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 complexity in the 52-minute documentary “Paddle to Seattle” by Josh Thomas and J.J. Kelley.
The film chronicles the duo’s 1,200 mile journey through the Inside Passage during what they referred to as the “rainiest summer in 15 years.”
So far, it’s racked up awards at film festivals in Port Townsend, Wash.; Durango, Colo.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Minneapolis and Anchorage plus received rave reviews from outdoor publications as “National Geographic” and “Outside” magazines.
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 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 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 to can 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 to film “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.
There is something 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 off-beat humor continues in “Paddle to Seattle.” When the two encounter a bear on the beach and yell, “Hey, bear, get out of here, bear,” viewers laugh out loud because 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.”
The film is edited to fast-paced clips that highlight the paddlers’ personalities without distracting from the landscape.
“It was hard to get rid of some of the pieces,” Thomas said. “We captured so, so much. But I 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 … It was the absolute best.”