Monday, May 01, 2006

kayaking, part two

So, unfazed by the twenty minute discussion of the many ways to be killed or maimed on the river, I returned the next day for the second portion of the class. Okay, not quite unfazed...that morning right before I woke up, I dreamed that my class was out on a river and saw the telltale horizon line of a low-head dam. One of the instructors, Z., pointed it out and said, "See, there's that horizon line we told you about. Let's take a look." We all got out of our kayaks and walked over to the side of the river and stared in disbelief at the 9-foot drop into roiling water at the other side of the horizon line. Then I woke up and thought, 'I can't believe I just had a dream about a freaking dam,' and went to class.

We met at a local indoor pool, where we spent a good half hour out in the parking lot selecting our gear: lovely brown polypro shirt; spray skirt; helmet; paddle; waterproof spray jacket; life jacket; and of course, kayak. Somehow, I ended up with nearly every piece marked #3. My kayak, helmet, and gear bag were all marked with a 3. I started out with paddle #2, and the instructor helping me choose joked that I should have picked #3. About five minutes later, another instructor told me to trade #2 (a plastic paddle) for #3 (wooden). It felt like fate. I chose lifejacket #13--my lucky number.

We went inside and stretched, and then it was time to get in our kayaks. They showed us a nifty move where you can lay your paddle across the boat just behind the cockpit with one blade flat on shore. Then you can sit with your weight on the paddle, and your hands holding both the paddle and the back of the cockpit and slip into your boat without tipping over. This was surprisingly easy, though I found that you have to keep your legs straight during this part, or your knees get stuck against the kneepads and you get stuck and have to start over. Once in our boats, we paddled around a bit without our spray skirts attached. Luckily they warned us that kayaks are very hard to paddle in a straight line, because otherwise I would've been seriously frustrated. I did not demonstrate mad straight-line skills...or even mad going-in-one-general-direction skills.

Then it was time to practice escapes, rescues, and rolls. We had the option of using clip-on nose plug thingies, and it really helped. This was the part I was nervous about (remember?). Without our skirts on the boats, they had us practice rolling the boat over, thumping the sides three times (kayaking language for "Help, I'm upside-down!"), rubbing our hands along the boat (to check for a rescue), and then escaping from the kayak. To get out, you grip the back edge of the cockpit and slide yourself out as if you're taking off a pair of pants. It works amazingly well...turns out it's a lot easier to get out of a kayak than it is to get into one. Go figure. I practically fell out of mine, in fact. Anyhow, once I knew how easy it was to get out of the kayak, my nervousness melted away. With the nose clips on, I could comfortably hold my breath long enough to practice all the manuevers. They had us fasten the skirts on and practice escaping again (roll, thump, rub, yank on the grab loop to pull the skirt loose, and take off the pants). Cake.

Next, we practiced the technique known as the Eskimo Rescue. This website has a great description of this move, with pictures. I was really freaking good at this part. The instructors told me I have an "excellent hip snap," and predicted that I'd be able to learn to roll as well. Alas, it was not to be. We moved on to Eskimo Rolls (see the same website). I could do the paddle setup just fine. I could glue my wrists to the boat; kiss the deck; roll upside-down; wait, Zen-like, until I felt air on my hands; and rotate my paddle to the proper position. But I couldn't get my hip snap and paddle tug to align properly. I tried and tried and tried. After everyone else either mastered it or gave up, I kept practicing. I never did get it. I went into the class assuming I would not be able to roll, but left the pool feeling like I should've been able to do it, and that I was just missing one key shred of understanding that would allow me to put the elements together.

After lunch, we drove out to a lake for another round of practicing. We practiced paddling around, did a few laps around the island in the middle of the lake, and did some timed and relay races. I did not win any races, but I didn't come in last place either. We played a game that at first had me worried but turned out to be really fun. We divided up into two teams. The teams gathered on opposited sides of the "field" and waited until a red playground ball was tossed into the middle. Then, both teams paddled forward and tried to get the ball and carry it close enough to toss it into the hula hoop "goal" on the opposite side of the "field." Instead of using kayak paddles, we paddled with our hands. My team came really close to winning, and I think we would've had it if the other team hadn't played a lot dirtier than we did. It was great fun, though.

There was one bad thing...shortly after a long drawn-out battle for the ball--which started when my friend R. blatantly stole a ball I'd caught fair and square, by literally pulling my arms above my head and snatching the ball--I flipped over. Now, I'd like to say I remained completely calm and managed to execute a perfect Eskimo Roll. I'd be happy to say I remained completely cool and waited for an Eskimo Rescue. Sadly, this was not the case. I held my nose--and my panic in check--for a few moments, but then I let go and the instincts took over. The good news is that it's really easy to get out of your kayak even when all you do is try your best to swim out of the damn thing. Everyone was cool about it, but I was pretty embarrassed. But I got right back into the game, and we would've won if a toss to me hadn't been about 20 feet short. Bollocks.

After the game, I tried some more Eskimo Roll practice--with nose clip this time--but nothing came of it except this lovely bruise, which I didn't notice until almost a full week later:

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