Following late nights at the office — monitoring severe storms that threaten the Quad-City area and encouraging viewers to head to their basements — Erik Maitland needs a distraction from weather during his free time.
"It's tough to make a turnaround from a night like that," said Maitland, the chief meteorologist at KWQC-TV.
So, the 52-year-old weatherman turned to kayaking, a major stress reliever for Maitland, especially now, during what he called the "most stressful time the world has ever seen."
"When I get out there, I'm completely in my happy place, and everything I do on a daily basis just disappears," he said. "I was looking for something for years and this is now my thing."
The avid paddler, who also serves as a certified kayak instructor, hopes to share his passion with Quad-Citians this summer.
To kick things off, Maitland will discuss his experiences on the water during a paddle craft training seminar next weekend at the Moline Public Library.
In conjunction with National Safe Boating Week, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary organized the event, which will promote safe paddling practices, from wearing the proper life jacket and footwear to choosing the right vessel.
While Maitland usually paddles alone, he said he always informs someone ahead of time about his float plan.
Besides a life jacket, he brings with him a variety of other safety gear, including a whistle, marine VHF radio, personal locator beacon, tow rope and flares on his outings that generally stretch between 10 and 15 miles.
"I'm not in need of anything when I'm out on the water," he said.
During his first summer of paddling in 2014, Maitland said he ventured out onto Lake Michigan without correctly preparing.
"One of the reasons I decided to become an instructor was because I realized I made all the beginner mistakes," he said. "I just went at it and I didn't really research what I needed to know."
Before exploring foreign waterways, Maitland said he will contact someone familiar with the area to learn more about any potential risks he could face, such as dangerous water temperatures, special currents and underwater hazards.
"When you get in that environment, you become the littlest guy in the big pond and you need to prepare for that," he said.
Although his 15-foot sea kayak remains in storage, Maitland has a 25-plus mile trek planned on the Mississippi River once the water levels recede.
When the weather warms, he also will begin teaching on-water lessons at Deep Lakes Park in Muscatine, which, he said, has the clearest water in eastern Iowa.
"Everybody wants to spend more time outdoors," Maitland added, "and I think this is one of the greatest ways to do it."