On Becoming a Big Lake Lover

Picture of sea kayakers paddling through the mist at Isle Royale

How a week at Isle Royale made this ocean kayaker feel at home

By Beth Poliquin

Selfie of Beth in her sea kayaking gearAs a kid in Virginia, I loved watching Atlantic dolphins jump and certainly loved living in Hawaii in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I don’t recall ever giving the Great Lakes much thought. But I had no idea. While Superior may not be salty, the “Big Lake” has captured my attention and my delight, nonetheless. Don’t get me wrong; I like lakes in general. And being on the water has always been my favorite activity, whether on rivers, lakes, or seas. But there’s an excitement and freedom in the openness of not seeing surrounding coastlines.

My week at Isle Royale included a couple big water experiences that made this ocean kayaker feel at home. The island itself, being the most remote national park, has an aura of mystery to it. One day on the open southern coast, we paddled into fog so thick that we had to stay within about ten feet of shore just to be able to see it. Talk about mystique! With a map and compass on deck and whistles on our PFDs, we stayed close together and weren’t too concerned about losing our way. Upon entering Chippewa Harbor, we regained some visibility as the wall of fog stood guard just outside. We began the next day with reports of strong winds and whitecaps. I gave a safety briefing to our clients on dealing with the waves we expected and taught them the basics of bracing. What we found, though, were a favorable tailwind and almost three-foot swells, but no whitecaps. Once it looked like my companions were comfortable with the conditions, I offered some tips for catching waves, and soon we were all riding the gentle swells. Speed is my favorite part about surfing waves, and we made great time that day, our longest travel leg.

Not only was the trip fun for me, but I got to share this special place and the water we affectionately and simply call “The Big Lake” with people who wouldn’t have felt comfortable exploring big water on their own. Although cold water is still intimidating to me (as it should be!), I see so much value in guided trips to stay safe and to make the most of adventure travel.

Yes, sometimes I catch myself scanning the water for sea turtles, my silent companions for years, but then I shift my gaze slightly up as I look for loons and up further still as I search for bald eagles. Someone asked me yesterday if I miss guiding in Hawaii, and while there are things I miss, rather than wishing I could go back, I am grateful for the variety of my big water experiences.

Picture of kayakers paddling by Light House on Isle Royale

Picture of two hikers standing on a rock and taking a look at the trees and the water


Want to take a trip to Isle Royale yourself? We don’t blame you. Get all of the Isle Royale Sea Kayaking Adventure details here and then give us a call at (218) 387-3136 to book the tour.

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