Saturday, May 8, 2010
I made my first attempt at white water kayaking today. BCO arranged a Kayaking 101 class with Olympian Ben Kvanli at Power Olympic Outdoor Center in San Marcos. He's an amazingly patient teacher.
We had to practice what to do if our kayaks tipped before we could head down the river. You're supposed to tuck close to the kayak and knock on the boat to signal someone to come and flip you back up. The first time I kayaked on a lake and had to flip my kayak I had an asthma attack, I think probably because of the sudden change of temperature, so I was extremely nervous. I hoped one of the assistant instructors would help me because I didn't want to look stupid in front of Ben. No such luck.
I think he has asthma! He said he avoids cold places for that reason and suggested I relax and swallow when I first come up instead of immediately taking a breath. It helped! He also only turned my kayak halfway for a short moment the first time so when we did it for real it wouldn't be such a shock. It worked. I flipped my kayak, knocked on the hull, then he flipped me back up and reminded me about the swallowing trick. No asthma attack. So far so good.
Next, we had to practice a wet exit. We were wearing spray skirts which attach to a lip around the opening to the cockpit to seal water out. The first time I tried a wet exit, I couldn't get the skirt off the kayak. I had to knock on the hull to get him to flip me back up. He said, "You realize you are stuck with me this entire trip now? You and I are joined at the hip." That made me feel a little embarrassed but much safer. He showed me how to grasp the grab loop with both hands and pull up while pushing back with your legs and use your entire body to get free, then waited patiently while I practiced a few times upright and psyched myself up to try again.
We headed down the river and practiced a few paddling strokes. I've paddled kayaks on the lake before, so I think I did pretty well. Then we got to the rapids. San Marcos has a waterpark with a series of three man-made waterfalls perfect for kayaking. The first one looked to me like a scary drop almost straight down. The two people who went just before me stalled on the rocks and flipped. I wanted to make sure I didn't stall so I paddled hard to get up some speed when it was my turn. I went down with no problem. Ben was at the bottom videotaping and yelling, "That was awesome, Jennifer! Way to charge that drop!" Yay! That was fun. At this point I wasn't feeling embarrassed any more.
The second rapid required us to leave the calm water of an eddy into fast moving water flowing in the opposite direction, then line ourselves up to go down the center of the small waterfall. I started out great. I lined myself up to enter the white water, raised the right side of my kayak with my right knee like we practiced, then my kayak spun backwards. When I was turning it back around, I didn't lift the correct side of the boat and over I went. I knocked on the hull and waited for someone to flip me back up. No one came. I knocked again. Still nothing. I'm sure they'll be here any minute. I knock and wait some more. Where is my joined-at-the-hip instructor? I finally decided enough was enough and performed my wet exit which I am very grateful to have spent so much time practicing. The darn spray skirt wouldn't come off easily the first time I tried. I grabbed it a second time and kicked with both feet while yanking with both arms and I was free.
When I popped back up there were instructors all around me asking if I was okay, chasing my boat and paddle, pointing me towards shore, and telling me how well I handled myself. I knew I was upside down for a while but I had no idea I had traveled the entire length of the rapids and down the waterfall upside down. My hero was on the bank shooting video. I did see on the tape that at least four instructors were right next to me trying to get in position to flip me up. They said it was rare for someone to be upside down that long and not panic.
After lunch I decided to call it a day and didn't run the second half of the course. I'd had enough excitement for one day. I'll try again another time. Ben promises to be there immediately if I flip again. I teased him for not putting down the damn camera and saving me, but it does make a great story. If I get a copy of the video as promised, I'll try to post it here.