Monday, January 21, 2008

First Strokes; Kayak Basics

“Oh sure,” you say. “I’m just supposed to hop into a kayak and head out into the ocean. I have no idea how to paddle one of those unstable looking things.”

Q: How would I begin?

A: Take a lesson. There are kayak clubs and lessons available in most major cities. A random Google of cities as distant as New York, Atlanta, Miami, Kansas City, Denver, San Francisco and Seattle revealed places to sign up and take lessons. Lessons give you a good opportunity to determine if it’s a sport you are even interested in. Some people are never comfortable in a kayak or being so low in the water. Others take to it like a duck to ….oh never mind.

Q: Do I need to own a kayak?

A: No. They will provide the kayaks and all the equipment for paddling; paddles, life jackets, spray skirts, etc. You just show up and listen.

Q: So once I know how to paddle, then what?

A: You decide what you want to do with your new skill. If you want to do some kayak camping, or expedition kayaking, consider a phased regimen that allows you to gradually expand your skills and confidence. Let’s say you live in New York City:
1. Take a day trip with the local group.
2. Take a weekend overnight trip with a group, either in the local area or at some other scenic local.
3. Book a weekend or longer trip at some destination spot, say the coast of Maine.

Each trip gives you more understanding of what you enjoy about the sport or what you need to purchase to make the experience more enjoyable. Most tour outfitters provide the kayak, paddle and safety equipment. You will need to provide footwear, sun and rain gear and other personal items that you find make you paddle experience more enjoyable.

Every time I travel with friends or a guide I pick up some new tip or idea that I can adopt to make the experience more enjoyable.

Q: What if I don’t have time for lessons and all of that. I want to take my son on a week long trip in Alaska next summer. Can it be done?

A: I’ve seen it done. It’s riskier but doable. I’d suggest doing some reading on-line or at the book store so you know what to expect. Guides will try to pace the group to the skills of the participants. When a novice couple joined our Alaska tour:
· They arrived without gloves and quickly developed blisters. We loaned them gloves.
· Their rain gear was of the cheap plastic variety that was as wet on the inside as on the outside and tore easily.
· They packed too much of the wrong gear, making packing the kayak a chore and meant others had to carry their share of the food.

They survived the week but likely never paddled again. If they’d done a little reading they would have avoided many of the mishaps they encountered. So you can paddle “cold turkey” but it is not advisable.

In short, kayaking is a fun sport if you start out right and learn a few basics. If you jump right in you risk having a bad experience that can sour you on the sport forever. It’s your choice. Both ways work.

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