Sunday, October 2, 2011

Introduction to Kayaking Skills

What better way to really understand fundamental kayaking techniques than to learn from respected members of the local kayak community. There is something said about getting it right from the start so Robyn and I registered for the Oct.1st Introduction to Kayaking Skills course presented by Ocean River Sports in Victoria.

We met today at noon at the registration area in Ocean River Sports and after completing some final paperwork and receiving our course package we were ready to get things rolling. The packages included 28 page course notes, Transport Canada Sea Kayaking Safety Guide, Port of Victoria Traffic Scheme which clearly shows the proper areas of transit for pleasure craft under 65 feet, over 65 feet including float planes and the areas that paddlers can access. Also included in the package is a complimentary copy of Coast & Kayak and some rental information from Ocean River Sports.

There were 2 other couples also in the course and 2 instructors were assigned to our group which made for great one on one ratio teaching for the day. The first thing we did was head down to the dock located on the east side of the Johnson Street bridge and got to know each other a bit better by forming a circle. We then tossed a Throw Bag around to each other while saying the target's name and it wasn't long before we knew the other students, Pam and Jake, Charlotte and Lydia as well as Gary Doran (head instructor) and Gary "A" his assistant.

The view from the Ocean River Sports dock looking towards the inner harbor and the Johnson Street bridge

Gary Doran has the highest level of Paddle Canada Sea Kayaking certification known as a Level 3 Instructor Trainer which took him approximately 10 years to accomplish, while Gary "A" holds a Level 3 Instructor rating. So our group was in great hands with years of experience between the two Gary's. For the rest of this blog I'll refer to Gary Doran just as "Gary" and the other Gary as "Gary "A" for simplicity. LOL

So we talked a bit about the mandatory safety equipment required by Transport Canada for kayaks as well as some of the personal gear that we would be using for the day. This is where we got into our Farmer John wets suits (very stylish I must say), PFD or personal floatation device and headed down to the dock for kayak assignments. Robyn and I had requested the use of a couple of Delta Fifteen 5 kayaks from their rental fleet as these are the same kayaks that we are thinking of buying in the spring and they were ready for us even in the same colors that we like. Now that is service!

Delta Kayaks Fifteen 5 Sport

Since we would be using kayaks with retractable rudders the first step was to properly set the rudder peddles so that our knees where slightly bent providing addition support. Gary demonstrated this in my boat for the group and then we got the opportunity to set our boats up for our own preference. This first thing I noticed was that to make the rudder move you only use the toes of your foot to pivot the peddle. By pushing the flat of your foot did nothing at all and this is only for bracing your foot. the peddles are much like those in an aircraft when you apply the brakes by pushing your toes.

Gary demonstrates proper knee and toe position to use the rudder peddles.

Gary "A" then demonstrated the proper entry technique when launching from a raised dock and everyone managed to get into their boats into the water and then themselves without any issues. Once we got the feel of the kayaks by rocking our hips back and forth it became obvious to the group that yes they are stable and you weren't going to capsize. Gary then started demonstrating the paddling techniques which included Forward, Maneuvering, Stopping and Reversing Strokes. It wasn't long before we played follow the leader with Gary as he selected different strokes to practice on as we made our way around the Point Hope Shipyard.

Heading towards Point Hope Shipyards

Every so often we "rafted" together which let us practice our draw strokes to bring our kayaks along side our course buddies. It wasn't long before we were able to do this at a moments notice and it gave us a chance to rest as the kayaks stabilized each other. I can imagine doing this in the future with Robyn or larger groups while enjoying a snack and a refreshing drink.

Pam, Lydia, Jake, Robyn and Charlotte raft together while I "draw" myself closer to the group.

Before we knew it our afternoon in the harbor was coming to an end so we transited under the "Blue Bridge" and crossed over to the opposite bank and made our way back to our starting point. I think everyone at this point we could have stayed on the water a bit longer but we had to keep the course moving and get ready for our evening session at the Crystal Pool. Once back at the dock and out of our gear, Gary explained some of the safety gear that we might consider such as a navigation light for night kayaking, safety flares and orange smoke pots. We also talked a little bit about currents and winds and where to get information on the internet prior to setting out for a day of paddling. It was then time to portage our kayaks up the dock to the parking lot to be loaded onto the trailer for the evening session at the Crystal Pool.

Gary gets ready for a discussion about safety while on the water

After breaking for dinner we all met up at the rear of the Crystal Pool located on Quadra Street where our kayaks were waiting for us.

Kayaks inside the Crystal Pool

We teamed up and got all of the equipment inside and got ready to get wet. A few exercises to get the Synovial fluid moving in our joints and it was into the pool to get accustomed to the water. Here we practiced a few somersaults to experience the sensation of water entering the nose which can be avoided if you had nose plugs but I found that I simply held my breath it wasn't a problem.

Now the real fun began with us learning how to wet exit (capsizing intentionally) the kayak in various configurations gradually leading up to a full wet exit with spray skirt and paddle in hand. Robyn was the first in the group to do a wet exit and I was very happy how she adapted to each step that became more involved. In fact the whole group had no issues in the exits and I found that once I had the spray skirt on I simply waited until I was perfectly horizontal but....upside down and started my exit.

Here's the key...relax! As I started to capsize I tucked my paddle under my arm in the direction of the roll, ran my hands along the cockpit forward to the "Holy Crap Handle", grab and push forward, pull back to release the skirt, run my hands back along the cockpit to my hips and pushed like I was taking a pair or well fitting pants off. At the same time I bent forward and as I exited the kayak performed a forward somersault and reached the surface right next to my boat with my paddle under my arm. Easy Peasy right??

So you are out of the kayak and gotta get back in and here's where paddling with a buddy comes in as they play a key role to getting out of the water as fast as you can to avoid hypothermia setting in. So in our case, Robyn righted my kayak and stabilized it by reaching over and transferred her weight to my kayak I was able to swim up and onto the rear deck with my head towards the stern. This enable me to get my legs back inside my kayak and then do a 180 roll of my body to face forward towards my bow. Once I reinstalled my skirt and used the bilge pump to empty my kayak I was ready to start paddling again. I didn't take notice of how long I was in the water but Robyn and I figured probably less than 2 minutes depending on which version of this rescue that was used.

The rest of the evening session we practiced other techniques such as "edging" which is flexing your hips to allow the kayak to sit at an angle in the water while keeping your torso perfectly vertical. While doing this in conjunction to a wide sweep stroke enabled the kayak to turn very fast and in fact it could be used in a backwards stroke as well at the same time to turn your kayak around 180 degrees very quickly.

Getting into the kayak unassisted.... yes this one was difficult but started to get better after a few tries.

Another technique we learned was to enter the kayak unassisted from a dock or shore which actually I think was the most difficult thing to do all night. By using your paddle as a brace it was an art to transfer your weight and body into the kayak without doing a capsize at the dock which I figure would be pretty embarrassing. LOL

As they say...time flies when you are having fun and it was time to exit the pool and end our first day of official kayak training. Looking back to our Pedder Bay experience it made me realize that a) we didn't have any idea as the proper safety equipment required, b) our paddling strokes were probably more like beating the heck out of the water and c) kayaking is so much more rewarding knowing some basic kayaking navigation skills.

It was great to share our Introduction To Kayaking Skills with our fellow paddlers and a special thanks to Gary Doran and Gary "A" for the personal touch they put on the course. We came away with a greater understanding, respect and passion for our new hobby and hope to see them on the water in the future.

Next Up: Pedder Bay with Current Design kayaks Oct 6-10th

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