Reflections From The Cockpit April 2009
"My First Kayak"
As I was doing my 2-mile swim this morning my mind drifted off into my early years of kayaking. I started to think about my first kayak. I am sure many of you have fond memories of your first kayak. I think many of us form a bond with our first kayak. Just like a close friend while growing up, you share adventures together. The common experiences you share help build that bond. Since I look at my early paddling years as formative years, I feel like I grew up with my first kayak with respect to my kayaking career.
I have to admit that I did not own my first kayak. Since I ran the outdoor program at UC Santa Barbara I had a number of kayaks at my disposal. My first introduction to the sport was with a whitewater kayak I used to paddle along the Pacific coast by campus. I didn’t know how to roll and self-recoveries were not an option with the whitewater kayak. Therefore, I paddled on the beach side of the thick kelp beds that were usually 50 yards off of the beach. This way I knew I could swim to shore with my kayak if I capsized. Even though I used this kayak to learn how to paddle in a strait line, I really consider my first kayak as a plastic Aquaterra kayak named the “Chinook.” We had six in our original fleet.
The Chinook was a workhorse. It was not a high performance kayak, but I wasn’t a high performance kayaker when I started using it so I didn’t care. The truth is I didn’t even know it wasn’t a high performance boat. Ignorance was bliss in my case. I was in heaven while on the ocean in my Chinoook compared to being squeezed into the tiny whitewater kayak. We had many great adventures together. We also had some very difficult times and challenges. My learning curve with my Chinook was incredible. In retrospect I am overjoyed that the Chinook was a sturdy plastic kayak.
Since UCSB campus is on the ocean, surf was a way of life. The plastic Chinook experienced many unnecessary bumps and bruises due to my inexperience, as I was a surf newbie. I remember apologizing to my kayak after a day of learning. Since I did most of my early kayaking alone I spent a lot of time talking to my kayak. Even though it is customary to call a boat her or she, I think my kayak was probably a male, because it was the strong silent type. It never said much. It did have a mind of its own when we first started paddling together, because it seemed to go in a different direction than I had in mind. When I had my course set it would constantly drift off to the right and the left. I knew it had to be the kayak because I always paddled in a perfectly straight line.
My kayak taught me great lessons during those beginning years. I can remember how it would let go of water bottles and other items when going through surf. I asked my kayak to hold these items under the bungee cords on its’ deck. It was the kayak’s way of telling me I had to clip items to the cords if I wanted to keep them. One of my kayaks favorite lessons was regularly showing me where its’ capsize point was located.
We traveled quite a bit together. When I asked my kayak to tell me its’ favorite moments he said he couldn’t name just one. He said he had a few and here is the list:
Paddling next to the Orcas in Canada
Sunbathing on the sandstone rocks of Lake Powell
Squeezing into the sea caves of Anacapa Island
Looking for fresh scallops in Mulege Mexico
Surfing at Santa Cruz
Quietly slipping through Black Canyon on the Colorado River
Teaching me capsize recoveries in a storm with 50+mph winds
Now, even though I was extremely happy when I purchased my very own composite kayak, I was sad to say goodbye to my old friend.
Like old friends, whenever we got together during those occasions I would use him for teaching we would pick up right where we'd left off. I have since been through numerous kayaks and am now the admiral of my own fleet of boats. While I love my higher performance kayaks, I must admit I have never formed a bond with any of them as I did with my first kayak. My Chinook will always be in my thoughts because he made me the kayaker I am today. As for my old friend, he is still out there teaching beginners and showing them what it takes to be a competent paddler.
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