Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Kayaking the Yough, with thanks to Performance Kayak

I recently enjoyed a Western PA Kayaking meetup group “Paddle Party,” an easy six mile paddle on Pennsylvania’s Youghiogheny River from Smithton Beach to Performance Kayakjust upstream of West Newton, PA, followed by a lunch hosted by the great folks who own and run Performance Kayak.  Although I have cycled past Performance Kayak at least twice as I was riding the nearby Great Allegheny Passage, this was my first time to meet the Lucas family, who own and manage the business. It was also my first time to kayak on the Youghiogheny River and to attend a Western PA Kayaking meetup group paddle and to meet some of the fine people (and competent paddlers) who are part of the group.

Loading boats before the trip
I was the first paddler to arrive at Performance Kayak but others started arriving soon after. One of the first things I noticed was a couple dozen demo kayaks out on the grass, all for sale at reduced price, and the display building open for browsing, as it was Performance Kayak’s end of year sale and open house. If I didn’t already own two kayaks, a Necky Chatham 17 and a Dagger Zydeco 9.0, I would have been even more tempted to take home one of the lightweight Eddylines I saw. It was probably a good thing I had not put the extra set of Yakima Hull Raisers on the cars roof rack or the temptation might have been too great to resist.

After the announced starting time, Performance Kayak started loading our yaks on a couple trailers. Those paddling then climbed into either the van or the pickup truck, each vehicle towing a trailer of boats behind it. Performance Kayak shuttled us six miles upstream to Smithton Beach, about a fifteen minute drive.  The short van ride gave me the opportunity to start becoming acquainted with some of the others I would be paddling with.

On the Yough near Smithton Beach
Once at Smithton Beach, Performance Kayak unloaded all the boats and set them aside. I carried my Dagger Zydeco 9.0 from the parking lot down to the river’s edge and was about the third or fourth person out of our group of about a dozen to put in. The trip leader in me coming out, I paddled upstream and hugged the near bank until all our group was in the water, and then paddled downstream to join them.

High, swift, and brown after the previous day’s rain, the Yough delivered. We indeed enjoyed an easy trip as we paddled and drifted the six miles downstream back to Performance Kayak without incident. I did manage to catch an eddy downstream of the only rock I saw. At least I assumed it was a rock, a rock fully covered by water. The only thing that would have improved the trip would have been if the trees were another week or two into their fall colors.

About ninety minutes after we hit the water, I spied the sign announcing our arrival back at Performance Kayak and the wooden ramp and dock below the sign. I was the third paddler to reach the take out and quickly climbed out of my boat, carried it up the bank to a level area, and then came back down to the river to help others as they took out. After the last of our group got out of their boat and carried it up the ramp I went to retrieve my boat from where I had left it only to discover that someone had already carried it up into the yard.

Some of group paddling ahead of me
After putting my boat back on top of the car, I changed out of my long sleeve NRS rash guard into a long sleeve cotton t-shirt and out of my NRS neoprene wet shoes into Chacos. I took apart my Werner Comano paddle and placed it and the rest of my paddling gear on the floor behind the car’s front seats. After that, it was time for the “Paddle Party!”

The Lucas family and Performance Kayak provided an incredible spread. They provided slaw, beans, potato salad, fried chicken, various chips, hot apple cider, and draft beer.  We all enjoyed this incredible lunch outside around tables on the wooden deck. It was the perfect ending to a perfect paddle.

As we were finishing up lunch I had the opportunity to chat with owner Hansel Lucas 2. As we talked around one of the tables outside on the deck, I learned that Hansel got into paddling about forty years ago, and kayaking about twenty years ago. The last fifteen years he has been into kayak racing. After several years in the military and then working in electronics, he started Performance Kayak four years ago.

"Paddle Party" Lunch at Performance Kayak
Performance Kayak is a family business. Hansel 2 and his wife Kim manage the store just upstream of West Newton at the end of Buddtown Rd. , not far from milepost 113 on the Great Allegheny Passage. His son Hansel 3, and daughter-in-law Jody, manage the other Performance Kayak store at Brookville. Any of a number of grandchildren might also be seen around the stores.

According to Hansel, he can easily put sixty hours a week into the business during their busy season, which I was surprised to learn is February, their racing month. He also said that even when they are not open is he available 24/7 by phone; although you might need to leave a message and he will get back to you.

Performance Kayak. on the Yough upstream of West Newton
As I listened to Hansel talk about kayaking, racing, the Yough, and Performance Kayak, it was obvious that he is truly a people person and loves what he does. He claimed that unlike big box stores, Performance Kayak is ready, willing, and able to provide personal service and follow-up after purchase service and care. Based on what I had seen that day, I had no reason to doubt him.

Although this was my first time to enjoy a Paddle Party at Performance Kayak, I hope it was not my last. I am already looking forward to next year’s end of season event, or perhaps a start of season event (hint, hint) next spring. Until then, I might have to start saving up for one of those lightweight Eddylines.

No comments: