Only a handful of stand up paddleboarders set out from Kempenfelt Bay at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning for the ‘Buddy Paddles Simcoe’ fundraiser.
The six – and one dog – planned to paddle a 25 kilometre distance along the shoreline of Lake Simcoe to raise funds for COPE (Canine Opportunity People Empowerment) Service Dogs, and the ‘Canines in the Classroom’ youth program founded by Jane Boake.
Their destination was Leonard’s Beach in Innisfil. Along the way, they made stops to pick up additional paddlers, who would complete a 15K, 10K, 5K or 2K route.
By the time the group reached Leonard’s Beach, at the foot of Line 10 in Innisfil, there were about 20 paddlers in all coming together for the cause and facing the challenges of Lake Simcoe.
Ali Stevens was among the six paddling the full route with her dog Sir Reginald Lovesalot, better known as “Reggie.”
“Coming up from Kempenfelt, it was nice, it was calm,” Stevens said.
That all changed when they rounded Big Bay Point.
“The winds picked up,” she said. “We got headwinds, some whitecaps.” The stand-up paddleboarders had to kneel on their boards.
They stopped at the government dock at Big Bay Point to pick up a couple of paddlers, then continued on to Friday Harbour, where their numbers grew, and they took a break before venturing back on the lake.
Setting out again, there was “a little bit of a reprieve from the winds” until the last two kilometres, Stevens said.
Within site of the finish line, the wave action and high winds were daunting. A safety boat accompanied the paddlers to Leonard’s Beach, but the whole trip still “took us about six hours,” she said.
Still, it was only a one-day event. Last year's inaugural "paddle" was a five-day trip around the lake.
Joining the paddle for the final two kilometres was “Buddy,” now 13 years old - one of COPE's first mobility assistance service dogs.
Like all participants, Buddy received a medal at Leonard’s Beach where paddlers and supporters could enjoy a barbecue, music, dog nail clipping by Thee Place for Dogs for a donation to the cause and lessons and demonstrations of dog agility prepared by COPE’s high school students.
Boake’s Canines in the Classroom program is geared for “students at risk.”
High school students at schools like Nantyr Shores Secondary School in Innisfil are paired with a COPE Service Dog in training. While the dogs learn obedience and a variety of commands, the kids discover motivation, self-worth, purpose and unconditional love.
“These dogs, they just change lives,” said supporter Diane Sykes.
Boake paddled in the fundraiser and admitted lake conditions were challenging.
“I personally had never fallen off a board,” she said. But this time, “I fell off three times.”
She talked about the importance of COPE Service Dogs, and the relationships that are built between the animals and the participating high school students.
Although school is out for the summer, the students came out to Leonard's Beach, to teach pets the confidence to get on a paddleboard, and provide COPE dog agility and obedience demonstrations.
Boake thanked sponsors that included Global Pet Foods and McDonalds Canada and paddle leader Brent Akland, who also donated an Infinity paddleboard as a fundraising incentive. The board was won by Boake, who promised, “I’m going to tun it into a donation to COPE.”
The 'After Party' at Leonard's Beach attracted local residents and politicians, including MP John Brassard, Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin, Deputy Mayor Dan Davidson and Coun. Ken Fowler.
“There was so much great feedback” Boake said.
The totals are still being tallied, but the fundraiser appears to have generated over $10,000. Boake was delighted, but had one wish for next year: “We didn’t have a ton of paddlers. We’d love to have more!”
For more information on COPE Service Dogs and its youth programs, see www.facebook.com/copedogs , or copedogs.org. Donations will be accepted until Aug. 5.
There was one final bit of drama, and generosity, after all the paddlers had come safely ashore.
COPE recently acquired a new minivan, thanks to an Ontario Trillium Grant and funding from the Town of Innisfil’s Community Fund, but had used its old van to bring the dog agility and training equipment to Leonard’s Beach.
Shortly after arriving, the alternator in the old van gave out, draining the battery. Local company DH Towing & Recovery Inc. arrived within minutes of being called and provided a free tow all the way to Barrie.