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Penguin Paddling In Occoquan, Virginia During IPW 17.

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Finding Chill & Relaxation: Penguin Paddling 

Owner Danny Barker & His Dog Lizard On Finding Balance & Peace In The Town Of Occoquan, Virginia During IPW Confab

Danny Barker & His Dog Lizard Of Penguin Paddling Paddleboarding. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

The connection between a man and his boat is an important one but even more so with a man and his dog. For Danny Barker who operates his company Penguin Paddling on the shores of the small Northern Virginia town of Occoquan along a river of the same name [incidentely attached to the more famous Potomac], his constant companion is Lizard who greets guests as she vaults headlong into the water chasing her ball. Barker sat down with MRV: The Buzz Editor In Chief Tim Wassberg on the docks of his business with Lizard at his feet during IPW to discuss psychology, physicality and finding chill within his business. 

Dan Barker: [The business has been] kind of been known as The Penguin. 

The Buzz: So that's your nickname: The Penguin? 

DB: Yeah. That's my nickname. So it became Penguin Paddling. The other half of it is I've never seen somebody get pissed off when they hear people talking about penguins. So the first thing you do is smile and you're like, "Penguins, what the heck"? I've got the hook. So there you go. 

The Buzz: Cool. I'm going to get into the aspect of the outdoors, but the thing is one key aspect of the outdoors is having your dog. Your dog, as you said, [tongue in cheek] is vice president of marketing because having animals around is such a big part of the outdoor experience? 

DB: So I'm a full-time paramedic and fireman. And I wanted to start my own business in order to transition to a lower stress, more fun environment. One of my requirements, when I was looking at what business to get into, is number one, I had to have fun. Number two, I had to be able to bring my dog. So Lizard [here] comes to work with me everyday. And she plays fetch, and rides paddle boards, and rides kayaks, barks at me to throw the ball. And that's basically what we do. She's the face of the business. More people know her name than mine.

The Buzz: That's awesome. I mean were you always into the outdoors? I heard you talking about Costa Rica. 

DB: I grew up in suburban Virginia about 15 minutes from where my shop is currently located. My first job was working at a bicycle shop. I went through college working at bicycle shops. I attended the University of Utah, primarily for skiing and outdoor activities. So while I am employed in a very high-stress profession for my main source of revenue -- 

 The Buzz: You still do both... 

 DB: Yeah. I like being outside everyday. So that's kind of why I'm doing it.

Paddling Out On The Occoquan River With Penguin Paddling. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]
Lizard Airborne Going To Fetch A Ball At Penguin Paddling. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

The Buzz: You were talking skiing in Utah. Obviously, this is a much different sort of milieu. Could you talk about that and the differences between the two and the mindset and the psychology that you have to have? 

 DB: So I look at kayaking as an active form of meditation where you can get out there and forget about all the silly stuff that's going on in your life...Where all you're focusing on is the immediate task at hand. And it's really not so different from say skiing or another fast paced thing. Skiing demands all of your attention while you're doing it as well. 

The Buzz: But it's now so much about hand, eye coordination... 

DB: Correct. This is a more passive process in terms of if you don't pay attention for a minute [or so] you're just going to float a little bit, you're not going to slam into a tree. But the whole idea here is to get out and enjoy and manage your stress through an active source of fun. 

The Buzz: Can you talk about this region specifically? Why it's so conducive and why this town of Occonquan specifically from your point of view? 

DB: Well, I live about 10 minutes away. This is my second store that I started. My first store was out of the way surrounded by three wildlife refuge areas. Those are phenomenal places to go paddling, but ultimately poor marketing value because I don't get a lot of foot traffic. At this location [in town] we get a lot of foot traffic since a lot of people come in for the weekend or simply walking around town. Additionally, today we have a little bit of a breeze. Yet, still, we have no waves. So this is a very, very mellow experience. I really like this body of water because it's a protected body of water and I call this shop my “date-in-a-can” because you come out here for a couple of hours and then you can easily pop into one of our town bistros for a quick meal. 

The Buzz: Do a lot of couples come down here and do this? 

DB: Absolutely. But it's kind of funny, my number one tour customer is women age 40-60, which I didn't really expect starting the business. But it really makes sense if you think about it. Empty nesters want to get out, want to start enjoying life a little bit. But the town itself offers all sorts of wine tasting, beer tasting opportunities, and great little bistros. 

The Buzz: Now obviously being a paramedic, you're on these hard shifts. Can you talk about the physicality of this sport for older people? And the physicality of what you trained in. I mean skiing and being up at those altitudes is one thing, but being here is another. 

DB: So the other sports that you described are high impact. A lot of bouncing on the joints whereas this form of kayaking is very low impact. It's not beating up the joints. It's more based on smooth motion, rather than hard, jarring, physical activity. If you use the proper form, you really shouldn't even be too sore after going out and doing it all day. 

The Buzz: Do you go out and do it? 

DB: Yeah. I'm on the water every day of my life pretty much. Until recently, I was assigned to a fire boat but the past couple months have been off that. With that, you patrol on weekends in the summer time and then other times of the year. You're riding either a medic or a fire engine, and then if there's an emergency on the river, you go to your boat, hop on the boat, and you roll.

Lizard Relaxing After A Hard Day Of Work. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

The Buzz: So my last question, it sounds like everybody has fun here doing it. But I've got to ask, a couple years ago, you said you found Lizard. I mean could you talk about that?

DB: So I went to visit a friend who worked at the animal shelter and she happened to call in sick. She wasn't even there. So I was like, "Well, I'll do a lap and check out the dogs." Well, Lizard here looks exactly like my old dog who also had a goofy name. 

 The Buzz: What was the other name? 

 DB: Peepee. 

 The Buzz: Peepee? 

 DB: Yep. Because when she would urinate she would do it in these weird poses. Where she would be on just her front paws with her back paws sticking straight out. So she picked up the name “Peepee” and it kind of stuck. So I was walking through there and I saw Lizard and I was like, "Oh, that looks exactly like Peepee." And I'm like, "Oh, crap." So I ended up walking out with a dog that day. And her name was Lizzy at the pound. And being a young, single guy I couldn't have a dog name named Lizzy. So she became The Lizard. or just Lizard for short. 

 The Buzz: She takes to water, almost like she's a reptile or an amphibian. 

 DB: Yeah. She takes to wherever I'm at. She only cares about me and the ball pretty much (laughing). And she rides paddle boards, rides kayaks. She's a pretty awesome beast. She even has her own Facebook page: Lizard the She-Beast.

Tim Wassberg

A graduate of New York University's Tisch School Of The Arts with degrees in Film/TV Production & Film Criticism, Tim has written for magazines such as Moviemaker, Moving Pictures, Conde Nast Traveler UK and Casino Player. He enjoys traveling and distinct craft beers among other things.

Monroe Bay Campground & Marina

Make Sure To Stay At:

Monroe Bay Campground & Marina,  which has its own Camp Store with supplies, propane gas, and home cooked meals as well as a large play ground, game room, and a white sloping beach. There are over 300 sites with water and electric, and of these over 100 sites have sewer. Limited 50 amp lots are available. 

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