Our environment shapes who we are and how we feel. This, more than anything else, is why we are drawn to wild places. Our bodies, minds, and spirits are restored, strengthened, and expanded in nature’s company. In the years we have spent exploring Gwaii Haanas, its’ wildness has taught us much about who we are and how we want to live upon the earth. The character of our kayak trips reflects our commitment to the ideals of community, environmental responsibility, and education.
Community. Much like the small communities of Haida Gwaii, a kayak group works best when its individual members combine their skills to attain goals and withstand adversity. In this sense, the whole is quite literally greater than the sum of its parts as we all share in camp duties and pack around items that a single person could never carry, therefore allowing for a higher standard of living for all. The strength of our groups is what allows us to push through nature’s challenges and enjoy each day to the fullest.
Sense of community, co-operation, and sharing are what bring each group together to unite strangers as friends. On our trips, guides and guests alike learn from one another creating a warm environment in which we grow and explore together.
Environmental Responsibility. In a world increasingly altered and scarred by human behaviour, we have somehow been given the privilege to access one of Earth’s last places of raw wilderness. It is an honour to be able to share this opportunity with you. And it is a privilege we want to respect by being mindful of the ways we can help to maintain the environmental well-being of Gwaii Haanas and Haida Gwaii as a whole.
In our lives and business practice, we try to live lightly upon the earth. We consume carefully, reuse possessions, reduce our material needs, recycle and compost everything we can, and practice low-impact camping. We do our best to contribute to the local economy by working with other local companies, harvesting native foods, purchasing vegetables and eggs from local farmers, and hiring local staff. Finally, we hope to give back to our communities by using a percentage of our profits to help fund trips with the youth of Haida Gwaii who might one day lead trips on their own.
Education. While we are not certified biologists, we have spent years living on Haida Gwaii and paddling its’ shorelines. For most of us, this place has been our greatest teacher and it is a joy to share some of what we have learned with you. If you are interested in learning more about kayaking (strokes, rescues, navigation, weather), nature, and/or Haida Gwaii life, we are eager to help.
Though we travel as a group, there is always time for everyone to pursue their own interests, whether that be fishing, developing kayak skills, finding a quiet place to read, taking an afternoon siesta, exploring the intertidal pools, or following a creek up into the forest.
In terms of interpreting the vast cultural and human history of these islands, we are so lucky to have access to the knowledge and expertise of the Haida Watchmen. The Watchmen Program began in 1981 as a means of protecting the natural and cultural heritage of abandoned village sites in Gwaii Haanas. Between May and September, several Haida guardians are posted at each site to ensure minimal visitor impact as well as a welcoming presence at the villages. But more than anything, they bring their ancestral homes back to life and remind us of how, not so long ago, humans were an integral part of the environment we paddle through, and give us hope that we might one day rediscover that connection.
Green Coast Kayaking has been operating within the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site since 1989 just after the area became protected. The company - originally called “Gabriola Cycle and Kayak” - was created by a man with a keen eye for adventure and opportunity named Peter Marcus. He started by simply paddling around Gwaii Haanas with friends, just enjoying the raw beauty of it all. Word of their grand adventures spread, and the endeavour quickly grew from a spontaneous summer trip to the “slightly” more organized operation we are running today. Peter was a special man who instilled the spirit of group tripping, shared responsibility, and unscripted fun into the Green Coast Kayaking philosophy. Sadly, he passed suddenly in 2008 leaving so many friends and family who will never forget the quality of his life. Today we honour his vision and passion for kayak tripping in the way we carry ourselves through Gwaii Haanas with respect and wonderment for the place he loved.
In 2000, we met another incredibly important person in the history of this company – Joanne Hager or “Jo” as she is commonly known throughout Haida Gwaii. Jo started working as an apprentice guide just after graduating university when “all I knew was that I wanted to spend the rest of my life outside with people”. Despite being relatively new to kayaking, she excelled as a guide and would spend the next 8 years leading kayak trips throughout the North Pacific and Baja, Mexico with Gabriola Cycle and Kayak. When Peter passed away Jo took over the Haida Gwaii based portion of the company and renamed it Green Coast Kayaking – a suggestion from her mother who was struck by all the different shades of green out here.
