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HomeNL-2016-04 Craftless Paddling

Recollections on Watersports practiced on Murk Point Reservoir
March, 2016
David Portz

John Rich asked me to contribute something drawn from when I was a writer for a nationally distributed outdoors magazine. I was covering mostly rock-climbing and bungee jumping. At first I could think of very little relevant to a canoeing and kayaking newsletter. But then I recalled being sent to interview some people in southern North Carolina who were trying to bring wider scope to a sport of canoeing\kayaking without the use of paddles. The proponents were not polers or people who rigged sails above their boats to make progress. And in fairness, they weren’t advocating paddleless sports for whitewater. The practitioners were composed of two factions – racers and a more relaxed set who were given to meditative pleasures of moving their craft through water using only their hands. I flew into Charlotte and drove a rental car to Pleegick Fork near the southern border of the state. I sought out the location of the Idiot Wind Outfitters on the Idiot Wind River, roughly twenty miles from the vast, nut-shaped Murk Point Reservoir.

Long story short, in spite of my advance work, I couldn’t reach any of my contacts, and the place was a mass of black wet embers. But I found cards blowing across the parking lot which identified a different local outfitter. I drove south to the reservoir and on the South Carolina side located the business I was looking for, Simple Creek Sports. The parking lot had plenty of cars - not a one of them with a roof rack. Walking in the door I dodged a beaming, heavyset guy carrying a new Werner paddle, wearing a bright orange PFD.
It turned out the two outfitters had been in a good old-fashioned north-south business rivalry, and the Simple Creek people had come out on top. The Simple Creek people were vocal that it made no sense to carry on paddle sports without a paddle. In whitewater circumstances, which could not always be predicted, paddleless paddling could be quite dangerous. And they pointed out that paddleless paddling was quite useless as a fitness activity except for the element of getting the craft to and from the vehicle, and sometimes portaging it. They made the nascent sport such an object of ridicule that Idiot Wind Outfitters found it tough going. And then of course it was struck with the disaster.

Craftless Paddling™
adherent, Simple Creek,
South Carolina
Capitalizing on this triumph of “Simple” logic, Simple Creek went further, to pioneer the sport of Craftless Paddling™. Rather than going without the paddle, Simple Creek advocated going without the boat. They won many local adherents, touting the various positives. Perhaps the top of the list was that the purchase of a good quality kayak or canoe is the single most expensive element of the traditional hobby. So if one can dispense with the need of purchasing a boat, one has a great deal more resources for other quality equipment. One can obtain a truly first-rate paddle. And then there were the undeniable fitness aspects - certainly compared to sitting in a canoe and drifting. Paddling without a hull to ease your progress was much more anaerobically demanding and aerobically strenuous. Thirdly, for a lot of paddlers, driving/transporting equipment to some remote put-in spot is a difficult complication to their pursuing the sport, compounded by having to make arrangements for placing vehicles at the take-out. Driving is the necessary evil infecting almost all paddle sports, including paddleless paddle sports. It was only with the innovation of Craftless Paddling™ that this time-consuming complication was overcome. Really, Craftless Paddling™ could be done in a swimming pool, duck pond or (for urban dwellers) a largish fountain. There was no need to be driving all over the place and getting lost.

I spent some time with the Simple Creek Sports proprietor, Maxcy Gregg Merrimack Bragg, who stepped into the Murk Point Reservoir to show me how it was done. I’ve since come to realize that there was a great deal of sophistication to his paddling technique -- a lot of it suitable for Class II rapids and even waterfalls of manageable drops. While his store sold sophisticated footwear designed specifically for the sport, Maxcy admitted that good-quality hiking boots could be substituted, with holes cut into them. Generously, he admitted that in Simple Creek and the Murk Bend Reservoir, “the biggest problem is them Medicine Leeches,” but these were pulled off easily at the end of each session. Maxcy pointed out also that your lunch, binoculars, camera, throw line, first aid kit, bailing bucket, extra clothes and rain gear – “all that stuff can stay in a duffel on shore.” “And they ain’t no problem keeping an eye on it neither”, Maxcy said. From Maxcy’s point of view the sport was all pluses and no minuses.

I thought I had something and contacted my editor, but no matter how I explained it, he only responded that “he had principles”. In an effort to get back my travel costs I submitted the story anyway and he ended up running parts of it. That was the only national coverage that Maxcy Gregg or “Craftless Paddling™” ever got. I got a nice letter from Maxcy afterwards and also another recently - nearly fifteen years later. He wanted me to back him up in depositions for some lawsuits to get some royalties. The sport never caught on as much as he had hoped, but he felt that the much the very same thing, essentially, had gained widespread adoption in physical therapy for elderly persons, and to a lesser extent, in spas for the super wealthy. I called him and expressed some skepticism that these instances were an outgrowth of his Simple Creek evangelism, or my article. Before he bangingly hung up on me, Maxcy said, “Well we been doing it down here for more’n twenty years, and I’m sure that Simple Creek is what started it. Respect is due! The sport will rise again!  I’ll tell you Sir - I’ll never give up!” I should note here that Maxcy had something of a temper to go with his doggedness of purpose. Hence the use of the trademark symbols above, as he requested.

The author, David Portz