Milestones: Steve Sinclair, 1951-1996

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, June 1996

Milestones: Steve Sinclair, 1951-1996
By Todd Balf

Steve sinclair spent two decades joyfully pushing the outer limits of ocean kayaking, trying to devise a way to paddle what nobody thought was possible and to understand the intricacies of a particularly wild patch of the North Pacific. Sinclair, who died of a heart attack on March 22, likened the bruising sport he invented, storm kayaking, to "paddling with an avalanche behind you."

In 1976, Sinclair moved from southern California to the Mendocino coast and five years later opened one of the first sea-kayaking outfits in the state. But in the beginning few could fathom the appeal of what he did. In fact, local wildlife officials used to stake out the bluffs above, certain that anyone crazy enough to be paddling a 20-foot kayak in midwinter gales and 25-foot swells had to be up to something illegal. More often than not, Sinclair was moved to add his surprisingly adept tenor to the howl around him. ("He'd sing whole operas," a friend once remarked, "in pig latin.")

Sinclair never really competed or took on big expeditions; he preferred to do his own thing. Yet those who did compete sought him out; inevitably, they'd want to know how long it would take to become as good as him. "How about 20 years of intense physical torture," Sinclair liked to say. Then he'd smile.

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