Paddling World Mourns Loss of Sea Kayak Pioneer Stanislav Chládek 


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The world of sea kayaking lost one of its most ardent practitioners, advocates and explorers with the passing of Stanislav Chládek November 25, 2020, in Steamboat Springs, Colo.

Chládek’s boundless energy led him to many adventures: especially whitewater and sea kayaking and skiing.

Chládek was born in Czechoslovakia and received his PhD at university in Prague. In 1963 he married Ema, and they had two daughters Dana and Petra. (Dana would go on to win the Olympic bronze medal in whitewater slalom in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and the silver medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games.) In 1969 he moved with his family to the U.S.

Chládek was accomplished whitewater racer, and with his wife they were members of the Czechoslovak National team, racing C2 Mix and eventually winning the World Championships with Ema.

stan chladek
Frank Goodman, Derek Hutchinson and Stan Chladek during a Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium.

His professional career was in science: first biochemical research in the prestigious Czechoslovak Academy of Science, then a short stay as a professor in Texas A&M University, and finally as a researcher and a professor at Michigan Cancer Foundation, and Wayne State University.

For his second career, he switched to his lifetime love, canoeing and kayaking. He founded Great River Outfitters, a sea kayak importer and retailer. He was the main force in organizing many Great Lakes sea kayaking symposia, workshops and seminars. Frank Goodman, the British sea kayaking explorer, designer and manufacturer, was Stan’s lifetime friend and inspiration in both the sea kayak business and in sea exploration.

Chladek, who enjoyed exploring Mayan caves, paddling out of one near home.

“Stan was one of my first dealers,” says Landis Arnold of Boulder, Colo., who used to import Prijon kayaks through Wildwasser Sport. “I met him in 1983 on the Gauley and went to college at Dartmouth with his daughter, Dana. He sold a lot of kayaks for us.”

Arnold remembers running the Grand Canyon with him in 1986 and turning him to the attributes of kayaking. “He was in an old Gyromax canoe or something and flipping and swimming somewhat,, so I told him he ought to try a kayak. It’s easier,” he says.

Thus began Chládek’s long and distinguished kayaking career, in whitewater but more often sea kayaks. He began importing Valley Kayaks from England, made by Goodman,

“He really got into sea kayaking,” says Arnold. “Especially the expedition side. He did some pretty big expeditions.”

Chladek busting through a wave in Point Pelee.

Chládek’s boundless energy led him to many adventures: especially whitewater and sea kayaking and skiing. He regularly sea kayaked such domestic waters as Maine, Florida and Washington, but also paddled internationally in Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man, Orkney Islands, France, Croatia, Ireland, British Columbia, the Alaskan Aleutian Islands, and more. In 1999, with Nigel Dennis, he accomplished the first circumnavigation by kayak of Easter Island in the South Pacific. In 2000, he was a member of a sea kayak expedition to the Antarctic and the South Shetland Islands.

Chladek in a rare moment out of the water.

In his later years he devoted his time to his hobbies: history, archeology, ethnography, photography, and exploration, with particular interest in the aboriginal cultures of North and Central America. His sea kayak expeditions around the Aleutian Islands and the Alaskan coast had the aim of surveying burial caves and kayak landing sites of the ancient Aleuts. He undertook multiple trips to Mesoamerica to study and photograph Mayan ritual caves and ruins, conducting talks and publishing magazine articles and three books filled with beautiful photos about his exploration.

His zest for life was unmatched, exceeded, perhaps, only by and his storytelling ability as well. His wife Ema says that life with him was not always easy, but it was never boring.

He will be greatly missed by his wife of 57 years Ema, their two daughters Dana and Petra, and five grandchildren, Zoe, Maya, Emi, Thomas and Peter.

Stan Chaldek RIP (Rest in Paddling): 10/13/1937 – 11/25/2020

A shrine to Stan at his final resting place.


  1. Stan and Emma, and their daughter, Dana were paddling giants among our SE Detroit paddling community. It was mostly Stan though, that through his at home store, and finally in a true full service paddling resource facility. He was always an inexhaustible source of adventure, stories, fun, inspiration and equipment.. He led the group on many WW and sea kayaking trips, and later in life, took of the some members to some wild and far away expeditions. Stan will be greatly missed. God speed Dr.

  2. I’m really sorry to hear this. Stan was a mentor to many of us and an inspiration to many more. He will live on through many of us. Godspeed sir.

  3. I met Stan thru my science and paddling friend Borek Yanik in the 1970s on an expedition to the French River in Northern Ontario. We were not able to paddle much due to having lost a C-2 canoe in the first waterfall which Borek and Stan attempted to run. The canoe remained submerged while we spent a couple of days diving trying to retrieve it. Then we went back towards civilization to try to convince father/son divers to return with us to the submerged canoe. We could not convince them but their women did returning with us fifty miles on a dirt road to retrieve the canoe. Their fee was twenty five dollars! The canoe was not repairable. We adjourned to Killarney Provincial Park to regroup where one of the cars broke a fan belt. We were the only people in the park(there were bears but they did not help). We went to the nearest town for help but they had no belts but they would sent out to a mine on an island to get one that might work by boat. After an afternoon of waiting(there was much conversation with locals and some beer was involved) we got the belt, it worked for the rest of the trip. I saw Stan, Ema, and his daughters many more times of rivers and lakes thru the years. I felt lucky to have known someone like him.

  4. We had a fruitful collaboration at Texas A&M University and coauthored an important paper in nucleotide synthesis. We were very much alike: refugees from communism and having an obsessive hobby. His was kayaking, mine Stradivari violins. Best regards to Emma from Joseph.


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