Initiating our newest team member, Courtney into kayaking this summer was not just for orientation,KayakinsHere is Courtney’s take on that first wet exit experience….

How to become a whitewater kayaker…

“How can you work at Endless and not be a kayaker?” People often ask me. I normally laugh a little and tell whomever is asking “I am working on that one”.

Having grown up on an island in northern Minnesota, I am not a stranger to water and most things water related. From taking a boat across the lake to catch the bus when I was in school to canoe trips in the B.W.C.A., I was pretty confident that I could knock this kayaking business out no problem. Ha!

One day in early June last summer, Juliet asked me if I would be up for a day of instruction with her and Joe Ravenna, I was excited at the prospect of finally trying it out and happily agreed.

The day of my instruction came, after a quick check of the office email, Joe, Juliet and I headed out to turn me into a paddler. As we drove up to Queen’s lake, Joe and Juliet gave me a run down of how they day would go. First we would get me comfortable being in the boat-in the water-upside down, then teach me how to wet exit, work on some paddle strokes and rescue techniques. Depending on how the morning went after lunch we’d head to the Little T and get me out on the river.

By the time we got to the lake, my confidence was slowly diminishing but, I was gonna do this one way or another. I got in the boat and Juliet stood next to me in waist deep water, next thing I know, I am being water-boarded, WNC style…

Juliet was great about talking me through what was happening and kept reassuring me that she was right there and I would be ok. No matter how hard I tried to keep it shut, every time my head went under, my mouth opened and in went the lake water. By this point in my morning, I am wishing that I was back in the confines of the shop listening to Ken keep things running and fighting off O-dog’s relentless requests for a snack. Back to paddling, I am fighting off tears and trying to stay calm, I’m not going to let Joe Ravenna see me cry. We spent some time working on my ‘wet exit’, and not to toot my own horn but, I’m pretty darn good at that now. A lesson in paddle strokes and boat maneuvering and we were heading to the opposite shore of the lake.

As we paddled across the lake, Joe and Juliet praised me at how well I was doing and talked me through the steps of a bow rescue, the next skill I was going to learn. At this point in the day, I am feeling ok about this paddling nonsense and have convinced myself that by the end of the month I’ll be running the Nantahala. Three bow rescues, one successful and two failed, later and it’s time for lunch.

As we headed back down the mountain, I sat in the back of the mini-van and brainstormed ways to get out of the whole fiasco. It was oh so obvious to me that I am way too big of a pansy for this and I should just quit while I ahead. No such luck. We grabbed lunch from the Burger Basket (check it out if you have not been, it’s just down the road from the shop) and headed to the Little T. A pep talk from Juliet and a lesson in how to ‘ferry an eddy’ and we are off. Again Juliet had assured me that she would be only seconds away from me as we went down the river and Joe gave me a ‘your doing really well pep talk’. I think by this point, they were fully aware of how much I was not into this nonsense. I had been given the option to call it a day but there was no way I was backing out now.

I have no idea how far I actually paddled down the river, but I know that I did it shrieking like a toddler, I was terrified but I toughed it out and made it to the take out. I was pretty quiet on the ride back to shop and did not have much to say about my experience when asked by co-workers, I had done my best to convince myself that I was never going to get in a boat again.

A few weeks later, I was hanging out with Danny, a fellow co-worker after work and out of nowhere I say “If Ken will let me borrow a boat, will you go take me to the lake?” What the heck is wrong with me? Both Ken and Juliet looked a little surprised when I popped my head into the office and asked if I could borrow a boat. “Of course you can” was their response, later Danny told me that he was told,”He better hurry before I change my mind about going paddling”.

So there we are at the lake, I’m in a boat, Danny is standing in the water next to me and our dogs swimming circles around us. We spent the evening working on my paddle strokes, hip snap and my least favorite, the wet exit. I went home that night, with my hopes of being a white water kayaker renewed and was pretty darn proud of myself. Danny and I had made plans to go out again soon and I was looking forward to it.

Soon, came a little longer than expected and it was almost a month before I was in a boat again. We decided to paddle the Tuck through town and then have dinner at the Mexican restaurant. I think the offer of food was merely a bribe on Danny’s part. We put in at Island park and everything was going well, we were playing around and having a great time, until I decided that I should work on my hip snap with Danny a little way down river from me. What happened after this is all really a blur still. But I can tell you that not only were my nose and mouth full of water so was my boat, by the time Danny made it over to right me and there was no way to hold those tears in. One look at me and Danny announced we were done and I agreed without hesitation.

I have not been back in a boat since. But I am not giving up. Once it’s warm again, I’ll spend my evenings at the lake with friends, co-workers or any one who wants to help me with this. I’m lucky to know people like Juliet, Joe and Danny, who have been so patient with me and who after all of this are still encouraging.

I am not a whitewater kayaker, yet, but I am going to be one.