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Kayaking Lessons:
you can teach an old dog new tricks

by Dee Walmsley


The autumn leaves were preparing for their last dance when I decided to take up kayaking lessons.  Still enthusiastic from my introductory sunset paddle in July I signed up for two nights to obtain my level one certificate. At sixty six I should have known better.  

I sat amongst the young svelte bodies during our land lessons determined to keep up with my bevy of “Bay Watch” beauties.  After the first dumb question, I knew mentally I had nothing to fear. The course brochure failed to mention toting kayaks and all the necessary gear half way around the pool. Stepping out of my sweats I politely waited my turn, which unfortunately led to sharing the load of a double kayak. That alone started my muscles twitching.

We learned how to paddle back and forth, in a circle, sideways and how to tip over and free ourselves from our boats underwater. It took a lot of courage but over I went, pulled the canopy release cord, and much to my amazement, I popped out like a spouting whale! I was so proud of myself. Unaware that the prerequisite for getting back in required the strength of a Schwarzenegger and a huge tolerance for pain, I prepared myself for re-entry. I lack upper body strength and have never been able to chin myself or make it all the way across a set of monkey bars. Treading water dragging yards of polyethylene skirting and an ill-fitting lifejacket, I righted the kayak, retrieved my paddle, and began the laborious activity of readying the kayak and myself for the task ahead.

My stone-faced instructor looked on.

I secured my paddle handle inside the canopy and attached the float to the other end to stabilize the kayak. In theory, all I had to do was push down on the paddle, grab onto the one-inch ring around the canopy, pull my body up over the back of the kayak, turn around, and slide in feet first. A trained seal could have performed this trick in a minute. Ten minutes later, and totally exhausted I was still hanging on by my fingertips trying to swing my bruised body onto the slippery boat.

Taking another deep breath I kicked, pulled, and then felt my grip slip; down I went catching my over-sized lifejacket on the paddle as I passed by. This maneuver hoisted the kapok contraption up around my ears. Only my bloodshot eyes peeked over the top of the orange jacket. I could barely see.

The monotone voice of my instructor telling me I’d almost made it started the old blood boiling.

While my body begged for mercy, my ego spurred me on. Gathering the last of my strength I kicked, pulled, and grabbed and much to my amazement found myself beached like a whale across the kayak. Utterly exhausted I lay there planning my next move. Somehow, I managed to get my feet into the cockpit and slip into the seat.

The instructor actually smiled when he said, “congratulations you passed level one”. I was too numb to feel anything.

Two nights later, I had to repeat the action in a two-man rescue. So intent was I in proving myself I didn’t feel the damage to my body until two days later when the doctor said I’d torn the cartilage between my ribs in three places. \

I will not, be attempting level two.


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