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Seattle 'Kayaktivists' Building Ranks For Direct Action Against Shell’s Arctic Drilling Fleet

On the shore of Seaview Park in West Seattle, a group of young activists stands behind a row of bright yellow kayaks.  Most of them are new to boating. An instructor from Alki Kayak Tours gives a safety briefing before they head out for a sunset paddle. 

While the excursion has the trappings of a simple evening kayak instructional class, it is anything but. This class is a training session for "Kayaktavists." And they are putting in practice time before Big Oil arrives in the Puget Sound.

“A key thing about kayaking is wearing your boat, rather than just sitting in it and moving around with it,” said 24-year-old Amanda Lee, who has been doing these sessions with groups aligned under the umbrella organization,

At issue is the huge, Royal Dutch Shell oil rig on its way to Seattle.  Named the Polar Pioneer, it arrived in Port Angeles on Friday where it was greeted by Greenpeace activists and other environmentalists. They’re opposed to plans by Royal Dutch Shell to drill for oil in pristine areas of the Arctic.  

As the oil company pushes forward with plans to tap fossil fuel reserves in the Arctic, scores of Seattle based kayaktivists are training up. They plan to encircle the rig before it heads out for Alaska’s North Slope.

In training, Lee tells them to dress with frigid water in mind, to stick together on the water  - and to watch out for big waves.

“If a wave is coming at you, you always want to direct your boat straight into the wave – so at least a 45-90 degree angle, into the wave,” said Lee.   

Organizer Eric Ross, with a group called the Backbone Campaign, says this is the beginning of a new chapter – of Kayaktivism, against big oil.

“Yeah – I personally am not a big paddler,” he said.  But “this is a fun opportunity to learn how to paddle and face off with Shell’s giant Arctic destroying rigs.”

Among the newbies to this water sport is Zarna Joshi, with Rising Tide Seattle. She grew up in London and says she’s actually pretty scared of the water, but she’s determined to stop Shell’s rig from leaving our port.

She’s worried about climate change and global warming caused by carbon pollution, which she says will lead to the sixth mass extinction on planet earth.

“I’m not comfortable on the water at all, but this is too important to sit around and be a coward,” said Joshi.

Others in the group added worries about the chemicals involved in extracting oil from the Arctic and talked about their fears that Shell’s rigs could create spills in Puget Sound or especially in the Arctic that could never be cleaned up.

They’ll be back on the water all week, practicing maneuvers and growing their ranks. The plan is to add sailboats, banners and chanting to the mix as they gear up for a big Paddle in Seattle.

The three days of waterborne activism are set to begin on May 16th, with direct action planned for the 18th.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to