Monday, August 24, 2009

Bow? Stern? Hull?

So I took a sea kayaking class for four hours Saturday morning. Crazy! It's been on my life list for a while, and I decided it was time to take a new risk. It turned out to be a great experience, and now two days later I can almost lift my arms without gasping.

It was gorgeous out on Saturday - totally blue sky, and at least 75°. It was a small class and we had a very cute instructor. (Big bonus.) We started the day with a brief beach talk where the instructor told us what to expect. Listening to him I began to have some anxiety, and I wasn't quite sure if I could go through with it. I have some mild claustrophobia issues and those cockpits are small! Luscious legs and an ample booty are no friends in a kayak. Add the skirt and the pfd, and it gets downright crowded in that little boat. Near the end of the talk, we briefly reviewed the procedure for what to do if you flip in your boat, and I got pretty freaked out. I went into this with very little knowledge; I hadn't even considered the thing would flip on me. All I wanted to do was learn an activity that would allow me to be close to the water. I decided to just keep going as long as I could, knowing that if I reached a point where I was too scared, I would stop.

When we got in the water, I was surprised how shaky it felt - I was certain I was going to flip over before even paddling away from the dock. I have to admit that my stress level was pretty high, and I got into some negative self talk about why the $@#&! I want to do things that are clearly for athletic people. I had all those kinds of I'm not good enough/what if I embarrass myself/what the hell am I doing thoughts. Sometimes it's tough to push through that stuff.

A few minutes in, a classmate dumped his kayak and took the pressure off about being the first to flip over. And then a few minutes later he did it again. (Poor dudes with your big, bulky shoulders and high center of gravity.) That helped me quite a bit - I worried I would have special needs or hold up the group. But one by one throughout the morning most people went under. It was a pretty friendly group and everyone seemed patient with the various learning curves.

We paddled around between Ross Island and Toe Island, practicing different strokes and getting into a little bit of edging. I have to say - it was awesome. The river was quiet and beautiful. In a kayak you glide so effortlessly across the water, it almost feels like you're gliding above it. Looking at the Portland skyline that I love from a new vantage point (below!) made me feel happy, lucky, peaceful, and so glad to be learning something new. It's no surfing, but I definitely enjoy kayaking.

Near the end of the class, I knew I wanted to learn more so I could eventually go out on my own. I felt pretty stable in my boat but still had the fear of flipping over to deal with. And I was a little disappointed that I'd played it so safe. I realized I could probably complete the class without flipping, but that I would probably gain more from the experience if I did flip and faced my fears.

Frick. So I asked the instructor if I could dump myself on purpose before getting out of the water. He thought it was a great idea, and suggested I do it right at our current spot, as the water was deep and the area was clear of boats. I have to admit - I was suddenly terrified. Heart beating in my ears, having a hard time catching my breath, all my courage was gone. It reminded me of years ago (like 20) when I used to do challenge courses in my early years of therapy. Nothing like your very first zip line to make you feel like you're going to die.

It took me about two minutes, but I finally took a deep breath and turned myself upside down. Holy trapped feeling, it was so scary! I got my skirt off fine, (only because I started to grab for the strap before I even hit the water), but came up for air right under the boat. It only took a minute to figure out that I need to swim a foot or two around it, but it was a pretty disorienting experience. It felt good to have done it, although it didn't really take away the fear. Plus, getting myself back in the cockpit from the water was no small feat. I need a lot more practice.

So I really liked it and I'm signed up for the next step, a rescue class, next weekend. This will fulfill the requirement so I can rent a boat and go out on my own. I don't know whether I'll feel confident doing it after just four more hours of instruction, but I'm proud of myself for jumping in, and I'm excited to find another way to enjoy my beautiful hometown.

Plus, I ended up with three big, black bruises on my arms and legs, and a long, thick scratch half the length of my shin from sliding my legs out of the cockpit when I flipped. Coupled with my surfing injuries from Thursday, I'm a bit of a mess. I love it! I'm starting to feel like I didn't have a very good day unless I get a new scar.


  1. I love kayaking! I never took an actual class though and am still a bit terrified to tip over. I think you're doing such a fantastic job of facing your fears. You continually inspire me.

  2. Okay, so that does it.....the "flipping over" part. There's no way. I hate water but I'd love to sea kayack. They don't go together. It's a giant tourist thing in Sitka where I was last week.....and I was thinking about it. But am very glad that I didn't.

  3. You amaze me!! Kayaking has always terrified me because of the flipping over factor. I don't think I will ever have the courage to try it.

    You are, like, the coolest person I know.

  4. Um, oops. I didn't mean to discourage anyone by talking about it flipping! I think there are kayaks that are pretty hard to flip. I know there are, actually. The place I'm taking my classes from just teaches with kayaks that are easy to turn, therefore easy to flip.

  5. I took a kayaking class a few years ago (LOVE it--water meditation all the way) and we were required to flip and get back in to get our certification. Sometime, I'll have to tell you about my experience--and the two bus loads of senior tourists who had the pleasure of watching my fat girl humiliation. And then the story of the gondola lovers who got to watch me get out of the boat another time (I can't get out normally because of my size). Ohhh, the STORIES.

    But I love it. Best thing ever.

  6. Kayaking is an awesome experience. My boyfriend and I loved it so much we both went out and bought a kayak. We now kayak several times during the summer.

    It's a great way to get close to nature.

    Way to go!!!!

  7. Love it. Damn girl, how'd you get so BRAVE??!! You are Awesome!