June 22, 2011

Become a Paddling Pro

Nine tips for your first canoeing and kayaking trips

It should be no surprise that paddling is one of the fastest growing outdoor activities in the U.S. Paddling a canoe or kayak is a great way to get in shape, enjoy nature and spend time with family and friends. The environmentally-friendly, quiet nature of paddling makes it attractive to people who want to see birds and wildlife up close. Paddling is easy on the joints and, when compared to power boating, easy on the wallet.

To help you make your first trips on the water fun, safe and memorable, here are nine tips for beginning paddlers.

  • Start on flat water – In paddling parlance, flat water means lakes and ponds—anywhere there is an absence of current. Flat water is everywhere in Wisconsin. Choose from one of 15,000 lakes or just put your boat in your local city park lagoon. Once you’ve gotten the hang of paddling on flat water paddling, you’ll be ready to move on to slow-moving rivers.
  • Renting a boat is a good idea – Start out your paddling career by renting canoes and kayaks. Virtually every outfitter who rents boats also rents lifejackets and paddles. This allows you to try paddling without making any significant equipment purchase. Try to rent canoes and kayaks in many different styles and materials. This experience will be invaluable when it comes time to purchase your own boat.
  • Don’t be an equipment snob – When you’re a paddling beginner, an aluminum canoe is going to be just as much fun as one made of Kevlar. After you’ve been paddling for a few seasons, you’ll have enough experience and knowledge to make some intelligent equipment upgrades.
  • Research your rivers – Wisconsin has dozens of rivers suitable for a paddling adventure. Before you head out on your expedition, research the stretch of river you’re going to be paddling. Only a handful of rivers in Wisconsin are served by outfitters who can provide shuttle services. Where shuttle service isn’t available, you’ll have to plan on bringing two cars—one to park at the put-in and the other at the take-out. Make sure there are no dangerous rapids or impassible sections on the stretch of river you will be paddling. A little research before the trip can save on a lot of headaches later.
  • Take a lot of practice trips – Before you go on a serious river trip or an extended paddling adventure, go on as many smaller trips as you can. Practice putting the boat in the water and taking it out again. If you’re car-topping your boat, make sure you know how to secure the boat to the roof. The goal is to work out all the kinks before you are heading down a wilderness river, many miles from home.
  • Don’t worry about speed – If you really want to go fast, hop on over to the jet ski aisle. Paddling is about smoothness, not speed. In fact, flailing away at the water with your paddle mostly wastes energy. Work on developing a gentle, easy stroke and you’ll get much more out of all of your paddling adventures. Plus, you’ll scare less wildlife.
  • Bring water, sunscreen and bug repellent – You can get dehydrated fast while you’re paddling. The sun’s power to burn is magnified while you’re on the water. And the bugs—well, you’re in bug territory when you’re at water level. Pack wisely and you’ll remember your day of paddling for the scenery and not for the trip to the emergency room.
  • Bring a fishing pole – Canoes and kayaks can get into places no motorboat ever could. They’re also the stealthiest fishing boats available. Just be warned—big fish can actually pull your boat around the lake. So, if you hook into a giant northern pike, you’re going to be in for the ride of your life.
  • Wear a lifejacket – This is the most important tip. Wearing a lifejacket can save your life. If that isn’t enough to get you to wear one, then how about this: wearing a lifejacket can save someone else’s life. That’s right. By wearing a lifejacket, you are much more able to help rescue others. And with a lifejacket on, people that might have to rescue you will have a much easier time. Find a lifejacket that fits you and wear it. Period.

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