Kayaking: Escape for the mind, exercise for the body

April 2018 Posted in Sports, Your Health
Silver Lake, WA

Kayaking on Silver Lake in Washington. CHRIS MAYOU

By Melissa Wagoner

Escaping from the stress of the daily grind just might be as easy as climbing into a kayak, pushing off from shore and letting the worries of the day float away.

“It gives me this peace,” Dawn Taylor, who works as a director of childcare for the State of Oregon, said. “It’s an escape to check out.”

Taylor, who has been kayaking for the past five years, got into the sport when a friend took her out.

“I was hooked,” she said. “It’s cheap, easy and quiet.”

Cynthia Gregory who, like Taylor, was born and raised in Silverton, also started kayaking as a way to relieve stress.
“I was looking for something to do that would help quiet my life from the ‘busyness’ and stresses of work and caring for elderly family members and get me close to nature, and something close to water,” she said. “I’ve always felt at home on or in water.”

Although both Gregory and Taylor are extremely comfortable in the water, not all kayakers are swimmers. Some even use kayaking as a way to overcome
their fears.

Silvertonian Chris Mayou, who does not enjoy swimming, was able to work around her discomfort in the water by investing in a good floatation device and starting out close to shore. She also suggests that beginners utilize the many resources and safety classes available.

“A friend and I went to a swimming pool and we practiced getting into our kayaks,” she said.

Now, five years after her first kayaking trip with her brothers, she is out on the water for several hours twice a week. She has also kayaked the San Juan Islands with a kayaking club and is an administrator for the Facebook group  Flatwater Kayak Paddling Oregon, one of the many internet resources for both avid kayakers and those looking to break into the sport.

Cassandra Portner, the children’s librarian at the Stayton Library, also utilizes the internet as a way to connect with other kayakers and learn more about the sport.

“The first year I paddled I started to call it ‘Church of the Double-Bladed Paddle,’” she said. “A few friends joked that they’d join that church. I started the Facebook group in 2011.”

The group, wildly popular, currently numbers nearly 25,000 members and has garnered Portner invitations to kayak all over the world; “[f]rom Norway to Tasmania, and in almost every state in the U.S., plus the provinces of Canada,” she listed. “It’s my dream to make a paddling pilgrimage someday.”

According to Portner one of the greatest things about kayaking is its accessibility, regardless of age and gender, and
Gregory agrees.

“Everyone, including kids, can and should kayak,” she said. “Take a guided tour or class with a supportive group to help teach water safety and self-rescue. Kayaks are incredibly stable and easy to use and whether you use a sit-on-top sport kayak or a touring kayak, you’ll find fun and interesting places to go.”

Because kayaking involves a minimum number of accessories, finding the right kayak is paramount. Sit-on-top, sit-in, long or short are all questions that need to be addressed before purchasing what will be not only the most expensive item, but also the most important.

“Sit-on-tops are not as agile and you’re going to get wet,” Taylor said, who uses her open-air craft as an opportunity to get some sun. “It’s where you want to go and what you want to do.”

Mayou agreed. She uses her eight foot sit-in paired with a dry suit to kayak year-around. She suggests that anyone looking at entering the sport visit one of the many outdoor stores in the area that allow customers to try before they buy.

“There are too many kayaks that don’t have good floatation and they will sink,” she cautioned.

Boats, paddles and life jackets – all can get very expensive but Taylor and Mayou agreed that they can often be obtained through resale avenues and estimate the entire package at around $300 – $400.

“I think it can be a really inexpensive sport to get into,” Mayou said. “Once you have your equipment you don’t have a lot more cost.”

Relaxing, but also a great workout, kayaking is an excellent way to break out of the daily exercise grind.

“Personally I lost quite a bit of weight and went from sedentary to active and got off of medications for cholesterol and high blood pressure,” Portner enthused. “Kayak has changed my life in a thousand ways.”

It has also changed the lives of many of her group followers, including some recovering from heart attacks and cancers who focused on paddling as an additional way of healing their bodies and minds.

“It’s a meditation plus the beauty, plus the wildlife, plus the sky and the clouds, but most of all the holiness of the water,” Portner said.

All four of the women agree that no matter what gets kayakers out on the water, it’s getting out there that counts.

“Paddle your best boat the best you can,” Portner said in one of her “sermons.”

“Always want a better boat until there are no better boats for you. Gain skills the way that works for you, but keep on gaining skills until there are no better skills for you.”

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