forest Landing Camp Ground have to offer.

The next tripe scheduled for the Paddle Pushers is on April 24, a 17-mile float from Twin Lakes to the Huntersville Camp Ground, open to all riders.

During the winter months, kayakers get together to snowshoe or cross country ski to keep in shape.

Try to visit Johnson any day the Paddle Pushers are out on the water and you'll find both him and one of his kayaks gone missing, wouldn't you know it?