“Now … bring me that horizon.” ~ Captain Jack Sparrow
By Tammi J Truax
I’ve been hesitant to write this article. Part of me does not want to turn anyone else on to kayaking on the Seacoast. Selfishly I would like to keep the waterways to myself. The peacefulness of kayaking, what some call the yoga of kayaking, is what drew me to it in the first place. The sensation of becoming one with the water you are riding is a joy, and the quiet one can find on the water to observe wildlife undisturbed always feels healing to me.
Here on the Seacoast we are most fortunate to be able to try just about every kind of kayaking there is; ocean and river, fast or slow, and from an easy calm water paddle all the way through death defying ocean treks. There is a little something for every one of all ages within the sport of kayaking. While a hot trend the last few years, the kayak is actually an ancient vessel first developed by the natives of the arctic regions of Asia, North America, and Greenland, who perfected the design of the boat as well as “the Eskimo roll”. I read that the husband in each family built the kayak specifically to fit his body using drift wood and bones, while the wife sewed the hides and coated them with animal fat that finished it off. The early boats used seal bladders filled with air to make them buoyant and almost unsinkable. These speedy little boats were well suited for hunting seals and walruses in the frigid arctic waters. In fact, the word kayak means "hunter's boat."
Eventually, tales of their efficiency reached Europe. Before long Europeans began riding down rivers in kayaks for sport. These countries have many mountain ranges, and the rivers that plunge out of the rocky slopes offer challenging rapids. In 1924 kayaking became an Olympic sport. Kayaking has been a rapidly growing recreational sport in the USA for more than a decade.
A kayak is a light and narrow one or two person boat one rides facing forward and maneuvers using a double paddle. This is really quite different from canoeing in a number of ways. The shape makes them fast. It also allows the adventurous to do some pretty neat tricks. The kayaker is often sealed into their seat using a skirt which allows wave riding. One can fish from a kayak though storage is limited. Sails can also be attached to them. The competitive can race.
Among the most popular destinations for kayaking in our region are; Chauncey Creek, the Exeter River, the Lamprey River, Odiorne Point and Great Bay.
But before you acquire a kayak and venture out on your own you should take the time to learn a few things. Read a good book of introduction, and take a lesson from an experienced kayaker. Lessons are not hard to find around here. Two noteworthy outfits offer lessons for all levels, as well as children’s summer camps. They are Portsmouth Kayak on Wentworth Road in Portsmouth and Plum Island Kayak in Newburyport. Both group and private lessons are available. The YMCA in Portsmouth sometimes offers affordable clinics in the pool which teach all of the basic safety skills needed. EMS offers an excellent array of classes, but seldom in our area.
Once you understand the basics of kayaking, try out a few different types in several different conditions and places. That is the best way to learn what your personal style of paddling is and what your physical endurance is. One of the best ways to try a few things out is to take a group tour with a rented kayak. Both of the aforementioned businesses offer some wonderful tour options from full moon paddles to seal spotting tours, all the way up to fishing expeditions and Isles of Shoals excursions. The Discovery Center in Stratham offers some very popular educational tours on Great Bay including family paddles. For adults there is a Meet-up group of 850 members called NE Seacoast Paddlers who plan regular group outings that are outlined on their website. Again there are tours suitable for everyone, and having an experienced guide is invaluable.
Once you have found your style and preferences and have committed to the sport only then is it a good time to buy your own boat. I made the mistake of buying my kayak too soon, and now I need to replace it with something more suitable to my needs. Remember that end-of-season sales can be big money savers. Kayaks are now available in every price range from a simple inflatable version to a hand-crafted wooden masterpiece.
A few final points to remember; never go out alone, always tell someone where you are going, and always wear a PFD. Couldn’t hurt to remember a local joke too – What do fishermen call kayakers? … Speed bumps. Always boat responsibly.