Published on February 18th, 2010

Seward filmmakers paddle the Inside Passage


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DUDES ON MEDIA, Courtesy Photo

Filmmaker J.J. Kelley raises his paddles in victory as he and Josh Thomas paddle into Seattle after a three-month Inside Passage kayak journey documented in “Paddle to Seattle."

What happens when two guys from Seward 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 very complexity.

Such complexities sum up the mood of Josh Thomas and J.J. Kelley's 52-minute documentary "Paddle to Seattle."

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 in our continent's only rainforest."

So far, it's racked up awards at film festivals in Port Townsend, Durango, Fort Launderdale, Minneapolis and Anchorage plus received rave reviews from esteemed 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 out 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 kayakers followed the Inside Passage, which kept them within a mile or so of shore at most times, though there were three or four ocean crossings where they were "kind of out there in the middle of it all," according to Thomas.

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 and filmed over 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. That resulted in the documentary "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.

Thomas isn't sure why their documentaries are so funny. They don't intend them to be. Yet there is something so 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" (even the name is funny-try saying it five times fast), and when the two encounter a bear on the beach and yell, "Hey bear, get out of here bear," it's laugh-out-loud hilarious, since 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."

Kudos also must be given to Ben Gottfried, who edited the film down to fast-paced clip that highlights both Kelly and Thomas' 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 ..." Thomas paused for a moment.

"It was the absolute best."

Cinthia Ritchie can be reached at, or by phone at


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