A Day on the Water

By: Maggie Harling

Tried something new today…sea kayaking! I was very nervous before I went. My husband has just retired and we have moved to coastal Maine. He made all the arrangements. We went with a friend of a friend who teaches this activity in Castine, Maine. He was very frank with her about our abilities( his – strong swimmer, no experience; mine – also strong swimmer, one time lake kayaking, profound balance issues, poor eyesight, left arm and leg weakness). As I said, I was very nervous about going, but I was really happy to be included and determined to give it a try.

I had tried kayaking once before, two summers ago on Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester. That time I was very hampered by the weakness in my left hand which did not allow me to keep a constant grasp of the paddle. One of my teachers helped a lot by giving me a paddle that had a sort of handhold for just this situation. Unfortunately, even with the special paddle, I couldn’t develop any consistent rhythmic stroke and all I remember of that day is splashing about, going nowhere, and getting very tired. I remember thinking “this is not for me”.

When we arrived in Castine today, I was afraid the situation would be no different. I was afraid we would go out, I would splash a lot, get exhausted, and then my husband would have to take over maneuvering our kayak. In the future, I thought, he would be the sea kayaker and I would be left on the shore trying to pretend I preferred it that way.

Our teacher, Karen, turned out to be a lovely lady. She helped me walk down the beach, and then proceeded to give us an extensive safety briefing once I was installed in the front of a two-person kayak. No, she didn’t know of the specialized paddle I had used before, but she thought she could probably rig something up if it proved necessary. Her rules, she said, included “no whining”. She showed us how to brace our feet, keep our knees bent and she explained how to straighten our leg on the ipsilateral side and turn from the waist when we took a stroke.

maggie kayaking

Off we went. My husband was in the back trying to organize his stroke, while I was in front trying to manage the paddle, splashing about and getting very tired. “Oh, Oh” I thought “This feels very familiar”. Karen noticed my distress and suggested we pull into shore for a rest. While we were there, she fashioned a system that might help me stabilize my hand. It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t very comfortable, but it worked! Once we set off again I had a firm grasp on the paddle and now I could concentrate on integrating my stroke with the leg movements. After a while I realized I was getting it…we were moving forward smoothly and I was no longer splashing. Suddenly I really began to enjoy the ride. It was a beautiful day and the sun lit up the harbor. As we skirted an island we saw a huge deer foraging along the shore. A seal popped up it’s head a few feet from our kayak. We navigated our way around some gnarly old fishing boats and I was helping to steer!

When we pulled into shore I felt exhilarated. It’s funny, after all that exercise I thought I should have felt exhausted, but I didn’t. I felt like I could go out and do it all again!

That’s really the reason I’ve told you all this lengthy story. I’ve noticed more than once now that if I try something that feels like it’s going to be too difficult, and I succeed, the payback in exhilaration is beyond measure. Sure, I try some things that I just can’t do, but if you’re patient, and find a good teacher who’s really interested in helping you succeed, you might be surprised!


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