When Jo walks into a room her presence is immediately felt as a warm glow that makes everybody more comfortable. She is kind to a fault, funny at nobody’s expense, and loved by all who know her. People would first trip with GCK to experience Gwaii Haanas, and then come back the following season just to be with Jo again. She is a remarkable person who gave so much to the company as a guide and owner. 2016 will mark a new beginning for Jo as she departs from GCK to fulfill her dreams and spread her infectiously positive attitude through different avenues.
The third and current chapter in the story of Green Coast Kayaking is now taking shape under a new owner and guide – Bryce Klee – who is incredibly excited to carry forward the traditions and philosophies adopted by Peter and Jo while bringing some of his personal flare for wilderness tripping into the equation as well. Bryce moved to Queen Charlotte, Haida Gwaii in 2014 where he works as a Paramedic, Assistant Carpenter, and Tree Planter during the “off season”. He was previously living in Eastern Africa where he guided walking and 4x4 safaris until arriving on the west coast where he immediately pursued kayaking and become a certified guide with a different company operating in Gwaii Haanas. The islands have now become his home and playground where he hopes to use the resources of GCK to contribute to the community around him.
In 2017, Bryce initiated an expansion of Green Coast Kayaking, in hopes of extending the company's ability to provide wilderness adventures to locals and visitors to Haida Gwaii. Many new kayaks, a fleet of bicycles, and one new van let us now offer rentals and shorter trips out of Queen Charlotte.
Bryce Klee. Owner & Guide.
Since I was just a pup I have been fascinated by wild creatures and the places they live. My parents can attest to the rows of carefully organized animal figurines that lined my bedroom, divided into their natural environments and likely poised for the hunter-prey showdown that would inevitably ensue. I was very fortunate to be exposed to nature throughout my childhood and will be forever grateful to my family for enabling so many inspiring moments.
After leaving the nest I spent a great deal of time travelling throughout South America, Asia, and Africa while experimenting with just about every job in the book. I was inspired to pursue tourism and guiding when I realized how well it combined my skills, passions, and ambitions. Haida Gwaii had been on my radar for years as a wild and mystical place to one day explore. So, given the opportunity to re-shape my vision for the future, I committed to ingraining myself in the culture, community, and environment of the archipelago about which I had so long been curious. Upon arriving in Queen Charlotte, Haida Gwaii I was inspired by the physical beauty of the landscape and the deep connection to nature that many of the inhabitants share. I have since found a very pleasant niche for myself within the community working as a Paramedic, assistant carpenter, and tree planter in the winter months and a professional sea kayak guide in the summer. This is my first season as the owner of Green Coast Kayaking and I am incredibly excited to embark on this journey and share in the natural and cultural treasure that Haida Gwaii has to offer with all my guests, family and friends (the distinction often gets blurry).
Greatly looking forward to paddling with you all.
Amy Benskin. Guide.
Amy grew up in Victoria where she spent a great deal of her time playing in the ocean. Her passion for watersports led to a career instructing whitewater kayaking and canoeing, sea kayaking, and scuba diving. She has worked as an outdoor educator and guide all over Vancouver Island, mainland BC, Australia, and South East Asia, sharing her love of nature and drive for adventure with youth and adults who are striving for the same. Fall through spring, Amy is pursuing a Post Degree Program in Secondary Education at UVic while working at Ocean River Sports as a sea kayak guide and Adventure Centre Coordinator. She is also a whitewater canoeing and sea kayaking instructor for COLT (Canadian Outdoor Leadership Training), based out of Strathcona Park, and a scuba diving instructor for Rockfish Divers, based in Victoria.
Education is a true passion for Amy, and represents one of her greatest strengths as a Guide. Whether it be chart navigation, fire-building, or bird identification, Amy is always happy to share skills and knowledge with her guests; her kind demeanor makes her very easy to chat with.
Amy is also helping to manage Green Coast Kayaking during the off-season, which in conjunction with her extensive wilderness training and guiding experience, makes her a figurative super-hero to the company. Welcome aboard Amy.