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Charleston’s East Coast Canoe & Kayak Festival has obviously become a big deal to manufacturers and dealers. The 12th annual version this past April drew more boaters and exhibitors than ever, with a long list of top manufacturers and dealers in attendance.

“It’s a unique opportunity for paddlers to interact with all aspects of the industry,” says John Pagenstecher, a ten-time attendee who was once a manufacturer’s representative for companies like Wilderness Systems and Kokotat. He’s now co-owner of Carolina Coastal Adventures/Kayak Carolina, an outfitter in Carolina Beach, North Carolina. “From designers to manufacturers, instructors, guides, and retailers, everyone’s here,” he adds. John’s wife, Angela, who is the other owner of the company, taught several classes during this year’s festival.

Coordinated by the Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission, the festival was named last year’s American Canoe Association Sanctioned Event of the Year. The event is held at James Island County Park, which provides a large pond for on-water classes and demo, access to bigger water, and proximity to the Atlantic for surf kayaking and classes. “Thanks to the location, the program, and word of mouth, we generate more and more enthusiasm within the paddling community each year,” says Steve Hutton, who coordinates the event for the parks system. That enthusiasm led to more than 750 consumers in attendance, as well as close to 50 speakers and presenters and more than 165 exhibitors and their staff.

This year’s version had more than 40 commercial exhibits by some of the nation’s finest retailers and manufacturers. The long list of manufacturers this year included Confluence, Chesapeake Light Craft, Perception, Feathercraft, Bell Canoe Works, The Kayak Cover Company, Werner Paddles, Liquidlogic, Wenonah/Current Designs, SeaLine, Osprey Kayaks, Charleston’s own Folbot, and many others. Outfitters and retailers included Nantahala Outdoor Center, Pro Canoe & Kayak, Black River Outdoor Center & Expeditions, Naples Sea Kayaking Adventures, H2Outfitters, the local outdoors shop Time Out Sport & Ski, and many more.

Folbot’s president Phil Cotton says, “We have been coming to this local event that gets national attention since 1986, but this was our second year of showing our products. We decided that the event is too large and well-attended not to have a presence.” Cotton’s company has been continuously producing folding kayaks longer than any other folding boat manufacturer and their booth really bustled this year. “It’s a great opportunity to expose our unique boats and more to locals, as well as getting veteran paddler from further afield to try them out.”

The lake was filled all three days with paddlers trying out boats, but there were also dozens of on-water classes from which to choose. These ranged from those getting in a boat for the first time to many ‘masters classes.’ Other highlights included book signings, a slide show, a southern barbecue, ‘Kid’s Fest,’ and even the opportunity to make your own paddle!

It’s easy to see why the festival draws so many repeat visitors. If you haven’t made it yet, make plans for next year’s event, scheduled for April 11-13, 2003. For more information, visit www.ccprc.com or call (843) 795-4FUN.