Two years ago my world changed for the better; I met Anders Thygsesn at the Delmarva Paddler’s Retreat. It is not often that I meet someone who so profoundly moved me through their words and actions. Externally he is a tall lanky man, with wavy hair, dashing good looks and an exquisite European accent that makes the ladies swoon. Internally he is a thoughtful, passionate explorer not just of the world, but of the history and essence of traditional paddling. When Anders speaks of paddling you can sense the fire within fueling his emotional connection to the kayaks.
Photo courtesy – Silje Ensby
Anders is two years younger than me, born in 1971 in a small coastal town called Faxe in Denmark. The son of a public school teacher and a social worker. Anders father taught wood work, as a kid Anders would make model boats, bows and arrow and swords. His parents were hippies, in the nicest sense, so it should come as no surprise that Anders decided to do something out of the main stream with his life.
While still a youth Anders moved to Norway to attend Folkehøgskole, a folk high school designed to inspire your connection with nature. After a year at folk school Anders attended an outdoor education school, a 3-year program to become a guide and teacher. During the first autumn term he was introduced to Greenland kayaking, the school had some Greenland style skin on frame canvas kayaks and paddles, Anders became completely hooked. Norway and school not only hooked Anders on paddling but also introduced him to his wife, Hanne, who was the first person he met in Norway and was his teacher. Now divorced, they have four children their oldest just turned 21 and loves to skateboard, not kayak….
Following in his father’s craftsman footsteps Anders knew he wanted to try building kayaks and sought out Svend Ulstrup in Denmark who helped him build his first qajaq. Svend remains to this day a mentor and close colleague of Anders.
Anders described to me his inspiration, the first intense feeling of being at home in the kayak; being close to nature, combined with the coastal beauty in Norway, he has held on to it ever since. Anders loves water, swimming, diving, but paddling just feels right.
For the past twenty years Anders has grown his passion into a business. Custom building paddles, and traditional kayaks, both qajaq and iqyax̂, the Greenland and Aleut skin on frame traditional kayaks. Anders mirrors the ancient methods of construction applying a few modern alternatives like canvas to replace the animal skins, but basically following the same path from timber to craft. If you want to learn how to build one yourself Anders runs workshops, attending one is on my bucket list.
The business of qajaq or iqyax̂ building and paddle carving is never going to make Anders wealthy in money, but it feeds his soul. He could work at the school across the street from his workshop and make a far greater wage, he doesn’t do it because he meets so many inspiring people all the time thought his business which he declares “Just feeds me”, and he means his heart as well as stomach.
Anders lives through the inspiration the people who come to his classes provide him, they feed the fire of his passion.
Anders’ workshop is a 19th century prayer house, it was turned into a church at the turn of the century in 1902. People have been baptized and married on the very ground that Anders now creates beauty in the form of qajaq and iqyax̂. Anders‘ friend, the local priest, suggested Anders apply to buy the building after it had sat for many years unused. A lot of emotions are connected to the building, the care and effort that Anders has put into restoring the building shows the churches faith in him was well justified.
When not building a qajaq or restoring the workshop, Anders likes to spend time with his children watching movies, hiking in the forests surrounding his secluded cabin or enjoying his secret passion of the Smurfs.
A number of years ago Anders completed a long distance trip, paddling the length of the Norwegian coast in an iqyax̂ he built, he is considering doing it again, he misses the silent rhythm of paddling every day and being outside. He has never experienced anything like the feeling of being so totally relaxed as at the end of his last trip.
Recently Anders sent me a paddle to use. It’s a beauty, lightweight, flexible, thin blades, with a lovely angular shape where the loom transitions into the blade. It excels with a canted stroke, effortlessly powering me along through many miles of training this summer. Anders burns his initials into each paddle he makes, along with his brand name ‘Norwegian Wood’, simple and elegant, much like the essence of the Greenland paddle. Of my many paddles this one has quickly become a favorite, it hasn’t left my qajaq since it arrived.
Photo courtesy – Silje Ensby
If you would like to learn more about Anders’ business or see some of his work check out his website: http://kajakkspesialisten.no/