View Full Version : Kayak skills class

05-16-2010, 03:36 AM
Yesterday I took a kayaking class to learn the basics on strokes and most importantly, wet exits. I was a little nervous about the thought of dumping into the Atlantic while it was only 54 degrees. Thankfully, we were provided dry suits and the weather gods gave us a warm, sunny (although windy) day.

Right off the bat, I learned how wrong my forward stroke was. I was basically just using my forearms, which would explain the fatigue. I do seem to be good at that style, because when we did our Barcalounger dinosaur race (feet off the pedals and hands close together), I flew ahead of everyone and they swore I was cheating. :p

When we first learned the sweeps, I wasn't getting much turn, but by the end of the day, I was easily spinning my boat in a small circle. My form improved greatly and after 6 hours of paddling, my arms were barely sore. Amazing what proper form does!

But the big attraction of the day were the wet exits. While we were learning low braces someone tipped over and gave us an early demonstration. I scared the instructor because I was tipping so much she thought I would go over. Apparently beginners usually don't like to test themselves quite so much. Yeah, they don't know who they're dealing with.

No matter how well I knew the steps, it was hard to make myself tip the boat over. It's a very strange feeling being upside down and still seated, and panic kicked in. I raced through the steps and got out as fast as I could! Above water, I was able to hold my breath for a good minute. Below, I felt as though I only had seconds. I'm sure with practice that will improve. We did it three times, first just dumping, then dumping and doing an assisted rescue, and finally doing a self-rescue. Doing the assisted rescues we had to be the rescuer and rescuee, which gave good insight on what to do from either situation. The self-rescues were tricky and I'd imagine difficult in choppy water, but good to know nonetheless.

I really had a lot of fun and was so happy I took the class. I have a lot more confidence in the boat now and am less nervous about going out alone. I'd love to take the more advanced classes and learn how to do rolls and deal with the waves more. My teachers laughed at how well my little 13 foot boat was keeping up with their fancy sea kayaks. It wasn't the boat, it was the operator!:cool:

05-16-2010, 05:51 PM
You won't regret having taken the class; it sounds like you got a lot out of it. When I first did a wet exit it was in a small class of women and no one would volunteer to go first. We were all comfortable until that point. I get disoriented when upside down (never could do tumbling in school for that reason) and the idea of deliberately tipping my boat over didn't thrill me, either.

Finally, I offered to be the first to try it. I was a lot heavier back then and it was not easy to haul my soaking wet self back in the boat. However, I managed and everyone cheered when I was in my seat again. It really boosts your confidence level to know what to expect in those dreaded situations.

05-17-2010, 03:40 PM
When I signed up I was just hoping to gain some confidence so I could feel a little better being out there alone. To actually see a difference in my paddling abilities over the course of the class was amazing, and to actually feel a difference as far as muscle soreness and fatigue (or the lack thereof) made it apparent how much I'd learned. Those were things I hadn't really thought of, but now know will have a huge impact in my enjoyment out on the water. I'd really like to take some of the more advanced classes; based on this one I'm sure I'd get a lot out of them.

05-17-2010, 05:37 PM
That's great, NoNo. I did things the opposite of you. I took a beginning kayak workshop in 2002, learned the wet exits and some basic rescues (but not rolls) and was hooked. But then I did not have the opportunity to kayak for several years, and if you don't practice, you get rusty.

In 2007, I took a summer-long intensive kayak course that covered just about everything except for surfing and wave work, and that was only because I lived near a river, not a beach. We learned strokes and all sorts of rescues, and rolls, and exits, and bracing...it was a blast, and I learned so much that summer! But again, I didn't have a kayak and have not had the opportunity to practice.

So hopefully next year I can take another course AND get a kayak before I forget it all yet again. It's so silly, since I live one mile from excellent paddling on a major river and I have anytime access to the most wonderful paddling on the Chesapeake Bay an hour's drive from home.

05-19-2010, 03:49 AM
A summer-long class sounds fantastic! There was only one other person that already owned a kayak, and she had had it for 10 years and never felt confident using it alone. Every one else was doing a "try before you buy", trying to figure out if it was even something they'd enjoy before they put in the money. That makes more sense than my method of buy first, ask questions later:rolleyes:

05-19-2010, 08:15 AM
hrm. I sort of did the opposite of you guys - I decided I wanted a kayak, ordered one online and freaked out when this 16 feet long thing arrived in the driveway. Of course, I'd just started grad school and didn't have that much time to use it. But took it out and played. I just made sure to wear a life vest.

When I really started heavily kayaking - I just went out and paddled. I did have a bf to paddle with, but I quite often went on my own. We just read articles or watch you tube videos and practiced things. The first time the boat accidently flipped over, then it was time to do a wet exit - which... you know, if you're hanging upside down from your kayak in a river, getting yourself out of your boat is pretty much instinct. After a fall in each when we had to use paddlefloats to get ourselves back in, that just inspired a session of sitting around practicing falling out of and getting back in the boat. When reading up on it, it sounded like it was way faster to just swim into your boat upside down and flip yourself up with the paddle - another thing to practice.

When it was time to roll, I just went to a practice session at the local pool, watched other people do it, and then just sat in the water doing what they were doing over and over till I got a roll.

If you're on a 20-40 mile paddle, you really learn quickly what will work and what will not for your paddle stroke, if you're arming it - you definitely can't do that long of a paddle without exhausting yourself, so just going on long paddles pretty much fixed that. I did switch to a wing paddle early on, and wing paddles will pretty much reward good form and stroke and try to flip your boat if you paddle badly.

When we wanted to go up to Maine and paddle, we decided we needed way more experience in surf and waves than what we currently had - so we just took the kayaks to play in the surf and waves for a couple of days straight till we had the skills.

So... I guess I've been heavily kayaking for about 4 years in a ton of conditions, otherwise kayaking for about 8 years? I had my first skills weekend of lessons last month.

What I did find in the classes were a fair number of people who knew an awful lot about kayaking in theory because they had spent their time taking every single skills class they could... but in practice of going out and actually paddling and practicing what they've learned in conditions, they weren't at all confident because they hadn't tried it and didn't have the experience to back up the knowledge. So... in addition to taking the courses, make sure to use the skills... It's one thing to wet exit, roll or self rescue in flat water or in a swimming pool. It's a completely different thing to do it in choppy water or waves. So practice doing things in the latter, because quite often people haven't actually practiced doing rescues in anything other than flat water.

But be safe, carry all the gear, signaling equipment, etc. If you're not comfortable going somewhere on your own, don't go by yourself. While I'm pretty confident in my ability to handle most conditions, rescue myself, and always have a cell phone and marine radio, laser pointer (flares are kinda useless) and such with me... I'm much less likely to go out in open water by myself. And I will stay much closer to shore by myself on open water.

I know in the DC area there's a great group of paddlers - various paddlers meet in various locations to paddle for a few hours after work together and then go get dinner, so every evening it's possible to join one of those groups. There's at least 2 meetup.com kayaking groups that are very active down here. If there's anything like that around you, that's a great way to hang out with more experienced paddlers and learn.