You might know Nick Offerman as the star of NBC’s Parks & Recreation. But the Hollywood mainstay also has a place in his heart for paddling and woodworking. Want proof? In addition to acting, Offerman released a DVD April 21 on how to make canoes. PL caught up with him to get his take on building canoes and, of course, the paddling life…
When did you start canoeing, and building canoes?
I grew up working on my family’s farm in Minooka, Illinois, where a beautiful little creek called the Aux Sable ran through some of my grandparent’s farmland. I spent a lot of time paddling on that creek and dodging angry beavers. In addition, my family has spent time fishing in Minnesota every summer since I was 5, and I love to canoe around the lakes in that particular neck of “God’s Country”. I didn’t build my first canoe until 2007.
How did you first start building them?
I used to build theater scenery professionally, until I moved to Los Angeles in 1997, when I switched to fine furniture. As I taught myself woodworking, someone gave me Wooden Boat magazine, and I learned that the best woodworkers are boatbuilders, as a boat has no straight lines on it and your life literally depends on your joinery. So I built a half-scale lapstrake “baby tender” as a cradle for my friend, (plans by Warren Jordan) which is a hilariously seaworthy baby bed, and I was hooked.
What do you like about it?
When you lay out a set of plans, build a mold, then a hull on top of the mold, and you begin to see the boat take shape and come to life, it feels almost magical, like a Corvette is appearing in your shop. The feeling I get from building a beautiful watercraft from a few sticks of cedar, which I can then paddle through gorgeous, serene scenery, well, it’s nothing short of magisterial. I also love the simple hand tool techniques that boatbuilding requires. My work with spokes and handplanes has improved exponentially from working on the curves of a boat.
Do you have a favorite boat you’ve built?
That would have to be my first canoe, Huckleberry, which is a Bear Mountain Nomad design.
How many have you made, and what do you do with them?
I only have two canoes under my belt. One I paddle in California whenever I can, and the other belongs to my pal Jimmy Diresta, part of his “pay” for shooting and editing the CanoeCraft DVD. Next up is a Bear Mountain kayak, so I can paddle in the ocean.
What’s your favorite canoe run?
I have yet to take a trip to an official canoe “destination”. I’m looking forward to Hungtington Lake in the California Sierras. My favorite runs to date have been the creek I grew up on in Illinois, and the Upper New York Harbor where we launched Huckleberry. That was exciting!
Does your whole family paddle?
My nieces are hooked on kayaks, and my wife loves to take a pleasant canoe trip with me, but most of my family prefers the outboard motor, as it gets them to the fishin’ hole more expeditiously, and it’s also harder to spill a beer in a bass boat.
Can your fellow actors/actresses relate to your hobby?
Not many. I have a couple of crew friends in the business who take kayak trips regularly, but for the most part my fellow thespians, like most of my fellow Americans, are not as well-versed in the woodshop or the outdoors as they would like to be. When pals visit my shop and see my canoes and my furniture, I think they can sense what a rewarding pastime it all must be, and they invariably ask me to hire them, even just to sweep or sand a tabletop.
Might we see canoeing get a cameo in an upcoming episode of Parks and Rec?
Boy, howdy, I hope so! I keep begging for a fishing episode, but a canoeing story might be first, since we’ve already established that Ron builds a sweet canoe. The trick is finding a waterway within shooting distance of LA that can pass for Indiana. Fingers crossed.