Friday, August 31, 2007

Kayaking class

Well, Annie and I took a beginning kayaking class with the folks at L.L. Bean in Freeport, ME, during our recent vacation, and it was a lot of fun. A lot of work too, but a lot of fun. And we both feel a lot more confident about kayaking, and will probably rent them from time to time.

The class lasted basically the whole day, broken up by lunch, which was included in the price of the class (very reasonable). The morning session was primarily about basic paddling technique, for both straight paddling and turning, as well as reversing. To begin with, we had a little demo/lesson on land, then went to the dock to launch our kayaks, two at a time, from ramps. I have to admit, it was a little unsettling when the fellow next to me on the ramp rolled right over the moment his kayak entered the water! As it turns out, he got to be the first one in the class to learn a "rescue" technique. And then he capsized at least two other times, getting even more practice! But by the end of the day, he was paddling along confidently, and smiling broadly.

Anyway, the basic paddling part was fun and fairly easy. The finer points do take practice, and I imagine it takes a number of times kayaking before they start to become second nature. But at least I have the proper form in my head, and have experienced what it feels like when it all comes together.

The tougher part of the class came in the afternoon, when we learned about what to do when you capsize. The two instructors taught us both a "T-rescue", in which the capsized kayaker is assisted by another, still-upright kayaker, and a self rescue, where (as you might guess), you have to save yourself. The T-rescue was pretty easy, all in all, and the basic rules are pretty straightforward. The self rescue is quite a bit harder, and only one or two of the twelve of us succeeded at this. Then again, not that many actually tried it, as it was up to us whether we wanted to. I'd like to say I was one of the ones who succeeded, but I wasn't. I did try however, and I feel like I at least understand the principles.

One thing I learned... or rather re-learned... during this process, was that when you find yourself in a "team-taught" class, and the class is split into two groups to learn a specific, hands on skill, make sure you are in the group with the older, more experienced instructor. Annie and I ended up in the other group, alas, and I think that was part of the problem with the self rescue for me. Annie told me afterward that she had been watching the older instructor coach his group in the self rescue, and he was apparently much clearer and more instructive than our guy. I couldn't tell you, as I was at that moment spending an amazing amount of time in the water, trying to get OUT of the water and into my boat. I lost count, but I know I was in and out of the water at least four times before I finally decided I was just too tired by that point to do it.

At that point, one of my classmates happily volunteered to do a T-rescue with me... and proceeded to do it all wrong, dumping me into the water yet again. Argh. Ah well, it was just water. And while at various times my hat, shoes, and sunglasses were set adrift, the only thing I lost was the sunglasses. I ended up bruised and scraped in a number of places as well, but not seriously. I'd have to say my pride took the biggest blow, at not having succeeded at the self rescue. I felt a little better though, after I watched another member of the class succeed at it... and doing it very differently from the way I approached it. When I asked the younger instructor about that he said "well, yeah, that way is easier, although either way will work." Well, it would have been nice to get that tip while I was in the water. Oh well.

All in all it was a lot of fun, and I look forward to doing some more kayaking in the future. I'm still not sure I'd prefer kayaking to canoing (which I've done more of), but there are some aspects of kayaks that seem better than canoes. And vice versa. I'm not ready to run out and buy either right now... especially since I don't live on or near enough a lake or some other body of water to make it worthwhile. But I can always rent from time to time, and even take another class or two. I highly recommend the L. L. Bean classes to anyone that wants to learn an outdoor skill that they teach.

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