Never Say Never

Brian Fowler's official title is Lake Metroparks chief of recreation services. But he knows better.

"I'm in the excuse elimination business," he says, as we carry two sit-on-top kayaks to the shoreline at Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park Beach. He's out to attract the "never-evers," as he calls them. You know, the people who thought they'd never pilot a sailboat or paddle a kayak or compete in a triathlon or do any of this right here in Northeast Ohio.

Fowler is proof that you can. He grew up in nearby Madison, where he learned to canoe, fish and sail from a schoolteacher-turned-mentor who had the time his hard-working father didn't. So he bikes, kayaks, snowboards, cross-country skis, paraglides, snowshoes, you name it. And he offers classes, camps or private lessons so you can do it, too.

"You can't say, 'I don't know how,' because I'll teach you," he says. "You can't say, 'I don't have the equipment,' because I'll give it to you." He's not exaggerating. There are 60 boats here, including 12 sea kayaks, three catamarans and 16 sailboats. If you're on the water, you'll need a life vest. He has 120.

After our kayaking, Fowler — a teacher disguised in a pre-Memorial Day tan and gray hair combed by the wind — has rigged my 12-year-old son into a harness that has him hanging off the side of a catamaran. No way he thought he'd be doing this today, maybe not ever. Fowler's reading the wind, looking at the waves for indicators, peeking at the flags atop the Coast Guard station to the west to get us into the blue-green water beyond the break wall. "What happens if you fall in the water?" he asks my son for the second time today. "Get back in," he responds. "That's right," Fowler assures him. The underlying message: This isn't scary; you can do this.

As we crisscross the harbor, Fowler points out the recently added open-water swim lane. He picked up the idea while in San Diego. Not your cup of lake water? He shows off another addition: a doggie swim area. Now it's even easier to come to the beach.

He's getting rentable stand-up paddleboards, a trendy sport that's a cross between surfing and kayaking, because he also wants you to try that here. Something for everyone, no matter what your interest, all right here, no excuses.

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