What I Learned In Kayaking Class

So I read the description and it was for a Beginning Kayaking class….and it specified flatwater kayaking.  I thought that meant long kayaks, nice and stable.  I thought class would  consist of learning good stroking technique and safety techniques and just all around be a fun time for me (who had kayaked from time to time and felt comfortable I could handle it.)  So I signed up. My friend Joanie was going to go with me, but at the last minute she ended up having to attend a funeral, so I was on my own. Which I figured was OK….I’d be with people who want to kayak for two days.  I’d have a lot in common with them.  Could it be anything but fun?    Yeah ….. in so many ways!

The first non-fun thing to happen, was there was a change of plans in class location.  (Evidently I have a CPCC email address and that’s where my email went!  I thought they were just bad communicators.)  We were supposed to start in a classroom, but I started to figure there may be an issue when I found the building, walked into the door and the burglar alarm started going off.  Having set off the alarm at the library quite a few times before, I just ignored it and went on. (That’s what my friends at the library always say to do!) I get to the classroom and the door is shut and it is dark.  So, I conclude, maybe I was supposed to go to Latta Plantation. I left the building (burglar alarm still blaring.)

On my way to my car, I run into two guys from India who were also signed up for the class.  They had just registered the day before and had been told that it would start in the classroom.  We head back towards the classroom.  Then the security guard comes, and orders us out of the building so she can turn off the alarm.  One of the guys and I left, not sure what happened to the other guy…..he didn’t come out for a long while.  When the security guard came back, she gave him a stern lecture about following orders when she spoke.  He agreed, though I didn’t believe him…..10 to 1 in the same situation, I suspect he would go his own way.

Another student shows up, she also had been given the same instructions to meet in the classroom.  We decide we need to be at Latta Plantation.  So off we all head, following her since she said she knew the way.  Turns out she sort of knew the way. We only got lost a couple of times….and in the end it was my GPS that got us there.  But that wasn’t all…Latta Plantation is a big place.  Class was not where I would have thought it would be (at the canoeing and kayaking dock.)  Finally someone got hold of a phone number for the instructor and we found out where to go.  We made our way to class.  About an hour and a half late.  But evidently we didn’t miss much.

Everyone else is geared up and ready to go to the boats.  One other woman there whispers to me “I’m glad you are here, no one else is from around here.”  She was right.  There were three American women,  but the rest of the class were interns, exchange students and au pairs from all around the world.  Besides the guys from India, we had quite a few people from Germany, some from South Africa….not sure where the rest were from.  And everyone was young.  I was oldest by 20 years.

But my aged body wasn’t what really scared and intimidated me.  It was the kayaks.  I know whitewater kayaks when I see them.  I spied them right away.  They were going to be our watercraft for the day.  No way!  If you know anything about whitewater kayaks, they are the ones with the skirts that have a tendency to land you upside down.  The skirt is so that when you do turn upside down, water won’t get in the kayak as easily. These are not the fun kayaks that you take out for an easy afternoon of paddling (I admit my prejudice here.)

So let me talk a bit about my fears….I know if you have read past blogs the list seems endless.  First of all, I HATE to be upside down.  But secondly, I’ve developed a fear of water over the past few years.  I haven’t been swimming in quite a while, and in the past few years when I have been around water I have found I have a phobia of it (and of snorkeling masks, a related but different issue.)  I become paralyzed,.  While one side of me knows I can swim, I have never been a strong swimmer, and I have never been comfortable around water when there is a large crowd.  Now I have no confidence in my ability to swim and I’m just not comfortable around water at all without a life jacket. And sometimes while in one.  The water thing is another fear that I planned to conquer.  Just not in my beginning kayaking class!

So here is the very first class exercise…..turn the kayak upside down and get out.  Yes, in the water. Deep water.  OK, not really deep water, but deep enough to flip your kayak.  Flip it on purpose. That’s upside down. Two of my major fears combined into one.  Turning over in a boat in the water, then having to get out of it when my hips were not so comfy going in.  By the way, being upside down in water is why I have never wanted to whitewater kayak.  (Well, besides the whitewater bashing that little kayak and me into oblivion.  Though to really be honest, I don’t really care that much about the demise of the kayak.) 

