By Sigrid Pilgrim
No other sport offers so many varieties on the same theme as paddlesport. Paddling, for many people, is CANOEING – you sit in a canoe, look straight ahead, paddle from point A to B. If you are a novice, your arms will feel like a ton in 20 minutes. Or, for the more adventuresome, there is WHITEWATER in which a bunch of crazy lunatics risk their life hanging upside down in kayaks in rapids no sane person would want to be in!
There is truth in both statements, but there is so much more! No other sport offers so many different options of craft, places to take it and activities. But there is even more – namely, the realization that paddlesport offers a unique opportunity towards educational enrichment.
CANOEING – You can take a canoe on a local river for a leisurely trip, to go fishing, or to just enjoy the natural environment. Of course, you can also use the same canoe to help clean up the trash along a river bank, or to give a youngster a first taste of outdoor “adventure.” You can use your canoe as a means of transportation to get to places otherwise inaccessible and take it CANOE TRIPPING into the wilderness for a week or more of camping along the shores of lakes or rivers.
Change the dimensions of the canoe; make it narrower and longer, put some power drink in a backpack and you can start competing in MARATHON races, from 10 to 100 and more miles, depending on your stamina. Or change the dimensions even more, until the canoe looks more like an arrow, and you’re ready to SPRINT – an Olympic discipline for many decades.
If you don’t like to paddle by yourself, make the canoe bigger and put more seats into it, and you’ve got a long boat. There is power in numbers – and 15 to 20 or more people paddling in unison can make even a 30 foot boat fly! You can now recreate history in a VOYAGEUR CANOE or experience culture from faraway places in a CHINESE DRAGON BOAT. The voyageurs played a very important role in the development of the North American Continent, and various RENDEZVOUS throughout the region annually recreate these historical moments. Garbed in traditional voyageur clothing, singing French-inspired songs, paddlesport is a way to honor the past.
KAYAKING – Do you want to give the double-blade a try? There are many choices, too – touring or sea kayaks, white water or sprint boats, and too often, the short and wide rec boats – it’s all a matter of personal preference. SEA or TOURING KAYAKS can hold a great deal of gear. They are designed to track well in wind and thus are ideal for open bodies of water, for exploring sea caves in Lake Superior, or, as many members of local sea kayak clubs prove regularly, just to get out on Lake Michigan and paddle for a few hours! Your choice in sea kayaks is as large as in canoes – from traditional Eskimo style skin and frame boats, to the high tech Kevlar and carbon fiber lay-ups – each offers features not found in the other – so try as many as you can until you find the one that’s right for you and your budget.
You say, the sea kayak didn’t turn fast enough! Try a WHITEWATER KAYAK instead which is designed to pivot on a dime for the quick maneuvers necessary in rapids. You say they don’t go fast enough! Then challenge yourself in either a downriver racing or flat-water sprint kayak, either will surely increase your sense of balance if you give the boats a chance!
KAYAKS too are versatile: for the top athletes, Olympic participation is the ultimate reward. For the adventurer, there may be a first descent in spectacular surroundings; or for the nature lover, a weekend get-away in Wisconsin. Several times I have seen a bald eagle swoop just 10-15 feet ahead of me. But equally important, there is also the camaraderie with friends who enjoy all with equal intensity.
And if you don’t like sitting in a canoe or kayak – try the latest iteration of paddling – the STAND-UP-PADDLEBOARD; whether to get a good core workout, or to develop your balance in SUP Yoga, it is one more variety on the paddling theme.
If you think we have covered it all – here is more. Paddlesport is not only for the able bodied person, but for PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES as well. Just think about it: once in a boat, you really do not need your legs very much – so a person with a lower limb disability can enjoy the same freedom of movement as you and I. There are ALSO paddling clubs whose members are breast cancer survivors and found that paddling together provides not only physical but emotional benefits as well.
Is paddling only for the young? Of course not – it’s a LIFETIME ACTIVITY – I’ve seen kids as young as five in a solo kayak, or infants with parents in a canoe (be sure you have good paddling skills if you bring the baby!). I also know plenty of paddler grandparents, this author included.
But there is one more aspect of paddlesport which I believe has not been exploited as much as it should: paddling as a catalyst for a more integrated approach towards OUTDOOR EDUCATION with a focus on our natural environment. I fear we are raising a generation of very computer-literate youngsters, to whom nature is a virtual reality, on-screen/DVD experience and playgrounds are carefully controlled aseptic indoor environments!
A paddling trip is unlike any other outdoor activity: it is not a setting prescribed by humans like a playground. There is no paved hiking path leading from parking lot to picnic site. There could be a natural obstacle, like a downed tree, or icky stuff like mud, worms or mosquitoes. Maybe the youngsters will see death, a fish floating belly up or a bird tangled in a fishing line whose lure still hangs glittering from a branch. Or they’ll see shopping carts, tires, and picnic tables in the water.
But chances are they can also see a deer, muskrat, beaver dams, and herons, catch their own first fish and learn to appreciate the beauty of nature, and hopefully, will want to protect this environment. As I used to tell my students – you won’t protect what you don’t love, and you cannot love what you don’t know – so get to know the beauty of nature through paddling.
For more information on paddlesport, clubs, where to get paddling instruction, and links to other paddling related resources, go to www.illinoispaddling.org