Spring has sprung on the Mendocino Coast. The Alders and Willows along the banks of the Noyo River are awash in brilliant hues of green and the song birds have started singing their songs of spring.
For those who don't paddle year-round, spring is often time to start thinking about getting out on the water.
For some this means paddling locally, planning a vacation(s) that involve kayaking, or taking a class. Some even start to thinking about purchasing a kayak.
Here are a few tips for those looking to get on the water this spring or summer:
Check out your gear. Some things to consider are - Your life jacket (pfd) - Are the buckles and zippers working? Does it fit snugly and stay in place? Your kayak(s) - make sure that your craft is sea worthy and suitable for where you plan to paddle. Are there any holes or dings that need to be fixed? Are the deck lines in good condition or fraying? Is it comfortable? Is your paddling attire in good condition and does it fit? Are your roof racks on your vehicle secure?
Check out your skills. Maybe it is time for a class to tune-up your skills. A forward stroke class is extremely valuable as it is the stroke that we use the most and one that even the most skilled paddlers are always working on perfecting. A class will help refine your skills to paddle new areas - rock gardens, surf zones, or whitewater. Taking a BCU training or assessment is a good way to determine where your skills are and develop a plan for developing your skills.
Explore your local waterways. Look around, we bet you can find a place to kayak less than an hour from home. The days are getting longer and evening paddles are a great way to unwind from the day (and a great time of the day to see wildlife). Getting in a regular paddling habit is easier when you find a spot that is easily accessible and close to home. It is also good for the heart and soul and helps you build up seat time for when you want to do longer paddles.
Explore a new area. If you are planning a vacation around kayaking and don't have much kayaking experience, contact a local outfitter. They will help you assess your skills and interests and decide on the best paddling venue for your trip, best time of the day/conditions, and appropriate equipment. Areas like the Mendocino Coast have estuaries that are best planned around tides and coastal areas that are best planned around ocean conditions and paddler skill levels.
For those with experience and your own equipment, you might want to connect with a local paddling club. Often the paddling club's website will have helpful information for planning your trip or even trips that you could join. Check out the Bay Area Sea Kayaker's Planner is a very useful tool. Sometimes paddling clubs host special events to share their local waters with others. Our friends at Explore North Coast are hosting a sea kayak social weekend May 3-6.
Also remember that it is fun to explore an area on one's own, but one will often see more and get the best experience when going with a local guide who knows the area like the back of their hand. Most of us aren't in the kayaking business to get rich but because we love sharing the waters, wildlife, and wonders of the outdoors with others.
For those looking to purchase a kayak, be sure that you know what you want. Knowing this involves identifying what your skill level is and where you are going to be paddling. Two mistakes that people often make are buying a boat because the price is right (even though it is the wrong boat) or buying a boat that they don't have the skills to use.
TRY BEFORE YOU BUY. Do you buy a car without taking it on a test drive? You can research all the bells and whistles but until you paddle the boat you don't really know how it will handle with you paddling it. We recommend that you determine what type of kayak is suitable (sea kayak, recreational kayak, whitewater kayak, surf kayak, fishing kayak) and then get out and test paddle as many different models within that classification. Check with your local outfitter for demo days and demo programs.
Regardless of your paddling goals and plans our best paddling advice is
DO IT!!! Be safe and have FUN!!!
We hope to see you on the water!!!
Make it FUN - What ever the goal or resolution. Find a way to make it fun and it will be more attainable. This is where recruiting a fun-loving friend, coworker, or family member will help.
Learn proper skills and technique. Some aspects of kayaking are intuitive; however, there are many nuances and tricks that one can learn that will make kayaking more efficient and more fun for paddlers of at any skills level. We (and many other instructors) often share tips on twitter, facebook, and in our blogs, but, the best way to develop proper technique is to work with an instructor or coach who can give instruction and feedback. Kayak symposiums are a great way to meet different coaches and find that right mentor. Two of our favorite west coast symposiums are the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium in February and Lumpy Waters in October.
Try a new discipline of paddling. The skills that you learn with a different type of boat or paddle will improve your overall skills in all disciplines. If you like to paddle a sit on top kayak, take a sea kayak lesson in a decked sea kayak. If you like to sea kayak ocean rock gardens, try a whitewater river class or rock gardening in a whitewater kayak. Jeff and I are expanding our paddling skills this year to include Stand-Up Paddling (SUP).
Sea Kayaking - Pick a BCU Star Award to work toward. The BCU system is a well organized guide for skill progression. It gives a paddler a way to assess their skills and plan for improvement. Trainings and assessments are available throughout the US and in many other great kayaking destinations (Baja, anyone?). If you are new to the BCU, consider taking a 2 Star Assessment or 3 Star Sea Training this winter or spring. Here's a link to LFK's BCU schedule.
Whitewater River Kayaking - Make 2012 the year that you style the river rather than survive it. Perfect your eddy turns and ferries and dial your wave surfing by a few minutes of focused practice on each of your river trips. Either with a class or with friends, see who can ferry across the river with the fewest strokes or time each other on surfing waves.
Surf Kayaking - How about training for an event? The Santa Cruz Paddlefest is March 16-18. See some of the best kayak surfers in the world as well as have a chance to surf at Santa Cruz Steamer's Lane. Here's our video from 2011.
Have a Reliable Roll - For the safety of yourself and others, you need to have a reliable roll if you are paddling challenging waters. For most of us, this takes a lot of focused practice and often some good coaching. Often there is one little thing that we can do or focus on that will improve the success of our rolls. How do we find that one little thing? Usually it involves feedback from a coach or friend who analyzes your roll. That one little thing can be as simple as making sure you finish ( Creating a Reliable Roll by Phil and Mary Dereimer) or using an active leg drop (Shawna Franklin's tip in Adventure Kayak Magazine) or just relaxing and taking a moment to relax before rolling.
Improving your fitness - We of course advocate cross training. Cardiovascular training will make long paddles or slogs through a headwind easier. Hiking, mountain biking, and swimming are our favorite cardio exercises. Recruit a friend, family member, or coworker to power walk, hike, bike, or swim 2-3 days a week. Set a schedule with specific times and days and try to stick with it.
Strength and flexibility are equally important and will help with injury prevention. I am a reluctant yoga participant, but Jeff has been rallying me to regularly practice. We do our strength and flexibility workouts first thing in the morning so that they get done and we feel great the rest of the day. It is best to work with an instructor, but I have a hard time getting myself to the gym or studio and prefer to practice at home. My two favorite yoga workout dvd's are Yoga for Cyclists and Anna Levesque's Yoga for Kayaking.
Be prepared for emergencies - Prevention, prevention, prevention is our motto; however, it is important to be prepared for the unexpected. CPR and First Aid are a must for anyone. This year, we have recruited Sierra Rescue to come to the Mendocino Coast to teach a Wilderness First Aid Class for the outdoor enthusiasts in our area. If you are playing in whitewater, a swiftwater training is a must as well. If you have had training, rally your friends to practice scenarios and to maintain a dialog of contingency plans.
Cate and Jeff