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Paddling odds and ends

Janet Snyder, left, talks with paddling instructors Laura and Jeff Liebel last weekend before an outing on the Buffalo River (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)


By Scott Scanlon -- Refresh Editor

Western New York paddling instructors Jeff and Laura Liebel, Bob Van Hise and Vanessa Wazny had so many interesting things to say about kayaking and canoeing last week, that I wanted to give Refresh Buffalo blog readers an extra taste of how fun this sport can be.

It also can be dangerous to a relationship, but more on that later.

First I want to thank Charlie Helman, of Rochester, an avid Adirondack Mountain Club paddler I met a few weeks ago in Batavia, for putting me in touch with experts from Western New York.

Jeff Liebel highly recommended the kayak tours available in various parts of the region -- some of them are outlined in this weekend's WNY Refresh stories on canoeing and kayaking-- and pointed out: "It also gives people a totally different view of Buffalo than they’re used to.”

“You’ve got to love water to want to protect it,” Van Hise added.

These folks love water. The Liebels haven't picked up their golf clubs in about five years; Van Hise has hiked the 46 high peaks in the Adirondacks but has spent most of his free time in a kayak in recent years; Wazny said her garden used to look lots nicer.

“There are so many places in Western New York that are interesting and fascinating to see from on the water,” Van Hise said.

Van Hise is credited with helping paddlers understand that parts of the Niagara River are accessible and pristine.

“There was a time when if you we’re ready to go to the gates of hell, you’d just step into the Niagara River, you were going to be dead," Jeff Liebel said. "Bob, not heeding any of those warnings, started to go out on the upper and lower Niagara River every week and publish what he was doing for the ADK club. Then one brave soul would go out with him on the Niagara River and they’d both come back and say, ‘Hey, it wasn’t bad.’ Then some more brave souls started going out, and over the years he really created this aura of things.

"Then the Greenway Commission was created and more launches were built and all these things started to happen. People started realizing you could go out on the river and be with other experienced folks, you can be a novice paddler, and enjoy the experience.”

“And people don’t realize,” said Nazny, “you can go out on the Niagara River and you can see osprey – we saw an osprey catch a fish one time – you can see eagles, white egrets, great blue herons.”

Laura Liebel called paddlers "a good group of people."

“We have a core group of values about respecting nature and water and each other. It’s supportive," she said. "We have fun.”

But sometimes, paddlers do face troubled waters.

Enthusiasts tend to call tandem canoes and tandem kayaks “divorce boats.”

 It seems paddling in pairs has its downside.

“There’s a lot of yelling going on,” Van Hise said.

 “My husband’s not going to listen to anything I say,” said Wazny.

Typically, Nazny said, "The man’s in the back and the woman’s in the front and the front’s supposed to be the power seat and the stern seat is the one that’s in control of where we’re going. But when you really start to learn the sport, you find out it’s really about working together and being in cadence, and the bow has just as much ability to steer the boat and choose direction as the stern

In the end, Van Hise says, “it’s a beautiful way to work on a relationship.”

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About The Refresh Buffalo Blog

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon is an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered various topics in his quarter-century as a journalist in South Florida, Syracuse and Buffalo. He is aiming to pass along what he is learning these days about health, fitness, nutrition and family life.

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