Wet Exit

Last summer the brains behind this paper asked me to write a column (partially due to the fact that they wouldn’t have to pay me anything – just kidding, guys). Of course, I told them I’d be happy to. We’ve been good friends sinced college and the cumulative effort within these pages seems natural. Let me say right away that I have not been schooled in journalism, and do not by any means claim to be a fantastic writer. My goal in this column is simply to convey my enthusiasm about sea kayaking to you, the person who picks up the Pulse.

Water sports are very dear to the hearts of many who inhabit this peninsula each summer. Let’s face it, Door County is paradise if you are a water freak like me. It contains more shoreline than any other county in the lower forty-eight and its geographic position places it in an ideal spot for consistent winds. Because of this, sailing has been, and continues to be the focal point of the peninsula’s aquatic sport draw. And where there are strong winds you can be sure that the windsurfing wind-junkies are not far behind, if not already there. Other aquatic options on the peninsula include power boats and jet skis, which have made their prescence known particularly over the last decade. Swimming canoeing and scuba diving are also popular; and finally those goofy paddle boats and water bikes that the state park rents at the beach. I have tried all of these and have chosen sea (or open water) kayaking for reasons which I am sure will become clear through this column.

I grew up canoeing and camping the boundary waters of northern Minnesota and even though I had a blast, I always considered the crafts a little too bulky. I never liked the idea of all of my gear being exposed to the elements or the necessity of a partner to paddle. On the other hand, sea kayaking intrigued me because of its simplicity and maneuverability. So when I was first introduced to the sport on a National Outdoor Leadership School course in 1988, I felt that I had found a craft designed for me. My group spent three months in the waters of Baja, California and I was hopelessly hooked. Upon my return, I continued my involvement with the sport and a few years later came up with enough money to purchase my own boat. From then on it has become an obsession which anyone who knows me can attest to.

So what makes it so great? For me it comes down to one word: freedom. A sea kayak can be maneuvered into places where almost all other water craft cannot. Also, weather in which other boats head for the harbor is the signal for fun and adventure for an experienced paddler. The sea kayaker depends upon nothing but his physical abilities. There are no motors involved, no launching fees and no gas to buy. The paddler is accountable only to himself once he or she hits the water. Kayaking affords the participant a singleness of purpose that few other sports offer. It is a goal to goal oriented activity, such as crossing a channel safely or making it over the next approaching wave. All I need to experience freedom is my boat and a body of water, and that is what makes it so appealing to me.

Do not confuse sea kayaking with its cousin whitewater kayaking. Whitewater paddling is performed on rivers, while sea kayaking ensues on open water. Also, its primary function is recreation due to the limited boat capacity. Conversely, sea kayaking is done on open bodies of water and was first designedfor its use as a unting aid, as well as transportation. The water tight bulkheads fore and aft are designed to carry supplies and this allows the paddler the ability to make extended trips into the wilderness. Both forms of kayaking can be experienced at the beginner level, however each demands years of experience to master.

Many people seem confused when I tell them that I sea kayak in the Midwest. Yes, I realize that no formal “sea” exists here, but believe me, the Great Lakes can get as nasty as the rest of the world’s waters. The majority of the time the waters here are calm, but I have seen some truly terrifying conditions on both Bay and Lake sides of the peninsula. One of my favorite pastimes is actually chasing these unfavorable conditions, searching for the strongest winds harmonious with the biggest waves. One high point of mine last year was a day in September at Cave Point. The waves were coming in incredibly high from the southeast and reflecting off the point, creating an intense pattern to negotiate. I’m sure the people on shore that day had their own opinion of my activities and sanity, but believe me it was a blast. The waters of the peninsula are diverse both in roughness and temperature; constituting part of the draw for many paddlers. The other portion of the draw is obvious: Door County is simply one of the most beautiful and serene places in America.

There are a lot of fears and misconceptions surrounding the sport of kayaking. The most common is flipping the boat and not being able to get out. This is something that I can assure you is not a problem, if you have basic water skills, such as swimming. Although at times there doesn’t seem to be any way to convince skeptics otherwise (but I do my best). Another common query I come across is why someone would want to cram themselves inside a tiny craft and repeat the same motion with their paddle for hours on end. To this I have no explanation other than if you like it, you like it! It is unlike any other sport and must be experienced first-hand to appreciate. The look on a first-time kayaker’s face after he or she has just completed their first paddle is a wonderful sight to behold; this is a big part of why instructing is so much fun for me.

Obsession is not always a bad thing. In my case, I have found a sport that consumes my thoughts and a great deal of time, but simultaneously affords me exercise, solitude and self respect. I have always been a compulsive person and through this sport have found a way to channel this energy. The mental and physical focus involved with sea kayaking is why many enjoy the sport of sea kayaking. My love of this sport stems largely from the feeling of serenity that I receive every time I set out to paddle. A big part of respecting myself requires pushing my physical abilities on a consistent basis and this sport gives me all the challenge I need.

One of my favorite authors on the subject of kayaking, Derek Hutchinson, points out that the same stretch of water can be paddled on a daily basis, but the conditions may change just as often, affording the paddler a new experience each time he or she sets out. Searching for that perfect paddling day never gets boring.

I’m a person who values solitude a great deal and the waters of Door County afford me plenty of this each summer. I tend to do my best thinking when alone and on the water; nearly every inch of this county’s shoreline facilitates this condition. It is the combination of serenity and exercise that I look forward to each time I place my boat in the water.

The best way to introduce yourself to sea kayaking is through a reputable group (such as Kayaking Adventures here in Door County) or an experienced friend. Like many sports involving risk, inexperienced participants or those who push their abilities to a dangerous level are the ones who get hurt. Any questions on the sport may be directed to the paper c/o Phil Arnold or EMAIL at [email protected]. Until then, if you happen to spot a guy in a white kayak with a big smile on his face, you’ll know who it is.