Thank you to John Maida and Tuesday Deon for contributed photos
“The moon has awoken with the sleep of the sun. The light has been broken; the spell has begun.” (A quote from Midgard Morningstar)
One could be forgiven for doing a double take last Saturday October 23rd if, while you were out and about, you saw a colourfully-attired and cackling coven floating past on the Nottawasaga River as it winds through Wasaga Beach.
No brooms. Just paddles. And boards. And a big bunch of smiles. There was nothing evil about this crowd. It was all about fun, friendship and food/fundraising.
The 2nd Annual Notty Witch & Warlock River Paddle was organized by Elmvale resident Ali Stevens and her good friend Denise Lannin from Shelburne. The self-described “avid water women” are passionate about Stand Up Paddle Boarding who love bringing people together and supporting community. The inaugural event last year saw 12 participants while this year’s Paddle saw about 30. While still primarily Witches this year’s group included Warlocks, a Werewolf, and even a Grim Reaper.
What leads to someone to envisioning Witches on water? Wanting to be together, but safely apart, during Covid was actually the catalyst explains Ali. “The idea came up during COVID, when people were very isolated and not sure of how to socialize or about what was acceptable during the lockdown. Being on SUP boards meant that we could still do something together, but be safely apart. At this time last year, people were uncertain whether Halloween would even happen. Denise and I decided to get a few people together, dress up like Witches and Warlocks, bring donations for the Elmvale & District Food Bank, and head out on the river.”
“Although we started out doing this merely for our own pleasure we soon found that people were seeing us, waving and smiling, so we got right into character, and started cackling. It just snowballed from there. By the time we were done, we couldn’t believe the impact that we had made. We were elated that so many people came out to enjoy it. We weren’t the only ones who needed this – the community needed this. A little sunshine on a rainy October day… and lots of cackles from a crazy group of Witches! It really changed us. Apparently there are many other Witch Paddles that happen all over the world, but we want to grow ours to be one of the best, and keep building support within, and for, this community.”
This year the enchanted paddlers started at the Nancy Island Historic Site in Wasaga Beach, taking off from the boat launch there. “Then we paddled to Schooner Town Bridge by McDonald’s” says Ali. “We turned around and made our way back to Nancy Island. We reversed the paddle this year because of the number of participants that we anticipated and there’s more parking for people to join in on this route. There were even kayakers coming out to meet us this year with costumes and cackles!”
Participants and spectators are asked to bring a food donation or monetary donation for the Elmvale & District Food Bank. Ali says her vehicle was filled “to the roof”. “We raised $145 plus it took 3 fully loaded shopping carts to get all the food into the food bank. The Elmvale Food Bank shares their surplus with shelters and food banks in the surrounding area from Wasaga Beach to Midland to Barrie. So we feel it is a wonderful organization to give to because the goods can help so many” Ali adds.
Would you like to join the team for next year’s Paddle? With respect to being prepared Ali says “As long as you stay active, and you are aware of the water and know the conditions, you should be good! Costumes should always be “water safe”, meaning that you need to consider that if you fall in you can still swim. You don’t want anything heavy, impairing your movement, or preventing you from being able to get back onto your board should you fall in. If anyone has questions, they can always reach out!”
As well she talked about safety. “Safety is our first and foremost concern. Life jackets or PFD’s are a MUST. They absolutely must be worn. Leashes are also a must so that everyone keeps attached to the boards in event of anyone falling off. We also suggest cold water gear, such as wetsuits, or dry suits, because the water in October – even if it is a sunny, warm day – can still be very cold. We ask that everyone stay together as a group, and that everyone picks a buddy and keeps eyes on each other while on the water. If people plan on leaving the group, they must make that known to us so that we know where people are at all times. We also do an informal registration – with the help of Denise’s amazing Mom, Brenda – who takes down everyone’s name and how they can be reached. It’s not only for safety of knowing who is on the water, but it’s also nice to know everyone’s name!”
The event is held within 2 weeks of Halloween. Next year’s date will be announced later as the group is still “floating on Cloud 9” from all the fun and success of this year’s Paddle. Ali noted that sometimes Mother Nature can be a “witch” throwing some bad weather this way, so in some respects the date is up to her. “We try to have a rain date planned as a back-up if needed. This year we changed the date at the last minute but it was totally worth it! We could not have asked for more perfect conditions! That being said, Witches and Warlocks are used to rainy grey days, so it’s always good to be prepared to come out and cast a spell, even if the sun isn’t shining” she laughs.
I asked Ali if there was a “funniest moment. “Honestly, I think the funniest part of the Paddle is hearing everyone find “their inner Witch & Warlock” voice! Once they find it, it’s pretty spectacular and everyone sounds different! The echo off the river just adds to the atmosphere and it’s quite hilarious to hear all those cackles inundating across the water! If you’ve seen any of the videos that are out, you’d have to agree!”
You can reach Ali at firstname.lastname@example.org
Or Denise at email@example.com