Robin Newcomer ~ May 2015
(04/28/2015) Where are you from? Your profession? I moved to Apollo Beach, Florida, in 2003 from Seattle with my husband, Paul. However, I grew up in the beach-cities area of Southern California (Redondo-Hermosa-Manhattan environs) and consider SoCal my "real" home. I have been fortunate to have had two careers: first as a reporter (10 years) and later an editor (another 10 years) for daily newspapers both in SoCal and in Washington state; in 1992 I decided to use my Master's degree in Mass Comm to teach journalism and English at Olympic College, a two-year community college in Bremerton, Washington. I retired from my tenured job once we moved to Florida but continue to teach English online as an adjunct for the college. When and how did you become interested in paddling? I have always been drawn to and lived near water--I am a Pisces, after all--but once we moved from Southern California to Western Washington, I realized Puget Sound, at 40-50 degrees nearly year-round, was too cold to be IN, so I decided a kayak would put me ON the water. I wanted my three children to love the water, too, so it became a family affair to paddle around inlets and small bays close to home. However, we always rented kayaks (and in Puget Sound waters, spray skirts were never optional). Once Paul and I moved to Apollo Beach, we built a "party" dock with a floating dock beside it and researched the "best" kayak for paddling Tampa Bay and nearby rivers. As a result, we purchased two Wilderness Systems Cape Horn touring kayaks (15.5 feet). I have paddled "Yellow Bird" for more than a decade. She eventually will have a "sister yak" once I figure out the next best perfect boat. I am open to suggestions! Where is your favorite place to paddle? There is such spontaneity in pushing off from my Apollo Beach dock, and I enjoy paddling to a nearby island where I can sit on the beach and/or look for shells, surrounded by sail and power boats, knowing I got there "on my own steam." I also enjoy majestic Tampa Bay sunrises amidst the nearby mangroves populated by heron and rosette spoonbills and watching the sun radiate fantastic splays of color as it dips below the horizon behind St. Petersburg. But, honestly, my favorite place is always the place I am paddling "right now." The Florida Keys Challenge brings me incomparable joy when I recall this year's paddling/camping adventures, and the recently completed Suwannee River Paddling Festival introduced me to a Florida I had never seen before--the Suwannee and Withlachoochee rivers are waters I want to return to. I am a new member to Tampa Bay Sea Kayakers, also an amazingly active group of paddlers, who are introducing me to new "favorite" places. What’s the most interesting thing that ever happened to you on a paddling trip? I should probably say my first capsize in more than 20 years of kayaking when I tried to dodge a 2-by-4 hanging on a low branch on Suwannee River--but other than freaking out about possible lurking alligators, that really isn't true. It just means I am going to take a lot of flak from my Paddle Florida buddies/rescuers Roger Cayer, Bob Gordon, and Allison Underwood for a long, long, long time. My most interesting paddling adventures have taken place among friendly water-bound buddies. Once, while paddling on Tampa Bay, I noticed the water was roiling, and I stopped to observe. Suddenly, I heard a splash at my stern and turned just in time to see a manatee tail wave before it sunk. I quickly looked around and realized I was in a large group of manatee either coming or going from the nearby power plant where they gather in the winter but leave periodically during the day to eat nearby grasses. I lingered as adult and baby manatee popped their heads up for air all around me. Another time, after the sudden passing of my brother Keith (who loved the water even more than I; he was a Pisces too), I found myself paddling with six or seven dolphin, all madly feeding on little fish. Some dolphin slowed to swim under my boat, lying on their sides, eyeballs on me. It was especially memorable because Keith loved to swim with dolphins and jokingly told people his grandmother was a dolphin. If ever Keith were to be reincarnated, I'm sure it would be as a dolphin, so whenever I have an encounter with one, I feel one with my brother. How many Paddle Florida trips have you gone on and to where? I started 2015 with the Florida Keys Challenge in January but, because of family obligations, had to wait until April's Suwannee River Paddling Festival when I reunited with three "Keys Challenge" new-found friends. I hope to end the year with another Paddle Florida trip--a more lengthy one; once I am paddling, I don't want it to end. What keeps you coming back? The water, the invigorating and sometimes challenging paddles, the evening entertainment and education programs, and my fellow paddlers--those I now call friends and those who I haven't yet met. I also love an excuse to pitch my tent and sleep on the ground (my mother does not understand this). Oh, and the food--how are we supposed to lose weight when the caterers offer such bountiful and delicious tables of food?! Most of all, what keeps me coming back: Bill, Jill, and Jan, who are so wonderfully welcoming and work so hard to keep Paddle Florida a premier group for those who love to paddle and who want to do their parts to help keep the waterways of Florida flowing for future generations. Can you describe a Paddle Florida trip highlight? We launched from Knight's Key Campground on route to Bahia Honda State Park with 7-Mile Bridge marking the crossing...so that's what seven miles on the water looks like--wow! What advice do you have for folks considering a Paddle Florida trip? To coin a well-worn corporate slogan: Just Do It! I had wanted to do the Florida Keys Challenge for four years, and this year, I told myself was my year. I still was apprehensive: "Would my boat measure up?" "Could I paddle the long distances?" "Was I able to afford the cost?" "I don't know anyone--how will that work out?" I finally put those monkey-mind questions aside and signed up. It was the best gift I may ever give myself. The trip, as Paddle Florida organizers remind us, "is your own." Slow paddlers, fast paddlers, solo paddlers, paddlers with partners, plastic boat owners, Kevlar boat owners, composite boat owners....they are all there--and all are enjoying their own perfect paddling experiences.