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The “experienced” kayaker

How many times have we read the phrase, “They were an experienced kayaker/paddler”? This seems to be a term used by reporters posthumously as they write an article of a paddler who was involved in an incident. The authors of the media release tend to receive this information from family members, onlookers, or perhaps the paddling partner who was also involved in the incident. Majority of these stories we read recount the tragic events which took place. The details seem to be constant, wrong boat for the conditions, improperly dressed for the elements, and not prepared for what they encountered.  The ripples of comments which go through respective paddlers and kayak instructors are endless. For most, we feel accountable – could we have made a difference? What can we do to in the future to educate the general public?

Social media stages numerous postings, pictures, and comments from the “Average Joe”, which display a large percentage of people who paddle incorrectly. These pictures show not wearing a PFD, paddles upside down, disregarding nautical rules, and improperly dress for the water conditions.  Those new to the sport, view these with eyes wide open and may use these as their reference tools for learning. What’s the harm in that, right? Well, many things. In the past years, I have joined many social media sites which focus on kayaking. My primary reason for joining these sites was to use these as informational resources for future paddle destinations. I am selective on becoming a member on some of the sites out there. Much like fact checking fake news reports, one should also ask pertinent questions when seeking specific paddling related topics. Manage to do a bit of research of the person posting, or even the main topic.

Let’s define the term, experience and then experienced:

Experience – as a noun, 1) practical contact with and observation of facts or events. 2) the knowledge or skill acquired by experience over a period of time, especially that gained in a particular profession. 3) an event or occurrence that leaves an impression on someone. As a verb – 1) encounter or undergo. 2) a feeling.

Experienced – 1) having knowledge or skill in a particular field, especially a profession or job, gained over a period of time.

What makes a person experienced, in this particular discussion – an experienced kayaker? An experienced kayaker is one who has logged many countless hundreds or thousands of hours in the seat. Paddled in conditions relative to the surroundings – in all aspects (paddling in winds existing from different directions, waves, various wave heights, wave direction, currents) and waters (open water, inland lakes, rivers, creeks, and rapids). They know limitations of both their kayak and themselves. There is apparent risk when undergoing any form of kayaking, and for majority of people in this sport, they understand this. Implementation of a risk assessment for your paddle adventure is a means in which those skilled in the sport, do not place themselves within a hazardous environment. A risk assessment focuses on many different aspects: paddler skill level, weather, type of water, known area of paddle, knowing your paddle group, and health conditions (just to name a few). Paddlers take these aspects and make sound and reasonable decisions for the destination in mind. This a continuous and ever-changing assessment during the paddle – as kayaking is never a static experience. For those who don’t understand this, should not call themselves, “Experienced paddlers”.

Understanding what limitations both you, your gear, and your kayak possess is a characteristic in experience. First timers in the kayak have many different ways in which they learn:

1) There is the hands-on approach – and just try (Doers)

2) The watch others/read procedures – and adapt to what needs to be done (Watchers)

3) Those who get ‘lessons’ from others – who may not be very proficient (Seers)

4) Then those who seek out professional training from a qualified individual.

Numerous times, I have been on the water and witnessed a variety of simple disregard to personal safety while on the water. I primarily paddle the open waters of Lake Michigan – and I have my go-to places I fully enjoy. As this body of water has its challenges, it also has many hidden factors which at times goes overlooked to the novice paddler. There are currents, [at times] rip current, various changes of water temperatures, off-shore winds, just to name a few. Encountering paddlers in this body of water without PFD’s physically on their body, kayaks ill-suited for large open bodies of water (lack of bulkheads, or float bags) which could quickly take on massive amounts of water from the waves, improperly dressed individuals who don’t understand about hypothermia, and lack of communication to others – should there be a need. I find myself conversing with as many of these individuals as I can. Attempting to plant a seed of knowledge, and hopefully make them think about their actions – and hopefully change their future paddling endeavors. Sometimes, this works – other times, I get shrugged off by the individual. One notable occasion happened this year. The air was around mid-70’s, water temp was 61, light off shore winds, waves about a foot. My buddy and I were dressed for immersion (had splash top, neoprene bottoms and boots), plus our usual open water gear – VHF, flares, first aid kit, cell phone in a water tight box, food/water, etc). We were playing with rescues (solo and assisted), and he notices a kayaker in the far distance – well off shore about a mile out. I suggested we go out and say hello. As we were getting closer, my buddy stated, “I don’t think he is wearing a PFD” – I commented, “Well maybe it is flesh colored.” The closer we get, my buddy then stated, “Actually, I don’t think he is wearing a shirt either.” We eventually intercept this guy about ¾ of a mile off shore. He was in a rec boat, no skirt, no PFD and wearing only shorts. He was in his early 20’s and muscularly built – as apparent from his arm paddling technique. We chatted to him for a long time, and almost blocked him from advancing anywhere on the water (not-intentionally – but reflecting back, guess we did). After a few minutes talking about safety on the open water, he was open to conversation. I had offered we paddle back to shore with him (as escort) and he generously agreed. Along the way, he reflected on his decision to paddle that far away from the shore, and realized that probably wasn’t the best idea – as he never really looked back behind him and see how far away he was from the shore. He also noted the off shore winds actually shoved him further out than he ideally wanted to go.

