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The History of OOPS

OOPS History: The Early Years

by Donna Matrazzo, co-founder

OOPS (well, it didn't have a name then) was founded in December, 1983, by Donna and Pete Holman of Ebb & Flow Kayaks, Bob Stephens and Donna Matrazzo. Bob and I had recently bought a Folbot double and wanted to find others to paddle with. Ebb & Flow had compiled a mailing list from the people who'd visited their new shop. Sitting around our dining room table, each couple agreed to lead one trip a month for January and February in 1984, and see where that would lead. The Holmans mailed out a calendar of trips; by March we had a group of paddling companions.

The first list of members, Phil notes, was published in July. There were 39 couples or individuals on the list, including Howard Blumenthal. (I think that Phil, Howard and I are the only current members from the original group. Howard served on the board for a total of 15 years.)

The group quickly grew to about 50 members. By-laws were written, although I'd say the group never felt very well-organized. Meetings reverted to potluck dinners held the first Friday of each month in someone's home, a different place each month. The "program" was of little import, usually someone showing slides from a kayak trip. One time we had a guest from Tonga, another time Maggie Nelson's dad, who worked for the Coast Guard, spoke about safety. Mostly the meetings were like dinner parties of paddling friends, sitting around eating fabulous potlucks, talking about kayaking trips we'd take together. Bob's and my Barkley Sound trip was planned that way; so was our second Fiji trip. Every month it was like a small wonderful get-together and we would sit around till past midnight, drinking coffee or wine, telling tales and dreaming up new paddling adventures.

We held a T-shirt design contest, and Vern Nelson's design won. We printed and sold T-shirts, as well as matching stickers for cars and boats.

Howard thinks the annual Skamokawa weekend began in September, 1984. He was the first organizer of the last-weekend-in-September event and has been part of the organizing team ever since. He chose that place because "it has  something for everybody's paddling ability." While most years 50 to 60 people attend, one year there were 120 paddlers.  Skamokawa is the club's longest continuous-running event.

In December, 1984, I came up with the idea for Kayak Caroling, which I continued leading for 20 years. People decorated themselves and their boats in Santa and holiday attire, brought jingle bells and musical instruments, and everyone was invited to party afterwards at our house. In the beginning, we put in near Sellwood Park and caroled to the Portland Yacht Club, but in 1988, after Bob and I moved to Sauvie Island, we changed the location to the boat ramp and houseboats there. The event was immortalized in the Wall Street Journal's Art and Leisure section with Susan Hauser's story, "One Dog Open Kayak" featuring our mutt Jibo. One year a local TV station's story got picked up by CNN and people called me from around the country who saw the piece.

In October, 1985, Phil took over "The OOPS Newsletter" from Pete Holman and regaled us with his delightful wit. I replaced Phil in February, 1987, and a continuum of editors has followed since.

We began to get more organized the year that Pete Holman took over the presidency and held monthly board meetings, so that the group might actually make plans more than one month in advance. John Cartmell's two-year presidency that followed dramatically focused the club and brought a great measure of organization.

About 1989 we realized OOPS was too big to continue meeting in people's homes, and we moved first to the Northwest Service Center on NW Everett, and later the Easter Seal site on SW Macadam. Membership soon burgeoned to more than 100 members. Even though it was sad to see the monthly potlucks gone, it became exciting to come to standing-room-only meetings with internationally-known speakers and to see the club well-organized, with money in its treasury.

Nearly all of the early members eventually left—many complained that  OOPS lost its flavor without the social potlucks and got smothered in rules and regulations. In many ways, I have to agree. But it is also wonderful to see this organization carry on and flourish for a quarter-century, doing just the thing that inspired its creation—helping people find others to paddle with.

The Gam: What's in a Name?

by Phil Jones

The official club history says I called the newsletter "The Gam." Not quite true.

In November of 1985, Wayne Haack, John Lebens, and Jane Swenson were sitting around one evening and decided the newsletter needed a name. In walked neighbor Doug Beloof, a Portland attorney, who announced that it should be named after a word defined by Chapter 53 of "Moby Dick" by Herman Melville—a meeting at sea of two whaling ships for the purpose of exchanging mail and news. Hence, it was an appropriate name for a sea kayak newsletter.

In fact, "Moby Dick's" entire chapter 53 (short though it may be) is devoted to defining the word "gam," and it is also the first place in the English language that the word "gam" appears in print in that use.
Haack then went out and got a friend of his to design a masthead for the newsletter, showing a kayaker and the words "The Gam".  He, John and Jane then brought it over to my house and told me to use it; I don't remember having been given any choice in the matter.

Three months later, in February, 1986, we got two complaints about the name "The Gam."  One member thought it was a sexist reference to a woman's leg. Another wanted no reference to anything to do with whaling. We had never had a vote on the name; Haack, Lebens and Swenson had just done it by themselves. So we had a vote at the next meeting, the vote was unanimous, and the name stayed.


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