Jake Stachovak – In Remembrance

-by Jay Murdock and Others

Photo of Jake Stachovak for Linked by Water expedition – by Michael Paul Franklin

Jake recently lost his battle with cancer, and people near and far who knew him have lost not only a wonderful friend, but a great person who just happened to be one of the best paddlers we’ve known. Yes, Jake was all that and more. Everyone who knew him liked him. He had this wonderful soft nature and calmness about him, but also a confidence and warmth that made you instantly like the man.

Jake’s paddling skills went far beyond most of us, as you will read in the following comments by some who paddled with him, but you would never suspect that in talking with him. He was both kind and gentle in helping us gain a greater skill level in our sport, and it seemed his patience never ran out. He had this ever-present smile that drew us in, a smile that was unassuming and humble, yet conveyed a strength that gave us courage to go beyond our comfort level.

Jake’s Farewell paddle upon leaving for Wisconsin in 2017 -photo by Murdock
Working at Aqua Adventures with Jen Kleck, owner back then -photo by Murdock
With the Wednesday morning paddlers -photo by Murdock
Helping launch the Wednesday morning paddlers in PB -photo by Murdock
At the farewell paddle in 2017 -photo by Murdock
Black Canyon trip – photos by Thom Underwood

Comments from Others:

“Jake and I were paddling buddies and like many kayakers in San Diego we paddled together often.  Thanks to Aqua Adventures and in particular Jen Kleck, we paddled the San Diego coast, from North County to the Coronado islands.  Further south in Baja we paddled the coast south and north of La Bufadora and out to Todos Santos.  Up the CA coast we paddled Point Lobos, Golden Gate, and the San Juans, and who doesn’t have fond memories of paddling the Colorado river and Black Canyon.  In Scotland we paddled the Pentland Firth, where in a tide race I had to self-rescue from a wet exit because Jake was busy rescuing our ‘group leader’ who was being tested for BCU level 5 accreditation – he failed!  From there we paddled the western coast of Scotland and the Isle of Skye (the wildest tide race I ever paddled) and several isles in the Outer Hebrides.  Jake was always there with a smile and confidence that inspired. 

Most of all we were surf buddies, out on the water 2 sometimes 3 times a week.  Jake somehow pried me out of a warm bed way too early for any sane person to consider and convinced me to throw myself into the cold Pacific.  Jake coerced me out in conditions I would never consider myself and once saved me (and my surf boat) from the rock jetty at South Mission beach (I was trying out a new paddle that was beyond my skillset). 

But my most memorable outing with Jake was one surf morning at LJ Shores when I never even got on the water!  We had arranged to meet at the usual ungodly hour but had failed to consider the predicted fog, a weather condition that rarely happens in San Diego.  When I arrived, the fog was so thick (visibility easily less than 10’) that I could barely see a parking spot let alone find Jake’s truck or see Jake on the beach.  After half an hour of searching for Jake and his truck, I assumed he had had the good sense to either not show up that morning or had returned home after seeing the fog conditions.  But before leaving, directed by the sound of the surf, I felt my way across the beach.  To my total surprise, just as I approached the water’s edge and still unable see the surf, out of the fog and the surf walked Jake, surf boat on his shoulder and that big Jake grin on his face.

Jake had a way that made each of us feel we had his undivided attention and always an abundance of good will.  I missed Jake when he moved back north but Jake had a way of staying with you even when he wasn’t present.  I miss him even more now he is gone even though he will always be with me”.    -Thom Underwood

Jake, Jane Hardy, and Mike Franklin -photo by Franklin

“Jake was my first “real” kayak teacher helping me to overcome my fear of tipping over my kayak and paddling in on the ocean.  One fine day Jake took me on a paddle from Aqua Adventures way out past the jetty, over to Ocean Beach Pier, the next thing I know Jake has me riding the back of a wave all the way to shore.  Wow! What an exhilarating experience and Jake made it happen.  That was Jake, “exhilarating”, full of life and ready for the next adventure. He took us all along on his “Portage to Portage’ paddle, what great memories he shared along the way.  Remembering- Jake performing headstands on his kayak and fun times out on the water.  Thank You Jake, for sharing your Joy of living radiating from your bright shiny eyes and your beautiful smile.  Cherishing fond memories close to my heart”.      -Jan Jensen

Honoring Jake, Mission Bay -photo by Franklin

“Jake was great to paddle with.  He was always happy & smiling.  I can’t recall ever seeing him upset.  I recall paddling from Harbor Island to the Coronado’s with him and 3 other guys.  He also taught me how to fix Valley skeg mechanisms (thank you!).  One thing that bugged me was seeing him do a headstand in a Nordkapp.  Oh, come on!  Darned showoff.  I felt so inadequate!   Fair winds and following seas Jake.  You are missed”.         -Gary Billick

