By CHRIS CHANCELLOR
Port Orchard Independent
PORT GAMBLE — It is a small community on the Kitsap Peninsula known for its Walker-Ames House and Port Gamble General Store and Cafe.
But from his office, John Kuntz’s only focus is on Puget Sound.
The owner of Olympic Outdoor Center worked in conjunction with the North Kitsap Trails Association to create a water trail map for the Kitsap Peninsula that extends from Southworth north to Hansville. It also encompasses the Hood Canal.
Kuntz has been an avid kayaker since he relocated with his family to the North Kitsap area in 1982. One of his main projects during the time was to create a water trail with locations throughout the county to convenience kayakers and buoy area businesses.
Forrest Wells, a Bainbridge resident who is Olympic Outdoor Center’s business manager, said, “The point of the trail is to encourage folks to get out and explore the resource that is here in their backwater. Our goal is to get families to participate in a recreational setting.”
Kuntz said the water trail map, finished last year, gives kayakers several destinations as kayakers typically move as quickly as they walk. Kayakers sometimes seek alternate routes to popular locations. They might even just want to moor in front of a favor restaurant in Poulsbo or Port Orchard. But, more often, kayaking is about enjoying the region’s geographic diversity, he said.
“It’s a low-impact activity,” Wells said. “It’s an intimate way to be out in the environment. You’re not causing a lot of disruption when you are out.”Olympic Outdoor Center has locations in Port Gamble, Poulsbo, Silverdale and on Bainbridge Island, and Kuntz said his business eventually could expand to Port Orchard.
The clientele is similar to those reported by bed and breakfasts in the area with some traveling just minutes with others coming from destinations as far away as Europe to explore the West Sound. Olympic Outdoor Center offers kayak rentals ranging from an hour to a week. Hourly rates for a single kayak are $16 with doubles costing $24. Day rates for those kayaks are $75 and $90, respectively.
One of the biggest concerns Kuntz and Wells encounter with prospective kayakers is capsizing. Wells said those events are “a pretty rare event in flat water,” but all should be familiar with safety precautions. Olympic Outdoor Center offers classes on capsize recovery, which is a requirement for any offsite rental.
Olympic Outdoor Center produces two organized kayaking events each year. The first, Paddle Bainbridge, begins Friday. It is a two-day event that begins at Fort Worden. The other is Paddle Kitsap, a two-day event that runs Aug. 10-11. Wells said the format of that event has changed from previous years. Kayakers will gather in Silverdale and travel overnight to Illahee before continuing to Poulsbo the next day. Wells said Olympic Outdoor Center will provide food and handle equipment transportation.
“It’s kind of a window into what it’s like to do a multi-day paddle,” he said, referring to both events.
Wells, 33, has been kayaking for 25 years, but he said novices should not be intimidated from trying it. He said the activity has “a lot of personality to it” because those with varying degrees of experience can test themselves in different environments.
For beginners, Olympic Outdoor Center offers a basic sea kayaking course from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday.
“I think kayaking is in a state of flux right now,” Wells said. “The sport has kind of gone the way of the more experienced paddler. We’re kind of pushing back at this shop. We want to put all walks of life on the water — from 8- to 85-year-olds.
“Kayaking is a lifetime sport and we encourage everyone who likes to be outside and on the water to give it a shot.”