Kayaking Lake Michigan with REI

I kept falling into the water. That wasn’t the plan, but between my shaky balance and the squirreliness of the kayak, it became inevitable.

This past weekend, my son and I joined the REI Outdoor School for an introductory course on open water kayaking. The class was based in Chicago’s Jackson Harbor, and it really is an ideal location for an open water class.

Kayaking Lake Michigan with REI

We launched into the calm inner harbor, with minimal boat traffic and room to practice our strokes. Once people became comfortable, we headed into the outer harbor, with more open water, swells from Lake Michigan, and a beach for resting. We started with a relay race between two teams and then worked on backwards paddling and stopping. This is when I first tipped the kayak.

The Wilderness Systems Tempest 170 is a beautiful boat and, for most people, a decent kayak to check out open water kayaking. For me, as a big guy with some balance issues, it became increasingly hard to maintain my equilibrium as I got tired. It didn’t help that my first “rescue” involved a newbie instructor who wasn’t totally sure on the proper steps to get me back in the boat. This entailed making several attempts, which started me down the road of losing energy.

Kayaking Lake Michigan with REI

After a break on the beach, we headed out to open water through the harbor channel – the water was a semi-confused mess, with waves and wakes bouncing off the cement walls. At first it was fun, and I did okay when facing into the waves and heading out, but when we stopped, the troubles began. It had taken a lot of energy for me to brace myself in the kayak and maintain balance on the way out, and I was TIRED. So, when we stopped and I got turned sideways to the waves, I flipped yet again.

On the positive side, I was becoming an expert on getting back in the kayak, but each successive rescue sapped some energy, as did the stress of my clenched muscles. At the first opportunity, I headed back to the beach to relax and decide whether I wanted to continue. In the past, I would have stubbornly struggled on, but at my age, the experience is more about learning and enjoying myself and less about proving how tough I am. So I decided to have my son tow my kayak back in and walk back to our starting location. In the meantime, I enjoyed sitting on the beach in the sun, hearing the waves and feeling the pleasant effects of a mild breeze.

Kayaking Lake Michigan with REI

Class time was up and I told our instructor the plan. He suggested that, rather than walk back, I let my son use a tow rope to tow both me and the kayak. (Another student was also struggling, so it was suggested we raft up and have him tow us both in.) Since my son was amenable, I decided it was worth a shot and off we went. With another kayak rafted up, it was easy going, especially with my son doing al the hard work of paddling us in (what a stud).

Overall, I really enjoyed this class, feel confident in getting back into a kayak after falling out, and plan on getting more experience. In a few weeks, I’ll be heading for a day at the new Paddlesports Retailer, and I’ll be talking to Wilderness Systems and other kayak companies on which boat is most appropriate for someone like me.

 


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