Being new to the sport of kayaking, I signed up for the Kayaking Essentials class, put on by Portland Kayak (www.portlandkayak.com). I wanted to get some real training before I developed many bad habits, having started out on my own about a month ago.
They put these classes on several times a month, usually on Saturdays, and usually from 10 AM to 2 PM. They ask you to arrive fifteen minutes early to get ready. Being new to the sport, and since Salem has no kayaking shops, I was very excited to get there and get to look around and talk to some knowledgeable people.
When I arrived, I met Annie, whom I had spoken with in email and on the phone. She directed me to a place to stash my stuff and a room where I could change into my wet suit. As I did this, the other eight students gradually arrived.
By 10 AM, we were introduced to our instructors, the lovely ladies, Alicia and Lauren. We were led out to the garage and assigned to our respective boats. I was assigned a light blue SEDA kayak. After a brief lecture about how to wheel the kayaks down to the water (stuff like, don’t drag it on the concrete and please don’t drop it), we all headed down to the water.
We all lined up at a grassy area, and removed our boats from the dollies. After introductions, Alicia went over all the parts of the boat (bow, stern, cockpit, etc.), and then put on the spray skirt. She was nice enough to explain to us guys that it’s perfectly acceptable for male kayakers to wear skirts.
She got into her boat and attached the spray skirt, and demonstrated how to do a wet exit. We all then put our own spray skirts on and got in our own boats to do the same. Alicia and Lauren went around and made sure our footrests were properly adjusted and that everything was correct — such as keeping the loop on the front of the skirt accessible.
Once they were sure we could all get out if we capsized, we loaded our boats back onto the dollies and rolled them down to the dock. One by one, we got them into the water, and with help from Alicia and Lauren, we got in them, and headed out into the Willamette River.
Now that everybody was in the water, we were instructed to head across the river to a cove on the other side, where we would be somewhat protected from the day’s unusual, and very gusty winds… 15 mph gusting to 25+.
After everybody was in the little cove, Alicia began our lessons. We started with the forward sweep stroke, used to turn the kayak without losing momentum. Next, it was the reverse sweep. And then doing the forward sweep on one side and a reverse sweep on the other, in order to effectively pivot the boat in place. Well, in place inasmuch as the wind would allow.
At some point during all of this, one of the other students capsized. I’m still not sure if this was accidental, or if he was paid off to do it as a demonstration.
In any case, he kept his cool (literally, since the water was quite chilly), and Lauren performed a flawless two-person rescue. I was especially fascinated by this, since I’m signed up for the Rescues class next weekend.
Alicia then demonstrated our next strokes.. I’m not 100% sure if this is what they’re called, I can’t remember for sure… bow rudder and stern rudder turns? Both are very slick turns, my favorite being the bow version. It’s great for turning such a long (17′) kayak in much less time than with a sweep stroke.
Once we had all practiced those strokes, Alicia then showed us two sculling strokes. These are meant for moving your kayak sideways. Think, “parallel parking” for lack of a better way to describe it.
The final stroke, oddly enough, is the most common — the forward stroke. With special emphasis on proper torso rotation, we all paddled for a hundred yards or so (while battling the wind), meeting up at a bit stump in the water. We hung out there for a recap of the class, and then headed back across the river to the dock.
In all, it was a great day! The wind made it especially challenging. I enjoyed it, though I think some of the other students who had never been in a kayak before would have preferred calmer conditions, but hey, this is what this sport is all about!
If you’re new to kayaking, I strongly recommend taking one of these classes. It teaches some very valuable and (in my opinion) essential skills. Not to mention making things a whole lot more fun!