Introducing Dympna Hayes. What Floats Her Boat?

By Jules Torti | January 12, 2022

Dympna Hayes has paddled in Norway, Newfoundland and Great Slave Lake. I was totally floored when she told me that the safest place in the world to kayak is in Antarctica.

“It’s the easiest conditions! There are no waves and because of the calmness, the group doesn’t get separated. It’s super safe because everyone is wearing a dry suit and the kayaks are tandem. We have a ‘Kodiak’ too—it’s our kayak zodiac boat support.” Chatting online with Dympna, I felt her natural power in sharing a tall tale. I was transported to the pure silence of the ‘White Continent’ in an instant. She has recently returned to Argentina to embark on another stint on a small expedition ship.

Dympna has been guiding since 2007 and is the energetic co-owner and operator of the Ontario Sea Kayak Centre in Parry Sound (Ontario, Canada). Her partner and husband, James, and his mad carpentry skills have expanded the centre into a near empire with a yoga deck and 2015 glamping add-on, the boutique Harmony Outdoor Inn.

Shoulder Season

The foray (or ‘eddy’, if you’re up on your kayaking lingo) into the kayak centre was a complete career cannonball from Dympna’s predictable downtown Toronto commuter life. As a single mom with four kids, the 24/7 expectations didn’t register as an obstacle. She’s accustomed to working every single day–a typical season on an Antarctica ship is 107 days (October until March). “There is no off season!” she informs me. I joke that her shoulder season just means more definition in her shoulders, after a summer spent paddling.

Her sense of “off” on the ship is a brief and  tight two hour window where she scrambles to procure shampoo and chocolate bars at the dock and then it’s GO!

Girl Guides and Humpbacks

Whether at home in her Parry Sound sanctuary at the forest-fringed edge of Georgian Bay or somewhere near the 60° south latitude line, Dympna’s adopted Girl Guide motto of “be prepared” remains unchanged. She’s well-versed in introducing women to the wild and creating pathways to gaining skills and confidence on the water. Whether it’s hot tips on how to squat in the woods and “real-deal camping” (ie. no showers!) Dympna ensures that every woman that passes her bow knows how to pack a kayak, hang tarps, operate camp stoves and make a wet exit. Not a dramatic one!

Her laugh is infectious and I can sense her strength and influence as a guide. She’s frank, encouraging and all about empowering women. “In Antarctica, the kayakers form their own subgroup kinship from the rest of the passengers.” She describes a typical day (though how can a day be typical in Antarctica?). “The zodiac cuts its engine and then POOF. Pure silence. A curious humpback emerges, growling, looking right back at you with the same astonishment.”

I hear about the thrill of penguins on the ice shelf, running alongside the ship as though keeping pace. Even on the treadmill in the ship’s gym, wildlife abounds and overwhelms. “I watched a pod of humpbacks–while I was running on the treadmill!”

The Planet, the Way it Used to Be

“The shades of ice, the mountain textures, the glaciers–and seeing an albatross! It’s a birder’s mecca. This was how the planet used to be.” Dympna admits her emotions are conflicted. “It’s a joyous but sad realization. Every time I visit Antarctica, it’s like seeing the planet the way that it was. Everything is so abundant. “Whales are EVERYWHERE. It’s untouched. Pure. The animals are fearless and curious.”

The serene and unspoiled nature of this area is a treat for seasoned and novice kayakers alike. “Kayakers are picked up at the gangway, get in the zodiac and the kayaks are towed to a quieter area. We never kayak in windy conditions. It has to be under 15 knots. No swells! And, if you sign up for the kayak program, you can always opt out of a particular day and do a shore excursion instead.”

Seasick and Lovesick

We chat about seasickness. because, well, it’s a thing. “The Ocean Endeavour has stabilizers but the sea has her own ideas. I’ve seen thirty-three foot swells. That’s the power of nature. “You won’t be alone—-even experienced guides are prone to seasickness. It’s temporary though and the open ocean, well, it’s rough. It’s a three day passage across the Drake Passage and then you reach the flat calm of the peninsula. The registration desk has anti-nausea meds (or you can bring your own). Meals can be brought to your cabin. The best thing to do is take medication and sleep. As soon as we reach the bay, it’s a sheltered, condition-free respite.”


At the tail end of our conversation, Dympna positively glows when I ask, “is there anything else?” I know she could talk about her affection for Antarctica for days. “If you’re going to Antarctica you need to read everything about Shackleton. Krill. Birds. Penguin behavior. Elephant Island. It will add to your experience enormously. When you hike in Shackleton’s footsteps, you gain so much respect for his monumental voyage in a 22-foot lifeboat from Elephant Island to South Georgia. You’ll see where Shackleton’s men spent four inhospitable months. Reading about Shackleton will add so much to the depth of your trip.

Dympna Hayes knows all about deep-diving into the depths of personal fulfilment, challenge and sharing her primal love of kayaking. She knows what floats her boat! Dympna’s animated spirit and open love letter to the polar sea’s biodiversity and the silence might shake up your future travel plans and bump kayaking and the White Continent to the top!

A little more info for you to paddle through…

Wild Women Expeditions offers several trip itineraries that integrate kayaking. Some are short, introductory afternoons while others are more demanding and require paddling to the next destination–your accommodations for the night. Regardless of the activity (kayaking, hiking, cycling), it’s always best to do your Girl Guide duty! Be prepared. If you were going to be on Survivor, would you not practice making a fire out of nothing but Q-tip fluff and two chopsticks??

Research your destination. Watch online videos. Sign up for a local in-pool kayak training session. Talk to our in-house kayak expert and Adventure Specialist, Kate Hives about the best trip for your skill set. Dympna is also happy to chat about trip readiness and how you can best prepare for your upcoming kayaking adventure–whether it’s Georgian Bay, Cinque Terre or Antarctica! 

The Ontario Sea Kayak Centre (one of the leading paddling schools in Canada!) offers several women-only skill development courses like Paddle Canada Level 1 Sea Kayak Skills (2 days) and Paddle Canada Level 2 Sea Kayak Skills and Wilderness Camping (6 days). For newbies to the kayak world, these “front-loading” courses are all about building confidence through skill development. Wild Women has partnered with The Ontario Sea Kayak Centre and we’re offering kayaking trips to Lake Superior and Lake Huron’s North Channel this summer! 

Are you ready to put your spray skirt on?