Instructors offer professional training and share their experience to those willing to seek out better techniques, increase their skills, and learn how to become a safer paddler. The good ones will be able to provide you many different techniques and approaches which offer a safe, effective, and efficient outcome. They understand you may not have the talent on day #1 to take on something way above your capacity – and they will not place you in apparent harm, or make you do something you are not willing to attempt. Understandably, some of the things instructors have you to practice/demonstrate are for your well-being. An example of one of these would be a wet-exit with a skirt. This is can be a freighting experience for the first time. Having a veteran instructor by your side as one does this offers a massive advantage for the first-timer.  The instructor has many methods in which they can act upon if events turn south. Should one attempt a wet-exit without someone knowledgeable at the ready, there may be a terrible end result. Same can be said with paddling dynamic waters. Having a person who understands the water trail, it’s complexity and features; offers guidance, first-hand knowledge, and safety to the adventure.

Experienced paddlers are those who have taken precautions to ensure their life, and the lives of others are not placed in immediate danger, or that of the unseen. Prior to the adventure on the water – they plan. Information is gathered well before even leaving the house. Weather reports from several sites is collected, to ensure there is no surprise. The location for the paddle, if not known, had been researched fully. Water temperature reports and conditions are reviewed to ensure proper clothing will be worn and wave height or cfs is not beyond one’s capabilities. Upon location, the paddler surveys conditions, and if doing a river, will scout the entire river (or make planned stops to get out and visually scout). If new people have joined them in the paddling outing – they ask many questions about their paddling abilities. They ensure everyone has proper safety items needed for the trip. A paddle float plan will be constructed and initiated, and communication to loved ones has been made. While on the water, they collect data continuously and ensure all participants are comfortable. Communication while on the water is paramount – both to each other and others not in your group. If an event happens while on the water, participants understand and are competent for reacting and acting upon anything which may happen (capsize, medical issues, or needing to be rescued by USCG). After the paddling adventure, they ensure everyone is safe and sound, and all gear is accounted.

Yes, even with the best planning, and precautions taken to ensure a safe paddling environment – things do happen. Everyone can experience a bad outcome – no matter what your experience is. However, statically speaking, the person who did not take precautions, went well beyond their comfort level or didn’t seek additional training tends to be those mentioned in a posthumous news report. Before you claim to be an “Expert” or “Experienced”, be prepared to follow up your claims.

Learn Kayak Rescues

Been paddling all summer and you are ready now for learning ways to get back into our yak from within the water, as well as some kayak games? You have the skills to paddle your kayak around objects, can paddle hours on end, and aren’t worried about falling out of your kayak…….But, what happens when you do? How are you going to get back into your kayak if you are too far away from the shoreline? What happens when your paddle buddy falls in – and you don’t know what your next step is going to be? Need to be more proficient in your kayak abilities? This is the session for you !

In this session, we shall learn how to perform both self and assisted kayak rescues. You will learn, understand, and practice numerous ways to get back in your kayak, should you ever experience a wet exit. For the types of rescues which will be involved, please visit https://silentwake.com/your-skills-training/rescues/

Owners of touring and sea kayaks are welcomed to bring their own yaks for this class – if you are uncertain if your kayak fits into this category, please give us a call and inform us of the make and model of your kayak. Some recreational kayaks may work for this class – but it is much more proficient with kayaks suited for adequate on-water rescues. Since we will be in the water for majority of this session, you should be comfortable with getting wet and performing wet exits. (Yes, you will be asked to preform a wet exit).

