How 50 Pounds of Plastic Changed My Life
by Thomas Chekouras
My journey into paddle sports wasn’t quite a direct flight, but more of a windy path.
I've had a passion for sports my whole life, but being born with certain disabilities has kept me from organized sports for the most part. Still, I played pick-up basketball, hockey and football, until one day I sustained a major knee injury.
I no longer have the ability to walk without a cane. But after more than ten years the passion for sports still lingers.
Occasionally I would see a kayaker on TV or YouTube, and a small part of me was in awe, whispering, “I wanna do that!”
A friend, Josh, and I were throwing around the idea of getting kayaks late in 2018. Then in the spring of '19 we tragically lost one of our best friends. That kind of loss tends to enforce that there’s no time to waste. So when Josh asked if I was still thinking about getting a boat, I was instantly all in.
We started our research, like all modern folks do, on YouTube.
We came across a couple videos that were very helpful, made by a guy named Dan. After watching a couple more videos, I realized he was in my town. We took Dan’s great advice, bought low-cost fishing kayaks, and hit local Lodi Lake.
It was an emotional day! The moment we hit the water we were in—the calm, quiet draw of nature…the communion with my friend…and, for me, the freedom of movement I hadn't had for a decade. It was a fantastic first experience on the water.
That same day we attended our friend’s memorial service. He would be so proud of us both—Josh for trying something new and athletic, and me for finding a new passion and path to health. We honor him with every trip.
After that first day, we both came away tired, sun-baked, sore—and happy! We found an activity we enjoyed and looked for more ways to enjoy the sport.
The crew at Headwaters Kayak made it easy. Our first friend was a kind, hard-working young man named Jaden. He’s a good kid who's always there to help with my boat and with any questions I have. We then met his sister, Allie, and Abba. Abba runs the show there and is one of the sweetest young ladies I've ever had the pleasure to meet.
The group at the boathouse recommended we join the Wednesday community paddle at the lake, so we did. After we powered our way through the faster, lighter boats to keep up with the front of the pack, we had a discussion.
We realized our boats weren’t going to cut it for what our goals were. So we started more research, but this time decided to go to Headwaters first. There we got the chance to meet Dan Arbuckle, the owner and YouTube host, who quickly became a friend.
Along with the rest of the crew, I quickly fell in love with my new boat, a Dagger Axis 10.5. To their credit, Dan insisted I try it out before buying. My first trial was on my birthday, a special day with friends on the water. The new boat quickly became comfortable, and after a couple of outfitting tweaks from the shop, it’s becomes a part of me.
For the first time in my life I was fast. For the first time in my life I was agile. Before I knew it, not only was I having a blast, but I was more free than I’d ever been.
This 50 pounds of plastic has opened up a whole new world of exploration. I get to see parts of a town I've lived in for more than 30 years that I've never seen. I get the rush of catching my fist eddy and peeling out of it, only to paddle into a standing wave to surf.
How cool is that?
This 50 pounds of plastic has already taken me on adventures I never thought I’d have, and it’ll take me on a lot more.
Our first time on a running river was an adventure for sure. Dan took Josh and me on the local river. Right away I fell out of my boat, and was rescued by Josh. It was a sign of things to come! After a few runs in a couple eddies, Josh and I ended up swimming at the same time.
Dan fished us both out and got us down the river. This wasn’t an ideal start for either Josh nor me, but our immediate reaction was, "Let's do it again!" We weren’t about to let a dicey first try stop us!
The next time down, we rocked it! Finding new eddies, riding a wave and becoming more comfortable in the moving water—I was melding with this 50 pounds of plastic.
My kayak and I have plans. In the coming weeks, months and years we’ll learn together. We’ll ride faster water, bigger waves, and maybe even wipe some saltwater off the deck. We’ll roll together, we’ll pick up bumps, bruises, and maybe a few new scars. One thing I know for sure, it’ll be fun!
Learning a new skill at any age isn't easy, but trying something new is always worth it.
In the short time I've been in this sport, I've made lifelong friends, and found a community of good people in my area willing to teach and help. I found a space I can escape to if I need it. I found a sport that’s easy to do, but impossible to master. I found a bond with friends, both here and gone.
I'd like to leave this thought: Try something new! if you can't run, walk. If you can't walk, kayak.
If you can't pursue the passion you think you love, look around. You never know when you might find your 50 pounds of plastic passion.
(All photos courtesy of Thomas Chekouras)
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