October 30, 2020

Kayaking: A fun way to enjoy Cayman’s crystal waters

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A kayak is a small boat that traditionally has a covered deck and one or more cockpits. Sometimes a skirt or spraydeck covers the cockpit so as to prevent entry by water caused by waves or spray. It also makes it possible to roll the kayak – to capsize and right it – without any water filling the boat or throwing out the passenger. Some modern kayaks have modified the traditional design in various ways, such as: eliminating the cockpit by seating the paddler on top of the boat (“sit-on-top” kayaks); having inflated air chambers surrounding the boat; and replacing paddles with other propulsion methods, such as foot-powered “flippers”. Kayaking is using a kayak for moving across water.

Our Publisher, Joan Wilson, at the sprightly age of 77, goes kayaking. She used to have one in her backyard until Hurricane Ivan took off in it and disappeared forever. It is fun, even for a beginner like me.

The only equipment you need apart from the kayak is an approved lifejacket and a quality double bladed paddle.

First, you will want to learn a forward stroke – the paddle stroke used to propel the kayak in a straight, forward motion.  Begin this stroke while sitting correctly in your kayak.  Lean forward just a little, holding the paddle firmly with both hands.  Keep your left elbow bent with that hand level with your chin as you extend your right arm completely, placing the right paddle blade into the water.  The blade should enter the water slightly in front of your body, near the position of your feet.

Use your entire body as you paddle, rotating your upper body with the movement of the paddle blades.  Use this movement to push the right blade through the water, moving it back toward you, parallel to the boat.  Stop the blade once it reaches your hip and quickly pull it out of the water.  At the same time, you will need to reposition the paddle so the left blade is ready to enter the water.  Now, you will want to bend your right arm while fully extending your left arm and repeat the same process.

The reverse stroke is used to move your kayak backwards and is very similar to the forward stroke, only reversed. Begin the reverse stroke on your right side, placing the right paddle blade in the water at your hip.  Keeping your left arm straight and your left hand near the centre of the deck, bend your right arm and push the paddle forward.  Move the blade in the direction you are moving, extending your right arm as you bend the left, and ending the stroke when the blade reaches your feet.  You will then take the right blade out of the water as you reposition your paddle, continuing the same process on the left side.

There are a few different paddling strokes that can be used to steer your kayak, but most kayakers find that the bow sweep helps keep the boat stable as it turns.  To make a left turn using the bow sweep, you will want to straighten your right arm while turning your body slightly to the left, keeping your left arm bent.  Begin to move your body to the right as you propel the blade through the water in an arc away from the boat.  At the same time, straighten your left arm and bend the right, stopping the stroke near your hip.  This paddling stroke will turn your kayak quickly, without loosing speed, and will usually keep the kayak stable.

When you get really proficient you can take your kayak on vacation and go ‘whitewater kayaking’. You just take your kayak down rapids, weirs and waterfalls. Supposedly this is exciting – I can describe it as terrifying. We practice ocean kayaking in our lovely waters and it is best to use the shorter of the paddles available.

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