Thankfully Jonathan was laid back.  We didn’t have to do anything in his class we didn’t want to do.  I could not do it at all.  But ….I had to try.  It was a big fear.  Another thing to conquer and this was an opportunity.  As I put myself out there to try, I kept telling him “You need to know this scares me.  This is one of my biggest fears.”  I wanted him paying attention.  Not sure if he really listened to me as intently as I would have liked and that he really, really understood how big this was for me, but he was there, and he was encouraging, and he helped me try a few things to get over the fear until I could do it myself.  And I did.  And I survived.  Not comfortable with it really (though Jonathan noted I seemed way more calm when I did it than when I was thinking about it),  but it was OK.  (Tip from our instructor Jonathan- After your turn over, kiss the kayak, then take it off like you are taking off a pair of pants.)  My goal for the rest of the class….not to tip upside down and use my new skill.  I like kayaks, but was not ready to kiss them on an ongoing basis.  I’m just not that kind of girl.

The dynamics in the class were fascinating.  The guys from India, who couldn’t swim a lick, were a bit reticent but gained enthusiasm as the day went on.  Jonathan gave one of them (an attorney in India) a bigger sit-on-top type of kayak so he would have less chance of capsizing.  He has issues with control.  He runs into everyone.  I found his enthusiasm entertaining, but evidently the German girls did not.  They were talking about him, in German.  They did not like him one bit.  I know this not because they told me but because one of the two American girls speaks a ton of different languages, German being one of them.  She just laughed as she translated what they were saying.  They never knew she understood every word they said.  (One reason I am glad I speak English….I always assume everyone around me understands what I say, even if they are from other countries.  I know to whisper when I talk about people.)

We learn different strokes, but mostly have to work on controlling the kayaks.  It was difficult to control the little buggers, but I felt like I was doing OK   When Jonathan said it took him a year to learn how to keep it under control (he said these kayaks were not made to go straight ahead, so our issues were really with the kayaks not with us) I gained confidence.  Yeah, I think I could do it pretty well if I kept at it for a year.

There were some other issues….he told us to keep practicing these strokes that turned out kayaks all the way around.  We were supposed to do it 20 times in each direction.  I got a bit sick.  I hadn’t expected dizziness and seasickness to be things I would experience in class either.  (Note to self:  Don’t feel the need to do everything the instructor asks of you, as many times as he tells you….especially when it starts to make you nauseous.)

At the end of the day when most were leaving, Jonathan said we could stay longer and practice.  I hung out and tried getting out of the kayak underwater a few more times.  I wanted to feel confident that I could do it.  And by the end, it felt OK.  If I capsized, I was going to get out!  So Day 1 – a success.  I was exhausted, and soggy, and still feeling the effects of the dizziness, but all and all I had survived.  That was a good thing!  And boy, did I sleep that night!

Day 2 it was raining.  And no, kayaking class is not cancelled due to rain.  (I know, I know….you get wet anyway.  But still!)  With the weather, the attitudes of those in the kayaking class are somewhat altered.  The sweet young things who were so enthusiastic on Saturday, were not quite as enthusiastic on Sunday.  I actually felt a bit perkier than they did.  After lessons on dressing for the weather and gearing us all up in slickers, we hit the water. (I did think to myself I probably didn’t need this lesson.  Do I really want to kayak when it is really, really cold out?  I could handle getting wet, but cold wet?)

