Crow Wing Paddlers Club makes waves and friends in Lake Country
WRITTEN AND PHOTOGRAPHED BY KATE PERKINS
ON A BEAUTIFUL, IF BREEZY, JULY AFTERNOON, a dozen people gather at the O’Brien Lake boat landing in Crosslake. Kayaks are unloaded from a trailer, and the group—some strangers to each other, some already friends—take to the water and paddle together across the lake.
The Crow Wing Paddlers are a club that gathers about a dozen times in the paddling season (between May and October) to do something they all enjoy: kayak. The group is headed by Jim Bergquist, owner of Crow Wing Kayaks and Wind, Water and Wheels, both in Crosslake. While Bergquist offers half-price kayak rentals to anyone attending a Crow Wing Paddlers journey, it’s by no means required. People come with all kinds of kayaks, and sometimes a canoe or stand up paddleboard. It’s all about getting out on the water.
Some members of the club come to every meet-up, others are first-timers. Cynthia S. travels an hour sometimes to join the Crow Wing Paddlers. She brings her fishing kayak, which is equipped with rod holders and even a livewell for fish. Her dog, Special Agent Gibbs, hops on her lap and they paddle together with the group.
“Getting on the water, that’s a happy place,”
Cynthia heard about the Crow Wing Paddlers on Craigslist, and has come to every single paddle since then.
“It’s just an activity that anybody can do, and it’s all about the fun when you go out with this group,” she said. Anywhere from two to nearly thirty people show up for the paddles, and it’s an all-ages event. Children sit on their parents’ laps in the kayaks, grandparents paddle alongside grandkids, and friends gather.
Bergquist keeps the club simple. He has more than 125 people who have signed up to be on the Crow Wing Paddlers email list, and he sends out updates for upcoming paddles. Members get the schedule, and anyone who can make it shows up for the paddle.
The Crow Wing Paddlers Club was a way for Bergquist to promote both his product and kayaking generally. The group is in its fourth year.
“I was just trying to find a way to promote the sport. Plus, it gives me a reason to get out of the store,” Bergquist said with a laugh.
He also finds that as he paddles with the group, he has real and recent experience with all his different models of kayaks, and can give his customers honest information about each model’s strong points and setbacks.
Bergquist sells Crow Wing Kayaks at his Crosslake store, Wind, Water and Wheels. He also rents the kayaks, as well as bikes, stand up paddleboards, and foam lake pads, and offers shuttled trips down the Pine River. Popular paddles include following the Pine River from the City of Pine River to where the river enters the northwest corner of the Whitefish Chain, or from the dam in Crosslake (where the river exits the chain) to Big Pine Lake. Bergquist’s store also has access on the Whitefish Chain just across the street from the store.
To Bergquist, kayaking is a lighter, simpler, more independent way of exploring Minnesota’s waterways. He finds that many of his customers are selling their fishing boats and Jon boats in favor of kayaks. Why? Because kayaks are easy to transport, don’t have to be winterized and rarely need maintenance. Throw a kayak on your car, and then toss it in the water and go.
This was a selling point for Cynthia, who loves to fish but had trouble managing a canoe or a boat on her own. With her kayak, she has no problem taking to the water solo for fishing trips.
To Bergquist, kayaks are also a better way to see the lake. They go in shallow water, through weeds, and into tiny inlets while larger boats often have to stick to the boating channels.