Thursday, February 21, 2008
Let's get 'em wet!
This spring when the ice decides to go out I will begin my 12th season of paddling a kayak. Over the years I've paddled with a number of people and developed a sense as to whether they are comfortable in their boats or not. The key indicator seems to be whether or not they have come to grips with the possibility of going over. The only way to get comfortable with that possibility is to go over on purpose, time and time again. Getting people to realize that and then actually get in the water, get wet, and 'become one with their boat' can be a tough sell.
I can empathize with that desire to remain upright at all costs. In the spring of 1997 I went over about 100 yards after setting my butt in a kayak for the very first time. I was overconfident, bordering on cocky, and Lake Superior was very cold in May. I completed the 4 hour training session, did my wet exits and assisted & unassisted reentry, and vowed that remaining upright would be a cornerstone of my kayaking career. I think that a lot of folks have this attitude for one reason or another and that it severely limits their enjoyment as well as the kind of conditions they are comfortable paddling in. I've seen a number of exercises and fun things you can do that involve crawling around your boat. RonO mentions in a post that he has worked with Kelly Blades at the Washburn Symposium and that, "Getting out of the boat, and spending an hour fooling around climbing on, over, under, and everything but what it was intended for can do much for your comfort level". This is indeed the key but how can we get people interested in and willing to get wet? Telling them that 'it's good for them' is as effective as when my mother used that line to get me to eat liver. Maybe tell them that we are going swimming and then throw the boat on the roof? Hypnosis? Bribery?? It is a crucial component to becoming a better and more self confident paddler and any ideas on the subject would be welcome.
The other part of it, the logical extension I guess, is when you are playing in the water you need to do it in realistic conditions. By that I mean conditions that you actually might go over in. We all love to practice on nice flat calm inland lakes in the summer but the likelihood of going over in those conditions is minimal. We have actually cancelled after work paddle sessions because it was too windy. My thought is that this is exactly when you want to go out and check your skills. Last fall on the tip of the Keewenaw we were windbound as a violent front moved through the area from the northwest. As we lounged in camp I thought what a great opportunity this would be to see if I could actually roll the boat in these conditions. As I pulled on my tuliq the smart remarks were flying like, "I get dibs on his folding chef knife" and "Can I have your boat when they recover it in Marquette?". I had a fun and exhilarating time however, and learned that I could indeed brace and roll in nasty conditions.
My goal this summer is to help make my friends better paddlers while becoming better myself. I hope we all can become more comfortable in and out of our boats and that the mysteries of the static brace, forward sweep roll, and the diabolical norsaq stick will reveal themselves to me. In the meantime, my plan is to get wet!