Jonathan decides he is going to teach us more rescue techniques.  He told me the day before he tries to do the hardest things first thing in the morning when we are all fresh.  The first techniques involved flipping our kayaks and using the kayaks of others to save yourself.  He tries to get our best student, Alex, the cute 20ish German male exchange student who was paddling like an expert, to demonstrate.  Alex says “No, I don’t want to get wet today.”  Funny to me since it was raining and we were all going to get wet.  Jonathan, who I know was frustrated by that response but who I suspect knew he wouldn’t change Alex’s mind, tries to get others to demonstrate.  Out of about 15 of us, only one wants to try anything new.  I came very, very close but decided if the 20-year olds weren’t going to try it, neither was I.  I didn’t want to be a show-off.  He lets the rest of us just paddle around and “practice.”  To show how unenthusiastic the masses were, I came from behind and beat them to “the beach.”  My enthusiasm was driven by the fact that the slicker was too darn hot…..and had to come off!!!

I think we were all a disappointment all day long.  Jonathan had wanted to go beyond the rescue techniques and work up to flipping our kayaks all away around in the water.  (Going under and then back over to the other side without leaving the kayak.)  I would have probably tried it if everyone else did.  It would be a very cool thing to accomplish.  But no one wanted to….other than one of the Indian guys who the instructor flipped over several times at the end of class.  I think he was just amazed that the guy stayed so placid throughout.  I should have tried.  Maybe that will be something for me to try another time.  And maybe not!

We take a break and they get out the sea kayaks.  Some of us could use them for our late morning excursion.  I know a good thing when I see it….sea kayaks are longer and more stable and easier to paddle.  I was in.  I picked out the pretty lime green one immediately and staked a claim.  We were supposed to kayak to a lunch spot and then have a lunch break and come back.  It started raining more, so we didn’t get that far.  So for lunch we attached our kayaks together in a straight line and just floated as we ate. At least the rain had slowed down to a drizzle.

One of the Indian guys (the banker) was next to me and he seemed very quiet and nervous every time I moved (like when I was reaching for my lunch bag in the storage.)  He insisted he get it for me.  He admitted he was having a difficult time that day and did not like the kayaks rigged together…I think perhaps he was feeling a bit seasick.  We started talking about his time in the US.  He said that in India there are so many family responsibilities, that this is his time to get to do things he will never get to do back home. Kayaking was one of those things.  Through his time in the class he had decided he was also going to learn to swim, play golf and skydive.  That was his current list.  (I invited him to our balloon festival….I figured he needed to take that experience back with him, too.) I would love to see how he changes in the next six months!  (Note:  The Indian lawyer’s first question to me was why people in this country live together and not get married.  I tried to explain….let’s just say he is probably still confused.  As some of you know, I have a difficult time with trying to answer questions for people that I perceive have delicate sensibilities.)

We end up back at the shed about 2 hours before class is supposed to end.  Jonathan says we can keep kayaking and practicing what we have learned.  All opt to leave.  Too much of a good thing, I guess.  I don’t think it was a surprise to Jonathan.  Several of his friends had already shown up to kayak with him.
I got a certificate saying I completed my class. While I learned something about kayaking, I definitely learned other things.  For example, evidently to be an au pair in America you really must be beautiful….that’s not a Hollywood stereotype; but,evidently you also have to take something like 72 hours of classes while you are here.  The au pair girls were very careful to make sure they got their class certificates so they could prove their hours.  And since the certificate didn’t originally include the hours, the instructor had to edit them slightly.  They were insistent.  If I was in the market for an au pair, I would want someone with their drive to watch my children.  I don’t think the kids would stand a  chance!

And while class wasn’t quite the fun and easy two days of paddling that I envisioned, it was good to knock another fear off my list.  The worst thing that can happen to me is not to flip over in a kayak.  The water phobia still remains, but I think that flipping my kayak and having to get out by myself helped just a bit.  And that water phobia will be further attacked in the future….and will be conquered.  There are too many fun water activities that await me….and I don’t want to miss out on that part of living life.

Oh….and though I missed church this weekend, I got a repeat of the lesson that God really does deliver us from our fears.  Even under water, upside down, and with big hips about the width of the kayak.  It’s a lesson I suspect that I will be taught again and again until I really get it!


  1. Yeah, I am pretty much a mess. But they're better acknowledged and conquered! You and I need to take one of the cooking classes at A Southern Season one of these weekends. We would have a blast!


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