In our own Backyard

Story last updated at 1:15 PM on Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tom Pogson: kayak instructor, award-winner

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


Photo provided

The outdoors is a perfect classroom for Tom Pogson of the Alaska Kayaking School in Homer.

In one of the tasks he enjoys as mayor of Homer, James Hornaday recently presented a Mayor's Recognition to a Homer resident: Tom Pogson, a "knowledgeable, thorough and a passionate instructor" for Homer's Community Recreation Program and recipient of the National Water Safety Congress Award of Merit.

"This is not possible without a lot of hard work from a lot of other people," said Pogson of the recognition.

Those "other people" point to Pogson's contributions to kayakers locally and throughout the state.

"In my humble opinion, Tom Pogson is the best instructor in the state as far as safety," said Joe McCullough of Anchorage, program coordinator for the Alaska Boating Safety Program. In his personal time, McCullough, an American Canoe Association instructor, serves as a regional vice president for the National Water Safety Congress.

McCullough also speaks as a two-time student in Pogson's Alaska Kayak School classes.

"I took classes to learn how to be a better instructor and safety person. ... He's incredibly safety oriented," said McCullough.

Mike Illg, coordinator of Homer's Community Recreation Program, met Pogson in 2003, and has come to appreciate Pogson's long-reaching contributions.

"Tom's biggest emphasis and product is knowing the skills of kayaking and emphasizing safety first," said Illg. "The waters in Alaska are very unforgiving. One needs to be very knowledgeable and informed about what to do."

Born in Chicago, Pogson, 58, grew up in Puerto Rico. He came to Alaska in 1981 to attend the University of Alaska Fairbanks graduate program in wildlife management. While in Fairbanks, Pogson founded and directed the Alaska Bird Observatory. He began paddling in the late 1980s. His first instructor qualification came through the American Canoe Association.

"Canoeing is my favorite, but ... I saw the growth of sea kayaking and thought that would be good to add to my bag of tricks," said Pogson.

After becoming associated with the British Canoe Union, he added to his credentials during time in Florida. When Pogson returned to Alaska in 1999, it was to settle in Homer and open the Alaska Kayak School.

Unsure of the number of students he has taught, Pogson can estimate the number of days he has spent on the water. In 14 years, he has averaged 150-200 days a year, which adds up to more than 2,000. Add consulting work he's done and the number climbs to "4,000 days or something ridiculous," Pogson said.

Alaska Kayak School's base of operations is the home Pogson shares with his wife and kayak coach, Laura Pomeroy. Classroom space is sometimes indoors at the Kate Kuhns Aquatic Center in Homer, but frequently outdoors. In addition to Homer, he has taught in Kodiak, Anchorage, Soldotna, Seward, Whittier, Prince William Sound and the Kenai Fjords, Hoonah, Ketchikan and Tracy Arm.

This week, Pogson taught in Anchorage for Challenge Alaska, a nonprofit organization providing recreation opportunities for individuals with disabilities. His students were service men injured in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Pogson has organized kayak slalom events benefiting the Homer Community Food Pantry. In 2007, he partnered with the Kate Kuhns Aquatic Center and Homer's community schools program to support a Homer resident's search for a double lung transplant.

"Being on the water is important to me," said Pogson. "(Homer) is a really wonderful spot to have a place like ours."

According to McCullough, it's wonderful to have Pogson in Alaska.

"Alaska is a boater's paradise, but its users know that circumstances can change quickly and accidents can and do happen," said McCullough.

"Tom has been an excellent ally for the state of Alaska."

Illg agreed.

"We thank you, Tom, for emphasizing and having the knowledge and professional expertise to not only teach kayaking, but teach kayaking skills and safety," said Illg.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at


Alaska Kayak School

Tom Pogson, founder and director

Phone: 235-2090



Certified instructors in the American Canoe Association.

Coaches trained by the British Canoe Union.

Programs offered:

Pool courses

Skills courses

Closed cockpit kayak

Sea kayak

Whitewater kayak

Kayak surfing

Open canoe – tandem

Open canoe – solo

British Canoe Union Star Awards training and assessment

BCU Coach 2 training and assessment

Instructional tours

Custom programs

Gear rentals

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