Tobin Bennison, writer for The Beachside Resident, a local Cocoa Beach paper featured Ed Halm, the Owner of Backwater Paddle Company in its January 2013 issue. The article appears below:
Ed Halm is one fascinating character.
Born at the US Naval Base in Port Lyautey, Morocco, Halm moved back to the U.S. as a toddler when his family settled in upstate New York.
After high school, he trained and served in the U.S. Navy as a survival instructor before retiring and relocating to Central Florida 20 years later.
Tapping into a love of the outdoors he cultivated during his days in upstate New York, Ed now lives in Cocoa Beach, where he is an avid paddle sportsman, a certified naturalist, kayak eco-tour guide, and owner of Backwater Paddle Company, which is set to release its newest in a line of unique, patented “hook and teeth” paddles, “The Assault,” in spring of 2013.
You’re a retired US Navy survival instructor. Tell us a little about your experiences in that career.
When I joined the Navy, I originally enlisted in the nuclear propulsion field. A few years into the nuclear power program, I was provided an opportunity to interview for some special training programs. Being an avid outdoorsman and sportsman, I was selected for, trained, and qualified as a naval survival instructor. Land survival became my area of expertise. Basically we taught naval and marine aviators, DEA, CIA, FBI, and other special operation groups tactics to survive and evade in the wild should they ditch their aircraft in enemy territory. Our curriculum included locating water, building fire, making shelter, trapping and snaring animals, identifying edible plants, terrain navigation, wilderness first aid, rescue signaling, and the psychological aspects of surviving. We taught these courses in conjunction with the theaters our troops would be operating within. These weeklong courses were extremely challenging and tested the internal fortitude of our best military and civilian personnel. Being a survival instructor was certainly a rewarding experience. From the curriculum we taught and the field experience we delivered, I knew our intensive training program could provide drastic lifesaving survival decisions for some our forward deployed troops.
And you’ve had a long passion for nature since your youth.
I have always been involved with nature. Having grown up in upstate New York, we lived extremely close to nature. Out my back door were the woods and mountains. I spent a great deal of my adolescent time immersed in the wilderness. Tracking, hunting and trapping wildlife, as well as fishing and camping became second nature to me. I never saw a large city until I joined the Navy. Residing in Florida, I felt compelled to obtain local knowledge and understand our diverse natural environment. Hunting, fishing and paddling are ubiquitous Florida outdoor sports. However, the arenas for participation provide distinctive topographical challenges and unique ecosystems that are found only in our state. To be an effective survival instructor, outfitter, guide or resident sportsmen, obtaining local knowledge and information is paramount to successfully understanding and competing in your native surroundings. When I became a local kayak eco-tour guide, I not only wanted to provide an educational experience with qualified information, but a tangible adventure in a safe atmosphere. I want my guests to experience the real Florida in an educated manner! I want them to be exhilarated! I want them to have that magical sensation, an adventure that will keep them coming back. To achieve that level of competency, I knew I had to completely immerse myself in the local environment and understand the complexities of our unique ecosystems. I wanted to set the standards higher for quality information, paddle safety and system expertise. Fortunately, the University of Florida offers an intensive Master Naturalist Program that exclusively defines our local ecosystems. The mission of the Program is to promote awareness, understanding, and respect of Florida’s natural world among Florida’s citizens and visitors.
Tell us about some of the tours you lead here.
I am a part-time kayak eco-tour guide with Adventure Kayak of Cocoa Beach. They provide full-service kayak eco-tours to visiting guests and local residents. We spend two to three hours paddling, locating and identifying various plants, animals and wildlife in the Thousand Islands, Banana River Lagoon, Indian River Lagoon, and other Florida marine environments. We’re different from the other guide services in that we are the largest and oldest, as well as the most experienced and professional guide service at the Thousand Islands. Our guides are all certified, trained, rescue-equipped and insured. Our professional staff includes two master naturalists, a survival instructor, and retired surveyor. All Adventure Kayak staff are avid outdoorsmen, sportsmen, and experienced paddlers. We provide very comfortable sit-in kayaks, detailed paddle lessons, safety instructions, and an experienced guide on every adventure.
What might novices be surprised to learn about the tours you conduct — and our local environment at large?
First of all, no paddling experience is necessary! We provide the most stable and comfortable kayaks available. We also provide the novice paddler with detailed paddle lessons. Secondly, there is nothing out there that will eat you if you go swimming (falling out of your kayak)! Thirdly, the water is only knee-deep, for the most part. Having said that, our guests can comfortably enjoy their adventure and concentrate on the wildlife that abounds. Our guides provide a detailed interpretive tour of the local wildlife. The Thousand Islands and the Indian River Lagoon system are one of the most bio diverse ecosystems in the states. Manatees, dolphins, otters, stingrays, crabs, fish, and birds are routinely located, identified, and observed in their natural surroundings from your kayak. Our departing guests leave their kayaking adventure expressing a newfound appreciation for nature and an exhilarating experience with our company and guides. All of our guests express a sincere desire to return, to bring future guests and paddle again with us. Many are even overheard making kayak purchasing decisions after finding out how easy and fun paddle sports are!
Have you paddled anywhere outside of the state? What makes Florida — and the Cocoa Beach area — so unique an environment?