Our location for this training will be within a quiet body of water, where your feet will be able to touch the bottom (for starting out), and then we shall move to deeper water when the comfort level increases. Located at Leonard Yahr Country Park, this lake has a sandy beach, numerous picnic tables, clean bathrooms, and drinking water. The area surrounding the lake is mostly wooded and has a hiking trail. Located just a few miles outside West Bend, this Park does require a park pass (which can be purchased at the via Washington County, or one can visit their web site to pay).

Maximum class size is 10.  There are sea kayaks and gear to the first 8 who require these items.

Please also register for this to ensure there is availability.

Three to four hour rescue class- Cost $75

Pike Lake Essentials class

Join us as we provide training for the Pike Lake State Park. This is a joint venture event, as we are delighted to partake in Smoky the Bear’s 75th birthday.  We will gather on the north end of the beach – just look for our sign. Additional information will be provided to you, once you register.

 

Intended for the amateur paddler (one who has paddled a few times in the past) and would like to increase their knowledge and expertise on the water. Kayaking is more than just moving your kayaking in a straight line. This 3 to 4 hour session will provide skills to maneuver your kayak around obstacles, using simple body moves to maximize turns, and paddle control. There will be a class room setting on the shore, prior to getting into the kayak, as we cover information about kayaking in which you may not have thought about. You will learn how to enter a kayak, how to fall out properly (wet-exit), use proper body movements to paddle (not just your arms), how to move your boat sideways, how to turn your kayak, play some kayak balance games, and finish off with a paddle on the lake. Did I mention you will get wet??? Yes, you will and it will be refreshing!

 

Prerequisite for this class is a basic understanding about kayaking. For complete topics covered, please refer to the essentials skills page.

 

Class size will be limited to 12. Training will take place on Pike Lake, a fairly quiet, protected inland lake. There may be boat traffic, swimmers, and park guests present.  Please dress for the water temperatures, have a change of clothes/towel in your car. Should you need to borrow- the use of Kayak, paddle and PFD are included in the price (please indicate this on the registration page. There are kayaks and gear for the first 8 who require these items. Otherwise, you can use your own kayak and gear in this class.

 

Please also register for this to ensure there is availability. Cost $60.

Explore Little Cedar lake

Little Cedar Lake is located just slightly west of West Bend. This 260 acre lake is mostly surrounded by lake houses. There is a no-wake zone skirting around the entire lake – however there is motor boats mainly in the center of this lake. The swimming beach offers a refreshing dip in the water to cool off, either before or after the paddle.

The water clarity is generally very clear throughout most of this lake. Abundant fish and turtles can be seen throughout your adventures. The northern end and southern ends of the lake offer a marsh-like feel with cattails and bird watching.

We will launch just south of the boat ramp (near the beach) and circumnavigate the lake – nearly 4 miles. There is fresh water and bathroom facilities available at this location.

Group size will be limited to 10, kayaks and gear available (and included in the price) to 8 participants who register.

Please also register for this to ensure there is availability. This is suited for a beginner – however, please note: you may experience wake created by power boats.

Cost for this trip – $65

Pike Lake Essentials class

Join us as we provide training for the Pike Lake State Park. This is a joint venture event, as we are delighted to partake in Smoky the Bear’s 75th birthday.  We will gather on the north end of the beach – just look for the kayaks.

 

Intended for the amateur paddler (one who has paddled a few times in the past) and would like to increase their knowledge and expertise on the water. Kayaking is more than just moving your kayaking in a straight line. This 3 to 4 hour session will provide skills to maneuver your kayak around obstacles, using simple body moves to maximize turns, and paddle control.

 

Prerequisite for this class is a basic understanding about kayaking (getting in/out – how to paddle forward/stop/reverse, and stability in a kayak). For complete topics covered, please refer to the essentials skills page.

 

Class size will be limited to 12. Training will take place on Pike Lake, a quiet, protected inland lake. Please dress for the cooler water temperatures, have a change of clothes/towel in your car. Should you need to borrow- the use of Kayak, paddle and PFD are included in the price (please indicate this on the registration page. There are kayaks and gear for the first 8 who require these items.

 

Please also register for this to ensure there is availability. Cost $60.