Q&A with Teacher, Packrafter, and Alaskan Adventurer Tony Perelli
In 2019 Traverse Alaska partnered with Teacher, Packrafter, and Alaskan Adventurer Tony Perelli to provide Packrafting 101 courses in the Denali area. Traverse Alaska sat down with Tony to chat about his packrafting experience, and advice for people new to the sport.
TA: What made you want to get into packrafting?
Tony: Back in 2005 or so, my friend & trip partner, J.T. Lindholm started insisting I get a packraft. We had done tons of climbing and hiking trips together and had established a great partnership. I trusted him when he said I had to get a boat, that I wouldn’t regret it or look back.
I had also been to a couple of Roman Dial’s slideshows during that time, hearing about his adventures in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Hike-boat-hike-boat…to me these trips are still the best.
Finally, I was invited to go on a Packraft date with a real cute adventure girl…So many reasons to get a packraft!
TA: Who were your mentors?
Tony: Most of my first packraft adventures were me just trying to keep up with J.T. and Brad Meiklejohn. Both of these guys already had a huge depth of experience in the wilderness, and it was a real gift to learn how to travel in the wilderness and packraft with them. I’m still learning from both of them today.
The circle of mentors and trip partnerships expanded to include Roman Dial, Luc Mehl, Timmy Johnson, Eric Parsons, Matt Rafferty, Becky King and others. I’ve always felt lucky to learn with and simply be a part of this crew.
TA: How has the sport evolved in the last decade?
Tony: The scope of what you can do in these boats has expanded hugely and it’s generally become much safer. There was a period of time when we began to turn up the amplitude, learn from the kayak community, boat more whitewater and even modify the equipment. Alpacka Raft, at that very same time, was also evolving and upgrading their boat designs to increase their performance. These days, experienced packrafters are routinely running rivers and doing trips, safely and skillfully, that a little more than a decade ago felt anomalous.
TA: What is the most important thing to understand if someone wants to get into packrafting?
Tony: The access and fun packrafts provide is awesome, but the risks associated with it can be real as well. Acquiring a foundation of knowledge, experience and skills is wise. Then, use that foundation to bend the rules later, if needed.
TA: What is a common mistake you see new packrafters making?
Tony: Maybe the assumption that skills will just show-up and the boats will automatically keep them out of trouble, but I really think this is changing for the better.
More technically speaking, I would like to see new packrafters being more intentional with their moves on the river. Sometimes when approaching a hazard, I see people freeze up, grip their paddle, and wait to see what happens.
TA: New packrafters can enroll in a Packraft course, what additional resources are available in Alaska?
Tony: There are some awesome people, blogs & books out there.
People: I love the concept of mentorship in life. If you are among quality experienced people (friends, instructors etc.), it’s good to be honest, quiet and open to learning.
Blogs: I think it’s natural to use the experience of others to learn from and be inspired by. However, I don’t think it’s the right idea to treat blogs like standard routes or trails. They often are not. Be inspired, learn a little and then plan your own trip to match your preference, style and abilities.
Books: there are tons out there, but these are the ones I have on my bookshelf:
Packrafting! by Roman Dial
Fast & Cold by Andrew Embick
Alaska Whitewater by Tim Johnson
Alaska River Guide by Karen Jettmar
Packrafting by Molley Absolon
Most importantly, The Alaska Atlas & Gazetteer
TA: What are some ways for new boaters to experiment with the sport?
Tony: I suggest getting in a lake or slow-moving river if you’re brand new, just get to know your boat. Flat water, class I water, class II if you have some guidance, and begin to progress. As you gain real skills and comfort you may want to look at more demanding stuff if that’s your interest.
TA: Anything else new boaters should know?
Tony: I never am tired of the good words that the Water Rat said:
“There is nothing–absolutely nothing–half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
To learn more about upcoming Packraft Classes and Trips, contact Traverse Alaska.