On a windy and unusually chilled day in August many years ago I counted to 30 and deliberately capsized my kayak. I did this in the center of St. Mary’s Lake on Salt Spring Island with the staff of Sea Otter Kayaking. I was the newbie, and by the time I returned to my seat with spray-skirt snugly in place the winds had blown me clear back into the reeds by the shore. The lake was green and frothing, the water was warm and the blowing air was cold. It was preferable to stay submerged and thus inspired much capsizing self-rescue practice until we all decided enough was enough, dried off and relaxed at the pub.
My wife would have a radically different first-time skills experience, not on a windy lake in bouncing waves but in the warmth of our local indoor pool on a frosty night in December. This was somewhat of a novelty to me. All my kayak play was done in the great outdoors in the salty seas. Not in a heated indoor pool with a conveniently located hot tub to soak in between dunkings, both accidental and purposeful. In the weeks leading up to this event we had sweet-talked the management of the local newly built pool into the occasional kayak practice location. They were very obliging to us but had a few restrictions. One, that we only book in during times that were free and that ended up being an hour before closing on two specific days of the week. We had to be long gone in time for the cleaning crew, but as we found out on this first session the time of our departure was a little less stringent. There would be hot tub time! The other restriction was that our kayaks had to be spotless. Clean inside and out. I thought I had washed out all the pine needles collected under my seat, really I did and got a raised eyebrow from the lifeguard on duty when the small raft of them floated under his gaze. Did I mention the cold snap? My buddy Pete had washed his kayak and brought it across on the ferry that afternoon. Water trapped in the cockpit had frozen solid and a few minutes into things he heaved out a small iceberg into the pool…another raised eyebrow from the management. We had made our mark. An unruly crew always but that first session was a success and we were invited back again.
For the first-time capsize victim getting back into a kayak is always a tremendous challenge. The ‘cowboy’ re-entry is especially difficult and cannot be described by onlookers as graceful. It is a quick solo re-entry but requires a bit of athleticism. After nearly a half and hour of wrestling a bobbing overly chubby Current Designs Pachena, my wife gave in feeling discouraged. There was no shame in the defeat. Even I had my troubles with returning to the cockpit after flipping. Imagine attempting to sit on a floating beachball. Unlike other assisted rescue techniques the solo re-entry pits the paddler against the elements and the kayak itself can be an obstacle to leap. My method of the cowboy getting back on the horse is to flip the kayak back over, forgetting the fact it is partly filled with water and make my way to the stern where I pushed down hard and leapfrogged up over the rudder assembly…boy and girls, be very careful with that. Then making my way forward lifting my legs in and lowering myself back into the seat…bailing bailing bailing until I can get the skirt back on once more. The getting back in part was not so bad. In a pool, heated and calm there is little to incentivize you to hurry. No crashing waves, howling cold winds, or a rocky shore to get the adrenaline flowing. As with the lake on a cold windy day it was preferable to stay submerged.
There is the advantage of a pool session. It is a calmer, warmer condition and there is no need to rush, and that is the point of it. To take the time to develop the basic skills of paddling. In our sessions we explore and practice different rescues, self-and assisted as well as some more advanced paddle tricks.
Contact your local pool and work out a deal for yourself and some kayaking friends. It takes a little organizing on your part but the benefits are more than worth it and the relatively small cost of renting pool time. Most pools are accommodating to this practice time, and in our case even the staff joined in for some play.