“Maine is one of the best sea kayaking destinations in the world,” says Portland Paddle cofounder Zack Anchors. Anchors should know: he has navigated waters from British Columbia to Baja, Mexico. Since 2013, Anchors, 34, and his business partner Erin Quigley, 33, have given Mainers (and Maine-lovers) the opportunity to experience the state’s exceptional sea kayaking and paddleboarding firsthand, through their rapidly growing startup, Portland Paddle.
Anchors and Quigley each began outdoor exploring early. Anchors grew up across the street from the Penobscot River in Old Town, where he began canoeing with his father at the age of 11. A native of Lee, NH, Quigley’s preteen adventures took place in the White Mountains, where she enjoyed hiking, camping, and canoeing with her own father, a professor of forestry at the University of New Hampshire.
Quigley then pursued more cerebral interests in sociology, anthropology, and archeology at Minnesota’s Carleton College, where she received her undergraduate degree. She followed this with a master’s degree in natural resources from the University of Vermont, before spending two years in a multi-disciplinary PhD program at the University of Maine, Orono.
Meanwhile, Anchors was building his own impressive set of credentials. After completing a bachelor’s degree in literature at the University of Maine, Farmington, he travelled to the University of British Columbia for a master’s degree in that same field. He then worked full-time as a professional journalist, writing primarily about business and finance for publications such as the Wall Street Journal. Anchors, who has taught writing at area colleges, also recently enrolled in a PhD program in American history at the University of New Hampshire.
Throughout their scholastic endeavors, Anchors and Quigley each continued to pursue their passions for nature. Anchors spent 14 years as a boating guide, leading canoe and kayak trips around the country, from midcoast Maine to Alaska. Quigley worked in environmental conservation and at outdoor recreation nonprofits.
Four years ago, they found their respective ways to Portland, where Anchors had lived previously. They met when they became roommates on Munjoy Hill, and began to discuss ways in which they might capitalize on their mutual interests. Quigley remembers thinking, “What could we do that would contribute to our community in a really solid, tangible way?”
The answer: improve access to the Portland waterfront. “It isn’t easy to engage with Casco Bay if you don’t have your own boat,” explains Quigley. “We believe strongly that having a positive experience in the outdoors—being on the ocean or in the woods—leads to better stewardship. That’s the biggest goal of our business.” Portland Paddle opened June 1, 2013, beside the East End Beach.
Portland Paddle offers kayak and paddleboard rentals, lessons, and guided tours to individuals at every skill level. All tours are led by Registered Maine Guides, as required by Maine law. Shorter tours around Casco Bay have proven to be popular. Says Anchors, “People tell us ‘I’ve looked at Fort Gorges since I was a kid, but I’ve never been able to go there.’ ” Portland Paddle also leads “acoustic paddle” excursions to the Fort, featuring oceanfront performances by local musicians like Max Garcia-Conover and Caroline Cotter. More intrepid kayakers can take overnight trips to Jewel or Cow Islands.
Potential paddlers need not have kayaking or paddleboarding experience. Portland Paddle has ten staff members, including five who work as instructors and tour guides. Instructors, who are American Canoe Association-certified, cover everything from basic skills to more advanced techniques, such as kayak rolling. They emphasize safety, understanding of Portland’s busy harbor traffic, and respect for Maine’s chilly coastal waters. Wetsuits are available for those who need additional warmth.
Although tourists are very much welcome at Portland Paddle, Anchors and Quigley also value the local community. “We have a lot of regulars,” says Anchors. “People come back for different tours, instruction, or rentals with their families. It’s nice to see the same people exploring new places and falling in love with the sport.”
Portland Paddle continues to grow at a remarkable clip. They recently opened a second location in Westbrook, called Portland Paddle of the Presumpscot. Anchors is optimistic about the future. “The coolest thing about sea kayaking in Maine is that you can paddle a short distance and have an overnight campsite on a wild ocean island all to yourself.”
Anchors and Quigley are eager to share their passion for paddling—and Maine’s abundant outdoor treasures—with all who make the trip to Portland’s East End Beach.