Under the jump, contributing editor-in-chief Christie Aschwanden writes her first experience in kayaking.
I do not like water. The very thought of drifting on it scares me. But so many of my friends have passionately dedicated themselves to kayaking, so I finally decided to figure out why. I had booked a trip to the San Juan Islands in Washington ̵
Well, even though I'm standing on the beach in the storm and a cold wind and rain is whistling around me, I find that I've chosen a bad day for my first kayaking adventure. My inner voice sings, "I told you, I told you."
But my teacher, Allan Willis of Discovery Sea Kayaks, is a man with a plan. He takes me to a quiet oasis in a small bay called Smallpox Bay. I'm grateful, but I'm not wondering if I really want to get close to a waters named after a disease. I'm trying to take Willis' light posture as I put on a waterproof "drysuit" to keep me warm, and a life jacket to keep me afloat if I tip (sip). With the kayak halfway on the beach, I get in and set the seat to a comfortable position. Willis shows me how to hold the paddle, and we crowd into the water.
Wild waves beat at the mouth of the bay, and we stay near the shore, which I like. Then Willis insists I face my worst fear: capsizing. The idea of going overboard scares me, but Willis assures me it will boost my confidence. He demonstrates, intentionally tipping his boat, and then returns gracefully. I take a deep breath and pour into the water. Thanks to my dependable life jacket, I quickly reappeared next to my still upright kayak. He is right: falling out is no big deal. But when I try to get back on the boat, it shoots out from under me. After a few tries, Willis suggests I swim to the back of the boat, pull down at the bottom so I can get it under me, span it and slide it to the cockpit. To my surprise, it works.
Next, he teaches me the basic forward stroke: The blade is inserted into the water at the front of the boat and pulled straight back. My arms get tired quickly, until Willis tells me that with less effort I can gain more strength by using my abdominals and twisting my body like a wind-up spring. I try, and the pressure on my arms is immediately easier. It's like I discovered some extra equipment.
Then I learn to turn the boat by moving the blade in a huge arc motion and gently bending my hips in the opposite direction I want to go to. I realize that I actually enjoy having to move from one circle to another.
I make it through my first hour intact, but I want more. The next day, with beautiful weather and a new sense of self, I embark on a sightseeing tour with the kayak outfitter San Juan Safaris. Paddling in the shade of snow-capped peaks along scenic islands, I finally understand why my friends are so passionate. Life feels different on the water. As if to underline my newly discovered esteem, a seal swims to my boat and stops with its head cocked, eyes fixed on me. We look at each other for a few moments before disappearing back into the depths.
What You May Consider
When kayaking, an impressive 340 calories per hour (based on a 150-pound person) are burned back, shoulders, arms and abdominal muscles. (Read how kayaking compares to other water workouts.)