1. Archive

A life on the water

Published Oct. 8, 2005

(ran LTCTNT, CTI, TP editions)

John Komp, 87, is still able to paddle his own canoe, if you'll pardon the cliche. Komp, in fact, is able to paddle just about any canoe. And, with good reason.

Komp has been canoeing roughly 75 years. He even has designed his own high-performance oar, and has spent years studying and improving oars and paddles crafted by others.

His romance with water, water sports and water safety began in St. Petersburg where he worked as a lifeguard at Spa Beach. "That was during the Depression," Komp recalls with a wistful smile, "and I was a student at old St. Petersburg High." He was among the 300 first graduates in 1927.

That job led to his association with the American Red Cross and its nationwide water safety program. By the time his 88th birthday rolls around in January, Komp will be celebrating his 70th year as a Red Cross staff member and volunteer. He performed Red Cross foreign service during World War II, serving in South America and Europe. Working for the U.S. Army and Navy, he taught survival-at-sea and abandon-ship techniques, as well as first aid.

Lani Czyzewski, spokesman for the Red Cross' Tampa Bay Suncoast Chapter, describes Komp as a "volunteer par excellence."

Komp has been instrumental in developing the area chapter's small craft program, and continues to teach canoeing and sailing on a regular basis. He loves the sport so much that he has spent much of his life canoeing or teaching others to canoe. He rattles off a long list of rivers he has traversed without blinking an eye. He also contributed a chapter on canoe sailing for the textbook used on that subject for all Red Cross courses.

With barely concealed pride, Komp shows visitors to his garage workshop, in the rear of his Gulfport home, and his aforementioned special paddle. He explains howand whyit greatly increases speed and decreases water displacement. He frequently has his students over, teaching them the craft, discoursing on special woods, construction, the history and even the future of paddles and oars. He has also built canoes and has several in his shop. A replica of his own paddle is displayed over the door of the house's porch entrance, and other oars and paddles _ Native American, Eskimo, Brazilian, South American and European _ can be seen in the workshop.

Has John Komp been lonely canoeing, kayaking and water rafting over the years?

"Nooooo," he answered with a broad smile, introducing his "first mate," Ruth, his wife of 60 years. They met and married in Pittsburgh when John was in that area working with her father. The latter headed that city's YWCA swimming program. "Even then," explains Komp, "Ruth was an expert sailor and had won a number of sailing events in her community." They honeymooned in St. Petersburg in 1935, and spent much of their time, both recall, jokingly, "sailing and canoeing."