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Active Outdoors

Active Outdoors: Why not take a kayak lesson

  • Before the students took to the water, Instructor Jeff Brent of Contoocook River Canoe Co. explains the basics of getting into and out of a kayak to his student sin an Introduction to Kayaking course. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    Before the students took to the water, Instructor Jeff Brent of Contoocook River Canoe Co. explains the basics of getting into and out of a kayak to his student sin an Introduction to Kayaking course. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • Student Nancy Larson was (understandably) nervous about intentionally flipping her boat to practice how to safely exit an upside-down kayak. It was somewhat easier in shallow water with instructor Jeff Brent ready to help. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo

    Student Nancy Larson was (understandably) nervous about intentionally flipping her boat to practice how to safely exit an upside-down kayak. It was somewhat easier in shallow water with instructor Jeff Brent ready to help. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo

  • Instructor Jeff Brent high five's student Angela Stewart after she successfully re-enters her kayak (which she flipped on purpose!) in an Introduction To Kayaking class on the Contoocook River. (Tim Jones/EasterSlopes.com photo)

    Instructor Jeff Brent high five's student Angela Stewart after she successfully re-enters her kayak (which she flipped on purpose!) in an Introduction To Kayaking class on the Contoocook River. (Tim Jones/EasterSlopes.com photo)

  • With students gathered to watch, Instructor Jeff Brent demonstrates how to get back in to a kayak using a paddle float in an Introduction to Kayaking class on the Contoocook River. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    With students gathered to watch, Instructor Jeff Brent demonstrates how to get back in to a kayak using a paddle float in an Introduction to Kayaking class on the Contoocook River. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • Before the students took to the water, Instructor Jeff Brent of Contoocook River Canoe Co. explains the basics of getting into and out of a kayak to his student sin an Introduction to Kayaking course. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
  • Student Nancy Larson was (understandably) nervous about intentionally flipping her boat to practice how to safely exit an upside-down kayak. It was somewhat easier in shallow water with instructor Jeff Brent ready to help. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo
  • Instructor Jeff Brent high five's student Angela Stewart after she successfully re-enters her kayak (which she flipped on purpose!) in an Introduction To Kayaking class on the Contoocook River. (Tim Jones/EasterSlopes.com photo)
  • With students gathered to watch, Instructor Jeff Brent demonstrates how to get back in to a kayak using a paddle float in an Introduction to Kayaking class on the Contoocook River. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

Want a recipe for outdoor fun? Take one beautiful summer day after nearly a week of rain, mix in six novice kayakers with a common attitude of wanting to explore and learn, put them in six kayaks on calm water, stir things up with a personable, experienced, funny and very capable instructor, and let the fun begin.

The class was called “Introduction to Kayaking” and promised to teach basic paddle strokes to move and control a kayak, plus the basics of what to do if you unexpectedly tip your kayak. The setting was a lovely, placid stretch of the Contoocook River in a quiet corner of Concord, where the Contoocook River Canoe Co. (contoocookcanoe.com) sells and rents canoes, kayaks and SUPS, shuttles folks up both the Contoocook and Merrimack rivers so they can paddle down with the current, and gives instruction in everything from the most basic basics of paddling to advanced rolling and rescue techniques.

The six students were Angela, Rachel, Connie, Ray, Nancy and Dave. Of the six, one had never been in a kayak before and just wanted to try it out in a safe and supervised setting, two had only very limited experience in kayaks, and three owned their own boats and wanted to get better and safer in them.

The class began at a picnic table with some basic safety considerations, then moved on to a quick lecture on the different types of kayaks, paddles and how to hold them, and how to combine a kayak and a paddle to start having fun. Pretty quickly we moved to the water where everyone learned how to get into a kayak (one of the hardest lessons to learn).

Once everyone was safely launched, Jeff started demonstrating how to efficiently move a kayak forward in the direction you wanted to go. From there it was on to how to turn a kayak easily, and how to move it sideways when you need to. Basic stuff, but all necessary if you are going to really enjoy kayaking on all but the most basic level. I tagged along, intending to just observe and take photos, but I managed to learn some stuff along the way.

I think everyone in the class was a little nervous at times. Who wouldn’t be when trying something new? But it didn’t stop everyone there from laughing as they stretched their personal boundaries – whatever those boundaries were. But no one had to try anything they truly didn’t want to, either.

Rather than sticking to a fixed curriculum, Jeff went with the flow, using “teaching moments” whenever they happened. Dave was trying a sculling stroke, ran his paddle blade too close to the side of his kayak and suddenly found himself in the water. (Several others in the class had “almost” moments, and I came close to dumping a couple of times myself.) Everything else stopped while Dave and his wife and regular paddling partner, Nancy, practiced their first “T” rescue and re-entry under Jeff’s watchful eye while the rest of the class applauded their success.

That’s how the day went, and everyone learned new skills and generally had a blast. For most of us, the six-hour class didn’t last nearly long enough.

After Sunday’s fun, I can tell you there are few better ways to spend a sunny, warm summer day than on the water, learning new skills in a kayak. Based on personal past experience, I’d have to say that the same is true for a cold, wet, nasty spring or fall day. The basic message: Kayaking is fun, and learning to kayak better and more safely is even more fun. Contoocook River Canoe is running the same class again on Aug. 18 and Sept. 1 if you are interested.

Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Other resources

Contoocook River Canoe provided a top-notch intro to kayaking clinic, but you might find another venue more convenient.

From personal experience, I can recommend the classes at Zoar Outdoor (zoaroutdoor.com) in Charlemont, Mass., but they are oriented strictly to whitewater river paddling.

Both Coastal Maine Kayaking (coastalmainekayak.com) in Kennebunkport, Maine, and H2Outfitters (h2outfitters.com) in Orrs Island, Maine, have kayaking courses I can recommend from personal experience.

On the Cape, Cape Cod Kayak (capecodkayak.com) in Pocasset and Goose Hummock (goose.com/paddle-sports.html) in Orleans both offer intro kayak lessons, as does Connecticut Coastal Kayaking (ctcoastalkayaking.com) at various locations in Connecticut.

Universal kayaking

Kayaking is about as close as you can get to a universally accessible outdoor sport. Almost anyone who wants can get into a kayak and paddle it. Even non-swimmers can safely kayak with a properly-fitted PFD.

My friend Max loves to paddle his itty-bitty Jackson Fun 1 kayak. Max is 4 and started paddling when he was 3. He mostly paddles in circles, but he has fun doing it. He also uses his kayak as a warp-speed snow sled in the winter.

At the other end of the spectrum, my friend Edie asked for and got a Liquid Logic “Coupe” sit-on top kayak for her 75th birthday. The sit-on-top design is simply easier for her to get into and out of than a sit-in kayak. Edie comes from hardy stock and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see her paddling on her 100th birthday.

Kayakers with special challenges

Age isn’t the only factor. Some kayakers have other challenges. Most adaptive sports programs offer paddling programs for people with disabilities. A few are:

∎ Ability Plus: abilityplus.org

∎ All Out Adventures: alloutadventures.org/Program_Schedule.html

∎ Maine Adaptive Sports: maineadaptive.org/paddling.php

∎ Northeast Passage: nepassage.org/recreational-sports/paddling/

∎ New England Disabled Sports: nedisabledsports.org/sports/Paddling

∎ New England Handicapped Sports Association: nehsa.org/news/articles/2013kayak.cfm

∎ Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports: vermontadaptive.org/boats.php

(Tim Jones can be reached at timjones@easternslopes.com.)

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