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Bending Branches

Starting Out

Best Foot Forward—Getting into (and Out of) Your Kayak

By Tamia Nelson

Canoe or kayak—one difference is immediately apparent. You step into a canoe, but you put a kayak on. Until you've settled down in your seat, a kayak is a tender, skittish beast. If you try to enter one in the same way you'd enter a canoe, a swim is almost a certainty.

So how do you do it, then?

First, recall the canoeists' two rules: stay centered and keep your weight low. That's not much of a problem, is it? Given the size of most kayak cockpits, you'd have to work hard not to stay centered. As for keeping your weight low—well, that's the hallmark of the kayak, isn't it? You're practically sitting on the floor!

Right. Once you're in, you're in, at least until you blow a brace, meet a monster wave, or misjudge the location of a rock. It's the business of getting in that makes things interesting. Entering a kayak is a little like putting on a tight pair of jeans while you're still in your sleeping bag. It can be done, but it isn't exactly straightforward. And it takes a little planning.

The best way for beginners to approach the task—and this method works for old hands, too—is probably the "paddle-bridge" approach. Simply put, you float your boat out in shallow water, and rest one blade of your paddle flat on the shore. The paddle shaft goes across your rear deck, just behind (never on!) the cockpit coaming. Next, you squat beside your boat, grab the paddle shaft and coaming in one hand while gripping the shaft lower down with the other, and—supporting your weight more or less evenly on both hands—shove one leg forward into the cockpit. Then, as your butt slides over the seat, you pick the other leg up and tuck it in beside the first.

That's it. You're done! All that remains now is for you to balance your paddle on the front deck—or clip it into your paddle-park—while you fit your spray skirt.

Confused? I'm not surprised. Farwell wrote well over a thousand words trying to describe this slight-of-hand maneuver in an early In the Same Boat piece, and I don't think he was at all happy with the result. On the principle that one picture's worth at least a thousand words, I'll make use of a visual aid, instead:

Put Your Best Foot Forward!

Does that help? I thought it would. Getting out, of course, simply involves running the tape back. In or out, it's not as awkward as it seems. Try it a few times someplace where you're not likely to be bounced around by the wash from a jet-ski, and you'll soon get the knack.

But suppose you're on a flat, wave-swept beach. What do you do then? Simple. If the waves aren't too big—and unless you're already out of your apprenticeship, you don't belong anywhere near really big waves—you just park your kayak facing out, far enough down the beach so that the wash of the next biggish wave will lift you off the sand. Now get in, and wait for a wave with your name on it to float you off to your next adventure. If you misjudge, and find yourself high and dry (and if you don't mind a few scratches on your boat), you can hump your way down the beach toward the water, supporting your weight on the knuckles of both hands, or on one hand and the blade of your paddle, held vertically.

It isn't very graceful, I admit, but then entering and leaving a kayak seldom is. Once you're on the water, though, your boat will be in its element. That's what really counts, isn't it? 'Nuff said.

Copyright 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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More Articles

 • Getting In and Out of Your Kayak
 • Another Way to Get into Your Kayak
 • Proper Positioning in Your Kayak
 • Recreational Kayaking in Current
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