By Torsten Schulz
Day 1: First Kayak Lesson
We arrived at Cattle Point just as the sun was starting to come up. It was an absolutely beautiful morning. I looked out over the water; it was rougher than I had hoped for. ‘Apparently we were jumping straight into the deep end’ is what I thought at the time. I’ve since learned what rough water really means. We’ve cancelled a couple of paddles due to real rough water. That morning it was just a little choppy.
We start unstrapping the Kayaks and Lee takes them off of the truck and puts them near the water. He then hands me a spray skirt and tells me to put it on. Not wanting to appear clueless, I turn it over a couple of times trying to figure out which way is up and how I am supposed to put it on. Seeing my confusion, Lee informs me that I’m supposed to put it on like a hoodie. I get it on and adjust it as needed. If the spray skirt is on correctly, the top of it should be just below your armpits and the release strap should be right in front of you. Spray skirt on.
Next, we go through the five items that you always need when paddling:
- A Personal Floatation Device (PFD). This doesn’t have to be a life-jacket, it just needs to keep your body afloat. Fun fact: when you work in an office, you develop a tendency to switch the acronyms PFD and PDF.
- A bailing device. This can be a scoop, but it is a lot easier if you have a pump.
- Signaling device. This is most likely a pealess whistle (it can’t have a pea because most peas will expand when they get wet and render the whistle inoperable). The most important thing here is that it needs to produce a sound louder than a yell.
- Floating tow rope. This needs to be a rope at least 50 feet long that floats on the water and can be used to tow another boat. This is good for helping get a companion out of a sticky spot or yourself if there is something on the shore to catch it on.
- A light source (like a waterproof flashlight) if it is dark or could become dark at some point during the paddle.
Once we have covered that (a couple of times so I remember it) we put some additional waterproof gear on and head towards the boats. I was told to get in the boat on the shore. This would be the only time I ever did that because there is a chance of damaging the kayaks. We went over use of the rudder and leaning to help with direction. These are things I sort of knew from the little bit of kayaking I had done as a kid, but it was a good refresher.
Next, I was instructed how to attach my spray skirt to the boat. It’s easiest to start at the back and work your way towards the front. The spray skirt I had was really tight, and I later learned that it can be a lot easier once the spray skirt stretches a bit. Once you get to the front, it is important to make sure the release strap is outside of the boat before you secure the spray skirt. This can be fixed later on, but you definitely don’t want to be dealing with that if you flip over. Spray skirt secure.
Then Lee pushed me out into the water. Despite the chop, it didn’t really affect the balance of the boat. I was starting to see why Lee wasn’t concerned about the ‘rough water.’ Once Lee was also in the boat, we went over proper paddle grip. You want to be able to read the kayak paddle (otherwise it is upside down). You want to have your hands about shoulder width apart with your knuckles parallel to the paddle blades.
Next was a lesson on paddling properly. Each time you dip the paddle into the water, you want to be pivoting your torso with the stroke. It’s important to be sitting straight up, otherwise you can twist your back up pretty bad. This twisting is what gives you power and keeps your arms from getting tired. When pulling the paddle through the water, you want as smooth a motion as you can. If you create a lot of bubbles you start to lose power and that becomes wasted energy. Though it sounds fairly easy, it took me a few trips to get the hang of it and even now I sometimes have to remind myself to do it correctly.
With the basics down (sort of), we began our paddle. Once you got away from the sheltered boat launch and into the more open water, the water became a factor in paddling. We were moving diagonal to the water, which meant that I was weaving all over the place trying to keep my kayak straight. (Once I switched boats to one with a skeg, I learned to use that to keep myself on course, but that comes later.) It was good practice, which was good on the first day.
It was absolutely lovely being out on the water at that time of day. There is something really serene about the sun coming up and the wildlife waking up that is incredibly relaxing. I will later realize that this calmness is what will motivate me to keep doing this despite having to get up really early.
The route we took brought us close to some of the islands in that area. We didn’t land on any of them for two main reasons. First, I had no idea how to get into or out of my boat in the water yet. Second, we didn’t have a ton of time left before I had to be at work. We enjoyed a nice leisurely paddle around the bay off of Willows Beach. Lee knows a lot about the birds that live here, and I got a lesson identifying the Rhinoceros Auklet. It turns out that it is really easy, you just look for the ‘horn’ coming out of its beak (hence the name).
As we were coming back into land, the chop started pushing the kayak towards the shore. Lee told me to make sure I kept the boat straight, otherwise I could roll sideways when I got to the boat launch. Fortunately, between my paddling and the waves, I was able to put myself most of the way onto the boat launch. My next challenge was getting out of the kayak.
It turns out that trying to pull your legs out of the boat while keeping it sort of balanced and not accidentally falling into the water is a bit of a challenge. Fortunately, I did it without incident...this time (that definitely wasn’t the case every time). We loaded the kayaks back onto the truck, tied them down, and went over the five items you always need one more time (apparently that’s a pretty important thing to know). That marked the conclusion of my first kayaking lesson. I was feeling really good about being in the boat and excited to get out on the water again. As it turned out, my next lesson was to be the next day...