“I’m saddened by this news. I learned much from Jake’s kayaking teaching”.             -Vicki Ardoin

In Baja -photo by Franklin

So sorry to hear about Jake!  I have such great memories of paddling with him guiding the meetup group paddlers on the AA social hours Thursday evenings and seeing him around the shop.  Best memories are of the jokes he would pull on the gang at the shop as well!  I still laugh when I think of them 🙂            -Miki Golden

Showing us how to surf a kayak -photo by Franklin

Jake was a paddling buddy a great friend and one of the best people I have ever known. We shared a lot of campfires, paddled together in Baja, along the San Diego coastline and the Colorado River and he always made a great experience that much better just by his presence. Jake accomplished an amazing kayaking feat with his Portage-to-Portage trip where he paddled 5,740 miles down rivers through the Gulf of Mexico and up the Atlantic Coast to loop around the Eastern United States but that pales in comparison to his legacy of friendship and kindness, he left to all of us.

He was strong but gentle, he was confident but never arrogant. He was kind but never weak. He was wise but always open. He cared about other people and always looked for the good in them. He was loyal to his friends. He was resolute and when he said he was going to do something he did it. He has been a great example of what a good human should be. He had a Zen like calm but was always up for some fun. His wide smile was contagious. I can’t think of a time I ever heard him say a harsh thing about anyone. Even his huge expedition to do the Portage-to-Portage trip was understated. Adventure Kayak magazine called it the Anti – Expedition. Jake described it as a bunch of backyard paddles put together but it was much more. Anyone who was lucky enough to meet Jake could bask in his calm strength and feel the peace inside him. He was always the first to jump in and help when things went sideways and was extremely capable. I value the time I got to spend with him especially on the water. I would paddle with him as he was training for his trip and enjoyed that quiet time with a good friend so much.

I hadn’t seen him in a little over 10 years as he moved back to Wisconsin, and I moved overseas, but his friendship was incredibly valuable to me. He will not be forgotten because he was a rare and special person. Now that he is gone, I will try to focus on the good he left in his wake and not on the sadness, but it will be difficult at times. I know I have tried to be a better person because of his example. If you want to do something good for the world, try to follow his example and be more like Jake.          -Mike Franklin

That smile -photo by Franklin

“Jake, Steve Wilson, and I went out to Catalina Island to paddle and camp. The next morning Steve and I got up at sunrise, thinking how manly we were getting up so early. As we stepped outside our tents, we saw Jake coming out of the cold water bare-chested, holding a large fish he just caught. We thought to ourselves that this guy is just not human to be able to pull that off”.      -Duane Strosaker (at the memorial paddle)

His Skill Level:

The following photos show his incredible skill level. During a paddle, Jake could get out of his cockpit and move about the kayak with ease, do a headstand, and even perform a roll using only his hands. Yes, we witnessed that with eyes and mouths wide open with awe.

Jake taking a haystack on the Great Lakes with finesse and confidence – photo by Bill Thompson
Performing a role with half a paddle – photo by Murdock
An amazing ability to balance -photo by Franklin
Surfing was a favorite with Jake -photo by Franklin
He could do this with ease -photo by Murdock
Then he would do this on occasion -photo by Murdock
Performing a role using only his hands -photo by Murdock

Our farewell:

Thirty-two paddlers turned out for Jake’s memorial paddle in San Diego on February 26, and went out beyond the jetty, where his wife, Marit, scattered some ashes. Afterwards we gathered for a time to visit, hug each other, and listen to the great music of Steve Wilson.  

Marit preparing the kayak -photo by Dana Voss
Heading out -photo by Voss
Spreading some ashes at sea -photo by Voss
Saying goodbye -photo be Voss
Steve Wilson singing after the paddle -photo by Murdock

The High School Principal where Jake taught the last four years spoke eloquently of him at his memorial service in Wisconsin: “Jake was an exceptional human being, and those who knew him were lucky to have met him. He had an infectious, joyous smile, and truly found joy in experiencing life to the fullest. Jake cared about people, connected with others, and brought joy to those around him. He embodied the qualities of love, family, and selflessness”.

Who Jake Was:

Those of us who spent time with Jake knew his face conveyed the essence of who he was. The fact of how one’s inner character can be seen through their face was recently summed up by President Zelenskyy of Ukraine after accepting the likelihood that soon he may be killed: “Everyone’s face shows his or her life, their whole life path, as well as the end of one’s life”. We were able to see who Jake was, and how he was able to face his death with courage. Thank you, Jake, for being there for us, for giving so much of yourself to us, and for being a great friend. We will not forget you.

-photo by Murdock