Leonardo da Vinci once said that “water is the driving force in nature.” The power that water can possess is evident in practically every aspect of our lives and has helped to shape the world around us. Think about it, without the Colorado River we would have no Grand Canyon.
The Ocoee and the Hiwassee Rivers, as well as local lakes, provide kayak enthusiasts with plenty of opportunities to get out on the water, be it whitewater or touring.
So where exactly does one begin when considering taking up this diverse water sport, since diving headfirst into the rapids without any previous knowledge or experience seems a bit impractical.
Luckily, for those looking for direction on how to start their journey into the wet world of kayaking, there are people out there who are available for lessons and general guidance.
Looking to gather more information on how to get started, I contacted Ace Kayaking School out of Ocoee. After a brief conversation with one of the instructors and self-proclaimed fun ambassador Joe Gudger, I was set up for what I will call “Kayaking for the Clueless.”
This past Friday afternoon I made the trip out to Polk County not exactly sure what to expect. I met Joe, a 10 year whitewater and creeking veteran, at the Rock Creek outpost off of 64 highway and began my on-land introduction to the world of kayaking.
“For the most part around here most people stick to whitewater. They might start off touring — it’s a good place to go to see if you actually like it. Usually though, I have to break those people of all kinds of bad habits,” Gudger said as he explained some of the different styles of kayaking.
Touring kayaks are mainly used for recreation on calmer water, whereas whitewater kayaking is where all the action is.
Some of the bad habits that can transfer over to whitewater boating are unnecessary reverse strokes, bad form, and not using their hips enough.
If there is one thing I definitely learned on Friday it’s that when in a whitewater kayak your hips most certainly do not lie — twist one way and the boat is going to turn with you.
There are numerous boats out there for whitewater, and it really all comes down to personal preference when choosing a style.
“The longer a boat is, the faster it’s going to be and the better it will carry its momentum. The rocker is the curve on the bottom of the boat. When you see that, it’s a whitewater boat,” Gudger explained as he pointed out the various kayaks around the building. “The rocker allows you to ramp up on the rocks and helps you to be more maneuverable. In kayaking you have two types of stability; primary and secondary. Primary is when you’re sitting on the bottom, secondary is when you’re sitting on an edge. That’s what the rocker does, it makes the boats very agile.”
Another difference between touring and whitewater kayaks is the ease of steering.
“Touring kayaks go very straight, these boats don’t go straight hardly at all. It’s good to learn strokes the correct way. If you can maximize your efficiency and use your body to it’s fullest advantage it makes life much easier,” Gudger stated. “I suggest people learn in what we call creek boats or river runners. When you’re learning in creek boats you’ll learn a lot more about form. Practicing in a creek boat, people become much better paddlers.”
Form is something that is of the upmost importance when learning how to kayak, and you soon learn just how much your abs are engaged while out on the water.
“It is a lot more core than people expect. It’s really all abdominals. If you use you’re arms too much you will wear them out and risk shoulder injuries. I actually train for whitewater off the river too. (Resistance) band workouts are awesome and I try to get my students to do them too,” my instructor explained.
There are five essential pieces of equipment you need to begin kayaking; the boat, the sprayskirt, a paddle, a personal flotation device (PFD), and a helmet. It is also useful to make sure that you have a throw rope, river knife, and a whistle on board.
Skirts are the things that kayakers wear and attach over the cockpit rim to help prevent water from getting inside the boat.
There are many different types of paddles out there, with specific types depending on the kind of boating you are doing. Paddles come in different shaft sizes and can be bent or straight.
PFD’s can also vary depending on the type of boating and are absolutely essential when on whitewater.
“When you’re doing whitewater you have to wear a PFD. Whitewater is much more aerated so you don’t float as well. PFD’s are more than flotation, it’s also like extra armor,” Gudger said.
For those who are just getting started, Gudger recommends not going out and buying expensive gear right away. In fact, there are a number of websites where one can find used gear for sale, such as www.boatertalk.com.
“You don’t have to go buy everything new, there’s places online where you can get used equipment. You’ll save a lot of money and then you can save to get something that you really want later. It gives you time to make up your mind,” Gudger instructed.
Having thoroughly covered the five essential pieces of gear, it was time to move onto the five points of outfitting, which is when you get in the boat and make sure everything is adjusted to your liking.
“Outfitting has five points of contact that you want to be mindful of,” Gudger explained as he had me get in a kayak. “The five points of contact are all the places where the boat is going to be touching you. You actually want to sit in these very tight. The tighter you are the better your body motion will transfer and your movements will be more fluid.”
The five points of contact are your feet, knees, butt, back, and hips. The boat’s butt pads, lumbar supports, hip pads, and the bulkhead must all be adjusted so that you have a snug, yet comfortable fit.
With the on land instruction completed, the time had come to begin the second part of “Kayaking for the Clueless,” which consisted of actually getting out on the water.