Jimmy Harvey, left, Jeff Wueste, center, and West Hansen, right, drag their kayaks out of the surf at sunrise Saturday. Pam LeBlanc photo

Next summer, I’m heading north to track the Austin-based Arctic Cowboys as they attempt to become the first paddlers to kayak the entire Northwest Passage.

I’m pretty excited about that expedition. Covering big adventure tops the list of why I left my long-time and much loved job at the Austin American-Statesman to go freelance last fall.

Last weekend, Arctic Cowboys leader West Hansen, plus teammates Jeff Wueste, Jimmy Harvey and I, drove to Padre Island National Seashore so the guys could get some time in the surf in their Epic 18X kayaks.

West Hansen, leader of the Arctic Cowboys expedition, paddles into the surf at Padre Island National Seashore on Aug. 23, 2019. Pam LeBlanc photo

My job? Stand waist deep in the water and try not to flood my camera while taking shots of them in action. I needed the practice as much as they needed the shakedown run in their Epic 18X kayaks.

They learned a few things, like it’s difficult to right an unloaded sea kayak in the surf. The ballast keeps a boat steadier and easier to roll back to upright position.

West Hansen, Jeff Wueste and Jimmy Harvey pose after a training session at Padre Island National Seashore. Pam LeBlanc photo

We spent about four hours at the beach Friday night, then went back to the hotel, where Hansen and the others did their own version of that scene from “Jaws,” where everyone sits around and compares scars. Hansen won, revealing a jagged line on his leg where he impaled it on a chunk of glass as a kid.

West Hansen, leader of the Arctic Cowboys, prepares for a training session. Pam LeBlanc photo

We got up extra early Saturday morning and headed back to the beach for sunrise. My biggest takeaway from that? Leave the camera gear in the car overnight or it’ll never unfog when you pull it out at the beach.

West Hansen, front, and Jeff Wueste, back, practice paddling in rough surf. Pam LeBlanc photo

I’ve attached some of my favorite shots from the weekend. And look for a story in the Austin American-Statesman in the next few weeks about Hansen’s expeditions, and the Sept. 7 book signing for his upcoming account of his 2012 Amazon Express expedition.

That 111-day adventure took his team 4,100 miles down the world’s longest river. The Northwest Passage should feel short by comparison.

West Hansen lost his cowboy hat in the surf. Pam LeBlanc photo




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