Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Time To Plan For Winter:
To Paddle or Not To Paddle,
That Is The Question
It is that time of year when virtually all recreational and a surprisingly high percentage of sea kayakers pack it in until spring. For some it is a matter of discomfort, and that discomfort is usually around the low temperatures and/or the paddlers' assessments of their skills.

No one on this planet dislikes being cold more than myself, and I had never had a really decent winter where I got outside for enough exercise until I took up long distant running. Legs were left bear until the temperatures went below freezing. When it was truly cold, we wore layers that we could shed and tie around our waists as we generated heat like a bunch of nuclear reactors. When I lost the ability to run, I stayed in. I tried cross country skiing, but the leg wouldn't take it. Then I got into kayaking and was unwilling to let this new found gem go during the winter. Instead, I learned how to dress for it, something any paddler can learn. Still, some just don't feel comfy out there in 32F water.
That's where skill and knowledge come in handy. In fact, they are mandatory if one is to paddle safely...anytime. The problem that I see here is that many paddlers never increase their skill levels, not even year to year. They attain some level of competence and then paddle once in a while and only in conditions in which they are 100% comfortable. Come winter, we see them only at the coffee shop after a paddle.
As I've written here many times before, in order to improve one must train; and the main principle of training is to push the system a bit under controlled conditions and then let the system heal to a stronger level. In paddling, that translates to going out in conditions slightly challenging to your present level and confidence along side some paddlers who are very comfortable in those conditions. That, in turn, brings us to the principle of safety in numbers.

When deck lines and paddle floats are covered with ice, when shifting ice flows can come in and block what was your launch site, when one launches off an ice shelf and has to get back out the same way there is no substitute for skilled companionship and group wisdom. There is the opportunity to discuss options, to plan and, when it is the wisest decision, to leave the boats on the cars and head for coffee. But, if you never get out there in challenging conditions, you will never get out there in challenging conditions. If you never paddle in the cold, you will never paddle in the cold.

(p.s. Anyone know what ever happened to Wendy Killoran?)

Paddle safe...


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