What happens when two guys from Seward, Alaska, take off for Seattle in kayaks? A lot of laughs, according to kayaker and filmmaker Josh Thomas. But not slapstick comedy so much as slices of life that become humorous in their very complexity. Such complexities sum up the mood of Josh Thomas and J.J. Kelley's 52-minute...
What happens when two guys from Seward, Alaska, take off for Seattle in kayaks?
A lot of laughs, according to kayaker and filmmaker Josh Thomas. But not slapstick comedy so much as slices of life that become humorous.
This sums up the documentary “Paddle to Seattle,” which chronicles Thomas and J.J. Kelley’s 1,200-mile journey through the Inside Passage during the “rainiest summer in 15 years in our continent’s only rain forest.”
So far, it’s racked up awards at film festivals in Port Townsend; Durango, Colo.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Minneapolis, Minn.; and Anchorage plus received rave reviews from “National Geographic” and “Outside” magazines.
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The movie includes footage of the pair training in Seward (running down Lowell Point Road), finishing up the touches on their home-built kayaks and practicing out on Resurrection Bay.
“We got started late in the season, July 8,” Thomas said. “By the time September rolled around, fall storms were starting to roll in, strong, big storms, and at one point we didn’t know if we were going to be able to finish.”
The kayakers followed the Inside Passage, which kept them within a mile or so of shore at most times, though there were three or four ocean crossings where they were “kind of out there in the middle of it all,” according to Thomas.
The trip took three months, including stops for 20 bad weather days and 15 days in various towns along the way. They carried three video cameras and filmed more than 70 hours of footage.
Thomas and Kelley met seven years ago as they both hiked solo along the Appalachian Trail. They later traveled up to Alaska for a bicycle trip from Seward to the Arctic Ocean in 2006. That resulted in the documentary “Pedal to the Midnight Sun,” a hilarious tale of adventure that takes the pair to an Alaska wedding and a visit to Santa Claus at the North Pole.
Thomas isn’t sure why their documentaries are so funny. They don’t intend them to be. Yet there is something so boyishly earnest in their offhand comments, such as when they visit the northern most spruce tree during “Pedal to the Midnight Sun” filming and Kelley says, “I expected it to be alive.”
This offbeat humor continues in “Paddle to Seattle” and when the two encounter a bear on the beach and yell, “Hey bear, get out of here bear,” it’s laugh-out-loud hilarious, since the bear looks equally as wet and miserable.
“We don’t focus on the suffering,” Thomas said. “For us, we’re really happy to be out there, we’re living our dreams, and even though things go wrong, we keep a good attitude. As we were putting it together, we realized that it’s almost a comedy.”
Kudos also must be given to Ben Gottfried, who edited the film that highlights the men’s personalities without distracting from the landscape.
“We captured so, so much,” Thomas said. “But in the end we wanted the film to focus on the strongest, and I think we’ve done that.”
Their most memorable moment was traveling past the humpback- whale migration in southeast Alaska.
“We were surrounded by easily over a dozen whales feeding, and just to be paddling by them, and in the water with them … ” Thomas paused for a moment.
“It was the absolute best.”