I had my in-the-water kayaking lesson early on a Saturday morning in July of 2014 at Poe Springs Park on the Santa Fe River. What an experience, good and bad.
My first surprise was the seat. This was a sit-on kayak. I'm not sure what I expected but the seat was hard plastic (just like the kayak) with a little piece of detachable plastic-covered foam for a backrest. The instructor (Simon Legree) actually said he would detach the backrest if we used it too much. Posture is important, just like Mommy said.
After a few warm-up exercises and watching Simon demonstrate some paddling techniques with us standing in a circle, we (six of us including the instructor) were told to unload the kayaks (two per boat). I asked how much they weighed...Simon said 55 pounds. Okay, I can do half of that. We placed them two by two in a row down the side of the road leading to the boat ramp. It was early so all was deserted. Simon pointed out some poison ivy along the side of the ramp.
I looked out at the river and with all the rain we had been having, there was some flooding and a swift current. We put our two-piece aluminum paddles together...again...stored our water bottles and dry bags, and got a quick lesson on the anatomy of the kayak. All of them were 16' long and chartreuse except for Simon's. His was blue. And I noticed his paddle was offset while ours were not. He said you had to be more proficient for that kind.
What I was worried about, getting into the kayak, was the easiest part of the day. Not a problem at all, barely in the water at the edge of the boat ramp, easy-peasy. We were told to row upstream against the current while we were nice and fresh. We looked like Papa Duck and his ducklings...except Papa Duck could talk yell. "You're not rowing with your torso." Torso? WTH? This life jacket is so tight I can barely breathe let alone twist. Okay, calm down, Connie. Did I mention I had never been in a kayak before in my life? Hey, I was almost seventy (seventy-one now)...somebody feel sorry for me. Nope! Keep paddling.
Finally, Papa moves over to the shoreline and us ducklings follow. Simon gives us a quick demonstration of in-the-water rescue; that is, if you are dumped, how to get back into your kayak, by yourself. Okay, that all makes sense. He made it look so easy. And off we go again, underneath a huge oak tree limb, hanging across the river, beautiful.
Now, Simon turns right toward a very, make that very, narrow opening into a little pond-like area on the side of the river. The opening is wide enough for one kayak and riddled with cypress nubs and a water depth of about 6". Simon backs up some, paddles like hell, and speeds through the opening. I sit and watch as my cohorts all take a turn, some two or three times, before making it through. Everyone is through but me. I try my best but end up having to be helped, not pretty. In the little pond, we learn to do 360 degree turns, clockwise and counterclockwise, with paddle strokes called forward and backward sweeps, not nearly as hard as it sounds. I sip some water from my bottle.
Rested, we are ready to head back out into the river. I go last, again, but make it through this time on the first try, as did everyone else. Whew! We paddle a little farther upstream. Blue dragonflies light on my bow for a free ride. The river is beautiful, the breeze cool, but the sun is getting hot. Several other paddlers, canoes and kayaks, are in the water now, all heading downstream. We all say "hi" and smile as we pass and wonder when we will get our "free ride."
The river is getting too crowded so Simon turns and heads us back downstream. We gather at the side first, and he says we will go a little distance past our boat ramp to an eddy he knows at the side of the river. There, we will practice our self-rescue part of the course. We follow him out in a line, staying to the right of the river. Paddling is a breeze now. Before I know it, we are passing our boat ramp. It is packed with people. Soon, we are at Simon's eddy - too soon.
Simon demonstrates, falling over the side of his kayak and flipping the boat. Little handles are on each side of the cockpit, not for carrying, but for turning upright when flipped. He demonstrates the maneuver. Reach under the boat with one hand, grab the handle, and push up the closest side with the other hand...voila, upright. Everyone takes a turn and, of course, chicken little (me) is last again. The water is only about waist high, and I have no fear of water. It's the getting back into the boat part that is making my heart pound. I am pretty tired and my legs are feeling a little leady. But I am game, the water is cold and should be refreshing even though it is muddy from the storms.
Contrary to what I thought, my kayak is extremely difficult to turn over. I actually dumped myself, and my kayak stayed upright. So, I had to turn it over manually and then upright it. That was the easy part. Getting back into it was hard, especially with my feet getting stuck in the mud. I need to work on upper body strength, obviously. But I finally wriggled back in and took a breather and a few more drinks of water.
We headed back upstream to our boat ramp. I was last getting in and very tired, but I made it...yay! Is kayaking as much fun as I thought? Um, uh-uh. But the ride downstream is beautiful.