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One Student’s Experience: Her First Kayaking Lesson

Anna Rainville

The sun begins to poke through the clouds, warming the air; the
cool breeze now feels refreshing. I hesitantly lean towards my
right and plunge into the murky water of the Oakland Estuary. It is
my first sea kayaking lesson and we have just started practicing

After pulling myself free from the kayak, a watertight
one-person canoe, water in my nose and feeling grimy from the luke
warm salt water, I now have the task of flipping it over and
getting back in. I am up for the challenge, but am not sure about
the others in the group. We are all first time kayakers and I am by
far the youngest and the only athlete. I successfully flip the boat
over, lifting one end over my head and rotating it while sinking
under its weight. In the process at least five gallons of water
have entered the cockpit. The boat will float, but I am looking at
being wet the rest of the day. I carefully balance the boat with my
paddle as I heave myself up, 15 pounds heavier from the water in my
wetsuit and windbreaker, praying I do not go over again. Several
minutes and two close calls later I am safe in the kayak again. I
am feeling very accomplished as a huge smile spreads across my face
and I realize, “wow, this is so much fun.”

There are several types of kayaking, including white water, sea
and still water. Kayaking was originally a form of transportation
and travel, but gained notice as a recreational sport in the 1924
Olympics. Locally, people can enjoy kayaking in the Oakland estuary
and the bay. Bay Area Sea Kayakers, a non-profit located in San
Francisco, provides a forum for people to meet other kayakers and
plan trips. While BASK can provide you with useful information
about the sport, you can find classes and rentals at California
Canoe and Kayak in Oakland and City Kayak in San Francisco.

That morning, when we first entered the water at nine, I felt
nervous as large yachts and coast guard vessels moved past my small
kayak. The possibility of colliding with them was unnerving. I was
distracted by all the traffic moving up and down the estuary.
Kayaks have the right of way, but that seemed irrelevant to me.
Would the boats really move if they saw me? Could they really move
if they saw me? I quickly became accustomed to staying close to the
shoreline, where I could marvel at the other boats from a safe

As we made our way to our lunch spot, stopping for instruction
every few hundred yards, I finally felt as if I was getting a hold
of the proper stroke technique. I could only tell by the fact that
my shoulders hurt less and I seemed to travel a little further with
each forward stroke. Even with this, I felt as if I would wake up
with sore shoulders in the morning. (I was right, but it was worth

During our lunch break, everyone still geared up in our
wetsuits, relieved to be able to replace the energy we have lost
from hours of paddling, the instructor took the time to teach us
about tides and currents. It turns out there is more to kayaking
than just getting in a boat and going. Without proper planning and
an understanding of tides and currents, a kayaker could get stuck
on shore if the tide were to go out while she was stopped or be
forced to paddle against the tide. I find the information easy to
understand, but would probably need the help of a more experienced
kayaker to read the tide and current tables in the future.

After the group finishes practicing self-rescues, we start
heading back. The day is coming to a close. I find myself more
engaged in my actions, less distracted by the movement of other
boats in the estuary. I do, however, notice a small boy pointing at
us as we pass, “Look daddy, look at them in the boats.” To him, we
are pros, moving easily through the water, he does not know that
six hours ago we did not even know how to get into our kayaks from
the dock, let alone the water.

We rinse off our gear at the dock, and I notice that everyone
looks more confident. After all we have just done something that a
small percentage of people get to do, something so ancient, so
foreign to some, but so exhilarating. Looking around I know that it
will not be long before we enter the water again, this time knowing
what to expect and hoping for a challenge.