I’ve paddled all over the southeast. Owning a paddle sport manufacturing company provides me with many opportunities to travel. Backwater Paddle Company sponsors fishing tournaments, trade shows, and exhibitions throughout the states. The places I like to paddle outside of Florida are usually further north, within the mountains. Florida is a topographically challenged state — it’s flat! I take advantage of the mountain lakes and streams that course through northern mountainous states. The beauty of paddling in Florida is you can find water everywhere. You generally have great access to the mostly flat water, and perfect weather. With two climate zones to paddle in, tropical south Florida and temperate north Florida, seasonal paddlers are in heaven. Cocoa Beach’s Thousand Islands is easily my favorite place to paddle when in town. These unique mangrove islands are only found here in the Banana River Lagoon. They provide novice and intermediate paddlers with all kinds of challenges. Locating wildlife within the islands is relatively easy. The mangrove trails and tunnels that are located within these isles test your paddle skills and overwhelm the senses. Elsewhere in Florida, the Silver River flowing out of Silver Springs in Ocala is an awesome paddle. It’s only two hours north of here. If you’re fortunate enough, there are a couple of bands of wild monkeys that can be seen foraging along the banks of the river while you paddle through. These monkeys apparently escaped captivity many years ago and still inhabit the forest surrounding the river. You do not see the monkeys every time, but patience and persistence pays off. Once you get up to the springs area, the water is crystal clear. Another great paddle is the Suwannee River in northern Florida. There are so many springs, river camps, and easy access to the Suwannee that portions of the river can be day paddled or packed into one- to two- week camping excursions.
How did the Backwater Paddle Company get started?
It started on a paddling excursion down the Econlockhatchee River outside Orlando a few years ago. During a routine paddle trip, I came across a strainer, a debris blockage that caused us to portage our kayaks a short distance around the obstruction. I tried to dismantle the strainer from my kayak using my paddles, but conventional kayak paddles offered little assistance. Having spent some time trying to figure what I needed in a kayak paddle, other than for propulsion, I tried various blade shapes and designs to solve my problem. I figured I needed a hook to grab onto objects and a serrated edge to provide positive purchase when shoving off. I eventually came up with the infamous “hook and teeth” blade design. After a successful proof of concept and beta test of the new paddle design, I applied for and received a patent. Once I secured the patent, I moved ahead with CAD design, financing, marketing, and manufacturing of the design. I searched the established paddle manufacturers and found no paddle product that even remotely provided the security, stealth and maneuverability Backwater paddles provide.
Tell us more about their unique design. What makes them so special?
After a few failures and hacked up paddles, I finally designed a concept paddle that incorporated a “hook and teeth” cutout into the kayak blades. The hook allowed for the blade to snag, grab or pull objects. The teeth allowed for a positive pushing action from the paddle. These patented paddles can now push, pull and propel the paddle sportsman. I figured having a paddle blade with those unique “hook and teeth” features would have allowed for a quick and easy dismantling of the aforementioned strainer. My first prototype kayak paddle design was code named the “Raptor Project.” It incorporated the new hook and teeth design into kayak paddle blades. As we started to move ahead with the kayak paddle project, a new paddle concept evolved: hand paddles. That revolutionary idea has temporarily put the Raptor Project on hold. We decided that in a paddle sports market with no hand paddles, we should move forward with the hand paddles project first. The sport of kayak fishing hit the paddle sports market full speed. Backwater designed the first kayak fishing hand paddles for the paddle sports market. Of course, creating your own niche carries your own marketing problems. It was an uphill battle at first to introduce such a new paddle concept to the paddle sport industry. Backwater Paddles was initially trying to solve the paddlers’ dilemma: How do you paddle and fish, or paddle and hunt, or paddle and photograph with only two hands? It takes two hands to paddle, and at least one to fish. You either have to paddle or fish? The hand paddle provides single-hand, stealthy maneuverability of your kayak. It allows for a one-handed paddle operation while you continue to fish or hunt. Once the paddle sports community saw the paddle design and observed the results, the hand paddle concept took off. The concept has revolutionized stealth and mobility in the paddle sports industry.
How is the upcoming Assault paddle different from the Piranha and Predator models?
The Assault Hand Paddle is the next generation hand paddle to be released by Backwater. We started manufacturing our wooden hand paddles — the Predator and Piranha — from our paddle shop in Cape Canaveral. The Predator and Piranha were our first hand paddles to be introduced into the market. The whole hand paddle concept was met with great enthusiasm by the kayak angling community. From that initial optimism, we simply moved ahead with a new and improved hand paddle design. A modified plastic hand paddle incorporating a raised relief graphic package soon evolved. Vector Cad Service in Merritt Island diligently worked on designing the new Assault and the badass graphics package. The wooden hand paddles are being replaced with the new Assault Hand Paddle made from a high-density polypropylene polymer. These new paddles will float and come in various colors. The colors being considered vary from a safety angle — orange and reds — to a stealthy approach with blue, black and green.
Backwater Paddle Company’s new Assault Hand Paddle will be available for the 2013 spring fishing season. They can be ordered through www.backwaterpaddles.com or through their national distributor, Outdoor Specialty Innovations. Contact Adventure Kayak of Cocoa Beach at www.kayakcocoabeach.com or call (321) 480-8632. Ask for Ed to be your next kayak adventure guide.