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Families Who Adventure Together Photos: courtesy Michael Powers

A Reflection On Family, Kayaking, And Putting Down Roots

It started with a few observations, then an offhand remark, and finally, a question: If wanderlust—or waterlust—often seems contagious, could it in fact be inherited? To learn the answer, we tracked down paddling explorers, entrepreneurs, photographers, historians and guides, from California to Baffin Island, who all share a common thread—families who adventure together. 

MICHAEL & MARIKA POWERS 

“I don't want to be cute anymore, I want to be tough and brave.” 

Michael Powers still chuckles when he remembers his three-year-old daughter, Marika, uttering these words. Adventure Kayak caught up with the elder Powers, 76, from California’s Miramar Beach, where he’s lived in a Viking-style home of his own creation, facing the Pacific for the past 47 years.

Best known for his exploits with the Tsunami Rangers, a group of pioneering extreme conditions sea kayakers who hit their heyday in the ‘90s and early 2000s (“we’re kind of over the hill now,” he admits), Powers has also made some remarkable journeys with his equally adventurous daughter. When Marika isn’t busy guiding wilderness expeditions in Alaska, Baja, Costa Rica and Hawaii, she joins her father for ambitious trips all over the world. Together, they’ve made two multi-sport crossings of Patagonia, explored Cuba, paddled Mavericks and Alaska’s Tracy Arm Fiord, and much else.

“My parents filled my childhood with wonder and even a little magic,” Marika says. “They lived unconventional lives and gave me perspective and experiences outside the norm.”

Here, father and daughter share some of those insights and discoveries.

ON FAMILY LIFE

Marika: Growing up, I realized that my family life was different, but not that it was special until I was older. I remember being totally embarrassed at my father clad in animal skins, running around like a wild man.
Michael: I was immature myself when I had kids. I wasn’t the solid, patriarchal example. My own upbringing had very little stability; I went to 14 different schools in half-a-dozen states before high school. Marika is the same way as me—unconventional, adventurous—and probably for the same reasons. There’s always a  trade-off. You can’t be an outdoor guide and a family patriarch.

ON PARENTING

Marika: My father was more relaxed in his parenting; my mother had to maintain a watchful eye to ensure no loss of limbs. Michael: I’m not in Tsunami Rangers mode on trips with Marika. We’ve swum, we’ve been uncomfortable, but she’s never been hurt on our adventures.

ON KAYAKING

Marika: My father took me on my first kayaking trip, and I hated it. Totally traumatizing. We flipped multiple times. I remember him holding onto his camera bag with one hand and his freaked out seven-year-old with the other, floating down the middle of the river.
Michael: I had just gotten into kayaking and I read about the East Carson River, which flows out of the Sierras into the Carson Desert. The article said it would be easy class II, but it was actually pretty challenging. We were novices; I had these little inflatable boats, no helmets, no life vests. It was a two-day trip, with a camp out at a hot springs. I shudder now to think how ill- prepared we were. Marika didn’t hold it against me, though.

ON PUTTING DOWN ROOTS

Marika: I love being out in Alaska. I feel most content out there, and while I don’t ‘live’ anywhere, coming back to Alaska always feels like coming home.
Michael: I’ve expressed my concern to Marika that she’s 40 and hasn’t got a home, you know, ‘Where do old guides go?’ I’d like to see her have roots. She just tells me, ‘I like my life.’ There’s a Spanish saying—paso a paso—which means step-by-step. To stay in the moment—that’s been my philosophy and it’s hers as well.  

This article was originally published in Adventure Kayak, Volume 16 • Issue 2. Read this issue.

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