Aloha 'Oe Audrey Sutherland
March, 2015 Tribute courtesy Tamsin Venn, Atlantic Coastal Kayaker
One of the brightest lights in sea kayaking went out when Audrey Sutherland passed away at her home in Hawaii Feb. 23, 2015. She had just turned 94 on February 11.
Many of us remember Audrey’s inspiring talks at the LL Bean Symposia in Castine, Maine back in the 1980s and 1990s. Her mantra was "Go Solo, Go Now." That meant if you really wanted to go on an adventure, just go. Don’t worry about lining up paddling companions and their complicated priorities.
True to her word, she paddled the huge ocean outside her home on the North Shore of O'ahu solo. She got started kayaking after doing long solo swims trailing various rafts including a styrofom cooler to hold her gear. She later switched to a rubber inflatable she spied in a mail-order cataglogue. She went on to make several long journeys through Alaska, dealing with occasionally appalling weather, grizzly bears, fire-building, camping spots, food supply, fresh water, and navigation all on her own.
Her lectures left us slack-jawed at her enterprise and bravery plus delighted with her various means of multi-purposing gear - using an empty boxed wine bladder blown up to be a back pad in her kayak comes to mind. She was also unique in that she used an inflatable rubber kayak that some called a "rubber ducky," an anomaly amid the crowds of long, sleek fiberglass touring kayaks lining the beaches of Castine.
Fortunately along the way, she wrote accounts of these adventures. Her first book, Paddling My Own Canoe, is an account of the early journeys in Hawaii in the 1950s and 1960s along the north shore of Moloka‘i. Paddling Hawaii, which came out 20 years later, is a guide to sea kayaking in the Islands.
Paddling North collects the stories from her early summer adventures in Alaska. Along the way, she also raised her four young children largely solo; Audrey taught them to be self-sufficient. Always a friend to kayakers, if she knew you were coming to Hawaii, she would ask you to come to stay with her.
She began to experience the effects of Alzheimer's as she wrote her third book. According to her official obituary, "By the time of the publishing of Paddling North, Audrey's mind was beginning to wander and some memories were fuzzy but her meticulous journals provided much of the detail and her numerous photos became lovely water color type prints in all of the chapters.
"In her younger years, Audrey worked for the Army, traveling around Hawai'i and north to Alaska, speaking with students about the need to finish their educations. Teaching was a big part of her life, and she shared the knowledge she had gained through her writings, interviews, and lectures. Her obituary goes on to say, "Audrey also lectured widely with her slide show, kayak and gear on display. She was many times the key note speaker for L.L. Bean's East Coast Sea Kayaking Symposiums. She has spoken for Sierra Club, local kayak groups, senior gatherings, libraries, book stores and Elder Hostel on Oahu, Kauai, Molokai, Maui, and Kona and Hilo on Hawaii island.
She was an originator and board member of Hawaii Bound. At age 92 Audrey was still driving her tough little truck around Haleiwa but was persuaded to give up driving when the paperwork to renew her license became too confusing. She continued to live in her sea-front home supported by friends and family.
Kaiser Hospital finally convinced her family that she needed more active care so she went into hospice in December 2014 and succumbed to dementia-related symptoms shortly after her 94th birthday in February of 2015.
Audrey's commitment to teaching extended to her willing her body to science. She said, "Now I will still be able to teach even after I die."
Audrey's words and philosophy should remain an example in this world of increasingly materialism: “The only real security is not insurance or money or a job, not a house and furniture paid for, or a retirement fund, and never is it another person. It is the skill and humor and courage within, the ability to build your own fires and find your own peace,” she wrote.
Aloha 'Oe, Audrey.
TopKayaker Note: Audrey passed away at age 94 in 2015. Many of us who were privileged to know her in our kayak club, Hui Wa'a Kaukahi, also lost our much younger dear friend Ann McClaren, pictured above, two weeks later to an aggressive, sudden, terminal illness. Both independent, adventurous, outdoor loving women, we like to think this picture shows Ann and Audrey planning to paddle off into the sunset together.
Safe journey, fair winds and following seas, Audrey & Ann.
Read Clay's complete review of Paddling North by Audrey Sutherland
Books By Audrey Sutherland:
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