Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Mike Thomson

My friend Mike Thomson of Scottish Paddler Supplies has died.

He became unwell while driving back to Scotland with a load of new sea kayaks. I can hardly believe what I am writing, as Mike was a larger than life character who was so full of life and seemed such a permanent part of Scottish paddling life. Who can forget his deep sonorous voice "Hello, this is Scottish Paddler Supplies" when he picked up the phone? His voice sounded like a wonderful deep and liquid sound from the back of some distant sea cave.

When I say he was my friend, I am not claiming any exclusivity, he was a warm hearted and open man who made friends with all his customers. He was most certainly not a "box shifter". He liked to get to know his customers' needs before he would sell anything. He would also lend gear to make sure it was what you really wanted. Afterwards, his customer support, if there was a problem with gear, was quite exceptional in my experience of any retail field.

He also took particular care with newcomers to sea kayaking. He would spend a great deal of time giving advice about any aspect of sea kayaking. I was a complete newcomer when I first contacted Mike and I have no doubt that his sound advice helped me safely on my way. As a result of his approachfullness, he built up a loyal band of customers not just in Scotland but in many other countries across the world.

As a retailer, he was a familiar sight with demo boats and stands at symposia such as the Skye Sea Kayaking Symposium and also shows such as the Perth Paddle Show. Of course Mike was not just a retailer, he also designed and manufactured sea kayaking accessories such as J bars for roof racks and kayak trolleys. These are made of such high quality materials that no doubt they will be dug up and puzzled over by future archaeologists! I tested a group of trolleys on the portage over the rough track from Tarbert on Jura for Ocean Paddler magazine. Mike was so pleased when only his trolley made it over unscathed. In fact, it needed to return to the summit to rescue another boat whose trolley had completely broken! I can still remember Mike's hearty chuckle as he read the article. Mike was always looking for ways to improve his designs and he asked if I had any suggestions for the trolley. He was working on a modification when we last spoke, just before he died.

Mike walks over a Coll beach towards an early Quest prototype. Photo by Ronnie Weir.

He was also involved in tests of two P&H prototypes called project X (later to resurface as the Bahiya) and project Y, one of which would be chosen as their new expedition boat. He particularly liked project Y and said it was the one for his customers. He took delivery of one of the first production models which P&H called the the "Cappela Explorer".

Mike named this individual boat "Sea Quest" but told P&H that the name "Capella Explorer" was just confusing customers because of the existing "Capella" in the range. He suggested they should change the name. The y did and the "Quest" was born! Mike's enthusiasm for this boat did much to ensure the success of the Quest and there can hardly be a Scottish beach that has not been graced by several.

He had a great sense of humour and I can still remember his deep HO HO HOs when we shared a joke. One such joke was Brace-a-Float and remarkably he was still getting enquiries about these as recently as last month!

He started his own paddling career with Fife Sea Kayak Club and over the years he had written articles about their exploits for many magazines. Recently he had written several humorous and lively articles about his trips for Ocean Paddler magazine. He hadn't taken photographs at the time but I had followed in his wake and was honoured when he asked if I could supply some photos to go with his articles.

He was also a volunteer trip organiser for the Scottish Canoe Association and in March this year had organised one of the first ever kayaking trips on Loch Katrine after it had been opened to public access for the first time.

Mike loved all aspects of the outdoors but particularly the sea (he was also a sailor). He passed his sense of respect for the sea and of looking after the countryside to all those whom he came across. He played a great role in the expansion of sea kayaking in Scotland but he was always concerned that people should start off feeling respect for the outdoors. He felt that the environment would not be harmed by growing numbers if participants shared this respect. He was not an evangelist though, he simply showed newcomers his own obvious enjoyment of the outdoors.

The world is a better place because of people like Mike Thomson and it is poorer with his passing. However, Mike helped so many people on the way to enjoying their sea kayaking adventures that his joy of life and the outdoors will live on through them for many years to come. I count myself lucky for being one who knew him.

My condolences to all those who have lost with his passing, especially his family and close friends.


  1. The first time I bought something from Mike over the phone I offered my credit card details. "We don't take those" he said, "I'll post it off to you and when you get it send me a cheque"..... In surprise I said that he did not know me and how incredibly trusting that was.
    "we are very trusting in the kayaking community,and it's the way I like to do business".
    It is very rarely you come across peole like that so I considered it a privelage to have dealt with him and a shame I never met him.
    A very sad loss.

  2. I am so sorry to hear this news, Mike's family must miss him so much. I met Mike only once at the Perth show but it was like meeting an old friend. He was so friendly on the phone, sometimes I would order just a small item as an excuse just to talk to him and benefit from his advice.

  3. This is awful news he was a real good guy. I first met him after my boat got damaged. I hadn't even bought it from him but he lent me one of his boats till I got mine fixed. He didn't even charge me!! Of course when I later bought a new boat I got it from him! People who just did mail order will not know this, but he didn't have a huge shop. He ran the business from the garage behind the house which was miles from the sea! The garage was stuffed to the roof with goodies. I don't think he ever locked it. He only ever saw the good in people.
    We have all lost a friend, John.

  4. We were lucky to have met Mike many times. He will be sadly missed. He was a true gentleman. Our hearts go out to his family.
    Jim & Fiona

  5. Sad sad loss, Very trusting and hlpful guy who gave me my first intro in paddling a Quest. A boat [not the same] I paddle today. He lent boats for a week or so without charge too some other resellers cant hold to that, a wonderful garden, an adventure to explore, boy but did he like his pipe. his way for disrupting midge infestasion
    Thoughts are with his kin fowk


  6. Mike was a lovely man he was very patient and gave us a lot of very good sensible advice when we were starting out. I am so sad to hear this. I feel for his family at this time. He will not be forgotten.


  7. Our condolences to Mike's family. He'll be missed by all in the kayak industry.
    Kind regards
    Ann and Geoff

  8. Mike was a gentleman. As a female customer I have often felt a condescending attitude from male staff in other shops. Not with Mike, it didn't matter if you were male or female, you were a sea kayaker! I can only echo what others have said about being lent stuff and delivery before payment! How his family must miss him, such a loss. Liz

  9. You will be greatly missed Mike by generations old & new. I was very sad to hear what had happened.
    Jenx (Jennifer Wilcox)

  10. Very, very sorry to hear this news - sincere condolences to Mike's family and friends.

    Mike was a wonderful, friendly man who everyone liked.

    I was involved with the build of his website, and will always recall the passion he brought to the planning meetings and his insistence that he didn't want to go down the e-commerce / on-line payment route we suggested because he much preferred to "talk to people"!

    Which he did! And always with a smile.


  11. If I could add to the above about thios wonderful man. He had patiently tried me with 3 different demo boats but it was obvious I was not going to get my body comfortably in any of them. After the last he said, "you know I think NDK make a boat that might suit you". He then put me in touch with Ann and Geoff above. How is that for putting the customer first? Mike we miss you!

  12. I was shocked and sorry to hear the sad news about Mike and I would like to offer my condolences to his family . Although I had only met him a couple of times I will always remember how friendly and helpful he was when I bought my first sea kayak from Scottish Paddler Supplies. He had only just met me yet he insisted I took away a Quest for a week to try it! He was a very trusting, helpful person who was passionate about what he did...the gap he has left will not be easy to fill.

    Willy Kerr

  13. Mike was the coolest cat - he really was, and we all loved him immensely. Irresplaceable. We do miss him. Bring out the drums and call him back before the fat lady sings.