Quo Fata Ferunt-Whither the fates may carry us
The title aptly describes Fennel Blythe's trajectory through life. Floating with the tides and creating opportunity as it reveals itself.
If you've paddled in the southeast at all over the past few years, at some point, chances are you've come across Fennel or her work.
A Stand Up Paddler and consummate competitor, Fennel can often be seen at races throughout the region. Always affable and advocating for the paddling life, she's quick to engage newcomers and veterans alike.
In addition to competing, she also builds, repairs and adds art to boards and surfskis; blending all her passions into one.
But stepping aside from the norms and having a go at your dreams comes with inherent risks, and it takes a special person to be willing to tackle a full-time endeavor as risky as she has.
Her path to get where she is today has been interesting; revealing a willingness to fearlessly move forward in search of life experience over a conventional career. Perhaps striking a chord for many of us toiling away and wondering...what if?
The 46 year old, uber fit Alabama native earned her Masters Degree in Marine Biology with a Bachelors in Fine Arts and Biology. Working at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Fennel studied among other topics, the delicate sea grass beds in the shallows of the Gulf of Mexico.
During her time at the Sea Lab, she purchased a wooden kayak kit and took on the challenge of building it step by step from the ground up. As the formless planks of wood began to coalesce into the shape of a sea worthy vessel, she began to feel the seeds of change take root. She found working with her hands to create something utilitarian not only fulfilling, but empowering. The kayak project served as a catalyst in her life. She began to see possibilities and felt drawn to using her new-found abilities to create something tangible.
Afterwards, she began a period of travelling the world and working a series of jobs that ultimately maintained a connection to her field of Biology. But in the end, all roads lead back to the water---
She found her way back to the south-land, settling in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 2011. Ready to get back on the water, she liberated her wooden kayak from her families Northern Alabama barn- perhaps as a nod towards providence, two days later, the barn was destroyed by a tornado.
Her love of paddlesports however, truly took shape after discovering Stand Up Paddling through a local shop. Upon renting a board on a whim and paddling the scenic riverfront area surrounding Chattanooga, she knew she had found her landing.
She entered her first race shortly after, and has been hooked ever since, travelling throughout the region, looking for the next competitive challenge.
But fate would intervene again as a damaged board took the form of a challenge. Empowered by the the knowledge that she had hand built a kayak, she opted to take on the task of repairing the damaged board on her own.
Buoyed by her successful repair, she embarked on a personal quest to learn the craft of repairing paddleboards, kayaks and surfskis. Not content to ply her trade in an average manner, she would seek the highest pedigrees by venturing out to apprentice under such notable names as: Drew Brophy, Ron House and Patrick Broemmel.
Through this process of apprenticeship she would simultaneously learn how to create her own paddleboards from some of the best in the business with the final addition being the integration of her love of art applied to the boards.
Her business now coming full circle, she has now realized her dream come to fruition by incorporating what she loves most: paddling, creating, repairing, art and spreading the love of the blue life to others, all merged into one endeavor.
Currently, you can find her working at her shop and squeezing in time on the water in between projects. She also sets aside some time each week during warmer months to lead a social paddle for those with an interest in getting out on the water. Acting as a local hostess of sorts for those wanting to give paddling a try.
So if your surfski is in need of some love or you just want to add a creative design to set it apart, look her up-and keep an eye out on the water for her.
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