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Starting Out

Between a Rock and a Hard Place—Another Way to Get into Your Kayak

By Tamia Nelson

It's like I've said before: you step into a canoe, but you put a kayak on. In an earlier article for GuideLines, I described the most common method. It's usually referred to as the "paddle-bridge," and it works well, but it also requires that you have a wide, gently-sloping launch area.

Unfortunately, not all the world's a beach. Occasionally you have to launch in a slot between two rocks, for example. What do you do then? Well, you can attempt a paddle-bridge there, too, stepping off from one rock and resting your blade on the other. But suppose that the rocks are swept by gentle surf or by wake-generated waves. Then you'll find yourself bouncing up and down, while you struggle to keep your paddle on the rock and your kayak in the slot. That's not easy. Often it's impossible. What do you do next?

How about "squat-and-scoot"? That's what I call it, anyway. It won't work everywhere, and it will give you a few new scratches on your boat every time you use it, but it's another tool in your tool-box. Sometimes it's the only tool that works.

Here's how it's done. Line your boat up in the slot, with your bow pointing inland. With luck, you'll be able to float the stern. Now straddle your boat, placing your feet close to the rear edge of the cockpit. Next, squat, holding on to the front of the cockpit coaming with one hand. (If you have your paddle clipped into a bracket, you can use both hands.) Once your butt's hovering over the rear deck, look over your shoulder, just to make sure that no monster wave's headed your way and that Jaws isn't lurking offshore. All clear? Good. Kick off with your feet while you pull back with your hand(s), and plop your bum into the seat as it scoots by beneath you.

Squat and Scoot!

Once you're afloat, get your paddle in the water. Then, when you're clear of the shore, brace and tuck your legs in where they belong, one at a time. You're done.

Easy? Not really. But practice makes perfect. Begin with your boat floating in shallow water. (You'll get your feet wet, but so what!) When you've got the timing right, you're ready to graduate to a real shoreline launch.

Once you're on the beach, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Squat-and-scoot is a Very Bad Idea in dumping surf. You don't want a big, breaking wave hammering your chin down onto your bow deck, do you? Not likely! If you have to launch through big waves—and this is Experts Only country—you want to be facing out. At least you'll be able to see what's coming.

There's another thing to remember. Some kayaks have such small cockpits that even an Olympic gymnast would have a hard time tucking her legs in once she's afloat. In this case, about all you can do is sit on the rear deck while you squeeze your legs into place, and then hunch and wiggle your way forward until you can get your butt in the seat. DON'T try this with a fiberglass kayak, though. Not many have decks that are strong enough. (In fact, I'm not sure I'd risk it in some plastic boats, either, unless their decks were supported by a wall or by tightly-packed gear bags.) You'll probably also need some sort of external prop while you're balancing on the rear deck and struggling to tuck your feet in. If the water's shallow, you may be able to use your paddle, held vertically. If not—if, for example, the water's not shallow, or if there's any surf to speak of—look for someplace else to launch.

OK. It takes some practice, and it isn't particularly graceful, but squat-and-scoot sometimes works when nothing else will. You can't have too many tools in your tool-box, can you? 'Nuff said.

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