Before you set off
Safety is of paramount importance and the following equipment is essential:
Kayak. In the male dominated world of kayak design and manufacture, most models are typically rated by length and speed, however, do look out for the new range by Prada, which come in sizes 8 to 16 and in colors ranging from hot pink, spice, sauce, vixen and sheer. Of course there are many features which will influence your choice so more on this subject later.
Paddle. Again male dominance in this field has resulted in the main features of paddles being described in length, width and weight, and ease of travel through the water. Prada have come to the rescue with a series of battery operated light weight paddles, which fit into a console on the deck – still leaving ease of access to the water tight cosmetic compartment – and the paddles rotate at the press of a button. Another exciting feature of the slim line deluxe model is the twin paddle floats that will automatically deploy at the first sign of a wave, whale, or unwarranted self-rescue exercise command from the instructor.
PFD. Should be of sufficient quality to provide long-term flotation, especially in the first few lessons when you will spend very little time actually in the kayak. Pockets for lipstick, sun screen and a mirror are a bonus. DO look out for the ones which accommodate fitting of a water bladder. Champagne fits just as well and is great for calming those beginner nerves.
Spray skirt. Much has been done to bring these fashion icons into the 21st century. Check out the new DJ’s line in sheer and fishnet spray decks worn on or off the shoulder and Calvin Klein’s line incorporating a push up bra.
Research your instructor well. Is he qualified and experienced. What about with a kayak? The more experience on water the better equipped he is the rescue you when you fail miserably at most of the exercises he sets. Does he possess other essential qualities of someone you would want to rescue you? Good looking, strong, single, straight?
Once you have all the above in order, you are ready to begin. At this stage we are assuming you are only at the beginners under instruction level, so for the time being you can ignore the stuff about knowing weather, tides, carrying sufficient food and water, as it is unlikely you will make more than 10m from shore in the first 10 lessons.
So lets look at some basic strokes
The forward stroke. From your “neutral” position of seating with legs in front of you, slightly bent at the knee, abs sucked in and breasts stuck out, lean forward and place the blade of the paddle fully into the water as far forward as you can without prolapsing a disc. Once the blade is fully submerged, draw the paddle back by rotating your body, keeping your arms straight but not locked at the elbow, at chin height. The blade should exit the water roughly at your hip. Now repeat on the other side, and continue, wobbling your bottom as you go. This action requires minimum effort to attract most attention from the opposite sex.
The back paddle. A bit trickier but well worth mastering for its ability to really get the bosoms working. Hold the paddle lower and close to your naval and insert paddle blade adjacent to hip level, pushing it forward so that the blade exits just before your biceps explodes from the impossible eccentric contractions you just demanded of it. Repeat other side and continue.
Bow rudder. Good for looking like you know what you are doing as it will help you turn if capsizing or hitting other boats fail. Best executed underway, extend the paddle by moving your hands along it, and placing the long end in the water as far forward as possible on one side while looking confident and in control. (This Bowing action is how the stroke got its name) Once the blade is in the water, gently push it away from you and try not to look surprised when you turn.
Stern Rudder. Exactly the same as for the bow rudder, only this time place the blade in the water behind you and as you push it away, look like you really mean it.
Draw stroke. A pointless ungainly stroke that involves putting the paddle in the water to your side, leaning into the stroke and pulling the paddle back towards you, finishing with a rotation of the paddle in the water. If in doubt, imagine you standing are in a very large marguerita stirring the strawberries, if you stir too hard you will create a whirlpool that will suck you to the bottom of the glass, necessitating you having to drink your way out. Remember that voluntary euthanasia is not yet legal in Australia, and middle harbour lacks the flavour and appeal of a marguerita.
That’s enough to get started – once you have mastered these, you are ready to get in your kayak.
Some important features of the kayak
Kayaks generally come with Hatches (holes) and a cockpit (bigger hole)
The hatches are for storing anything that you think you might need for the time you are out, such as food, water and the kids if you can’t get a baby sitter. These provide excellent additional buoyancy. Remember additional buoyancy is provided by anything that will displace water. You can get inflatable bags to place in the hatches, personally, I prefer a mix of Moet and Russian Caviar. Whichever you choose, always check the hatches are sealed and watertight before you set out. The cockpit is the larger hole in the center of the kayak that you sit in, any other holes in the boat should be viewed with suspicion.
Sea kayaks have decklines. While these have been proven to be useful in assisted rescues, they really come into their own on long trips where launderette facilities are lacking.
Sea Kayaks also have rudders, complicated affairs that require a good deal of skill and hand foot coordination. If in doubt, forgo the rudder and attach your self to someone else using a towline.
Accessories include paddle leashes, lipstick leashes, coffee cup holders, and an in deck refrigerated cocktail bar for emergency re-hydration.
Pre departure checks
While tide and wind are important features and should not be overlooked, perhaps the most critical feature that will affect your perceived level of safety, comfort and well being, is the mood of the kayak instructor. His demeanor needs to be calm, confident and caring. He should not fall out of his boat laughing when you capsize on the beach, or as you screw yourself into the ocean floor as you attempt a shallow wet exit. If he does not regain composure within the first 30 seconds of your near drowning experience you probably need to take him to one side and beat him soundly with your paddle.
If he is jubilant and appears to be overly excited at the prospect of your lesson, you might consider feigning hydrophobia and postponing till another day. Remember, kayaking is meant to be fun — for you!