A kayaking course you won't regret

Contributor: Brittany Hopkins

Thanks (or no thanks) to our current drought situation, just about every day is a perfect day for kayaking here in the Bay Area. Between regularly scheduled rain dances and five minute showers, there are plenty of opportunities to take advantage of the endless sunshine to sharpen your paddling skills.

Photo: Joseph / flickr

Photo: Joseph / flickr

For Urban Deers frolicing in Northern California, California Kayaking and Canoe offers a range of classes from basic paddling techniques to rescuing yourself and a partner in raging white waters. I recently took the level two course, Essentials of Kayak Touring, in the Oakland Estuary. Despite the $120 fee, I’d take the class again in a heartbeat. Here’s why:

If you’ve ever dreamed of setting sail on a multi-day kayaking trip -- perhaps packing up a tent and camping on a remote island -- the Essentials of Kayak Touring course is a great place to start. For a multi-day trip, you’ll probably want to rent or buy a closed-deck kayak (aka a sit-in). Unlike sit-on-top kayaks, you have a seat and pedals for steering inside your boat. You’ll also wear a “spray skirt” around your waist that attaches to the kayak all around you, keeping the water out and your lower body nice and dry.

Here's an example of an Urban Deer with a closed-deck kayak and a spray skirt around her waist. Spray skirts may not be the cutest look, but she's rocking it with color-coordinated gear while staying comfortably dry! Photo via Tassanee & Logi.

Here's an example of an Urban Deer with a closed-deck kayak and a spray skirt around her waist. Spray skirts may not be the cutest look, but she's rocking it with color-coordinated gear while staying comfortably dry! Photo via Tassanee & Logi.

If you flip over, however, you’ll need to know how to remove the spray-skirt from the kayak while underwater to free yourself from the vessel. You’ll also need to be comfortable with flipping your boat -- which will now be full of water -- back over and getting yourself back inside. Some kayak rental shops will not rent kayaks to individuals for multi-day trips if they aren’t prepared to self-rescue. With dreams of kayaking from San Francisco to Oakland one day, I figured now is the time to learn this trick. In addition to gaining the skills you need to self rescue, passing the course to your instructor’s liking lets you walk away with a certification that qualifies you to rent closed-deck kayaks from California Kayaking and Canoe and take their more advanced skills courses.

So what’s this level two course like?

I’m not the strongest swimmer (yet!) and was a little nervous about plunging into the Bay while strapped to a kayak. With a wetsuit almost as weathered as his skin and hearty sense of humor, my instructor calmed my nerves almost immediately. My class also had a secondary instructor and a new employee brushing up on his skills. With their years of experience combined, I knew there was no way I’d fail.

I was also thrilled that the instructors eased us in by spending the first half of the class teaching paddling techniques. We learned multiple strokes for paddling forward, backward and side to side. I had no idea you could maneuver sideways through the water!

After docking for a very brief intro to resources for route planning and lunch, we hopped back in the water for our self-rescue training. By then it was quite warm and folks were ready for a dip. Our instructors demonstrated techniques for rescuing yourself with the help of a partner and two techniques for rescuing yourself without support. We then partnered up and one by one, each pair gave the techniques a spin, with the instructors providing tips and feedback as necessary. The calm Bay was quite forgiving of our mistakes -- like letting go of our paddles -- and everyone successfully rescued themselves -- some more gracefully than others. But the instructors’ tips on how to refine the movements in choppier seas or whitewater was probably the most valuable feedback of all.

Photo: Foter / CC BY-SA

Photo: Foter / CC BY-SA

With this course under my belt, I feel much more confident about renting a kayak for an unguided day or weekend trip. It also didn't hurt that we had a bit of energy left over to grab a beer and dinner in Downtown Oakland afterward. We definitely deserved! 

Check out the program's upcoming courses and guided tours in the Bay Area and Sacramento region at http://www.calkayak.com/class_sea.cfm#3453