You may have heard stories about a mad Czech who kayaks the Great Lakes, for the stories range far and wide. There are tales of storm-tossed crossings, Winter expeditions, Spring descents of Canadian rivers that turned the front half of a whitewater boat inside out, three-piece kayaks and far-off destinations, brown bears, and much more. So much more, in fact, that the stories seem impossible. But, they’re true. The mad Czech is actually a man named Stan Chladek who divides his time between Southeastern Michigan, Colorado, and many wilderness camps around the world. Stan and his wife, Ema, are both former whitewater world champions who moved to the United States after their European careers ended. After finding themselves in the Detroit area where Ema worked as an engineer, Stan opened Great River Outfitters and began importing British sea kayaks into North America. Stan, Ema, and Great River Outfitters planted the seeds of what has become today’s Great Lakes sea kayaking community and most Great Lakes paddlers can trace their lineage to them through instructors, mentors, and the various gatherings and events on our shores. Indeed, Stan and Ema are the founders of the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium, which is now in its 30th consecutive year and the oldest paddlesport symposium in North America.
As the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium celebrates its history and the vibrant community of paddlers who gather in the Grand Marais Harbor every July, a special invitation was extended to Stan and Ema to join us once again. Fittingly, Stan declined because he already had plans to paddle the West Coast in sea kayaks and sneak in some Western white water on the way there. But, even without a physical presence, we will all remember our roots this year and keel Stan and Ema in our thoughts as we bask in a mid-Summer weekend on the shores of Lake Superior. And, maybe, if Lake Superior throws her waters against the beach and the roar of the surf can be heard from the Rec Center, you might see a Valley Canoe Products Nordkapp HM with an inlay of the great horned lynx, Mishipeshu, being paddled by a wild man who laughs as his kayak bobs in the waves. After all, it would be just one more story to tell about the mad Czech who gave us all a reason to be here…
A legend in the watersports world, few kayakers of any age could match the paddling résumé of Stan Chladek. Chladek’s adventures have taken him to waters in North America, Europe, Australia and Antarctica, but it was his 1999 circumnavigation of Easter Island with fellow paddler Nigel Dennis, a first for sea-kayakers, that solidified his status in the paddling world.
We are very proud of the GLSKS heritage and are forever grateful for the hard work and foresight that Stan and Ema Chladek contributed!