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The Joys of Kayaking

Posted by on June 16, 2013

Aaron in Kayak cropped

Tomorrow is Father’s Day! The weather in the Pacific Northwest is supposed to be beautiful, so I am hoping to get some time on the water kayaking. Kayaking is one of my favorite activities. I am not an adrenaline junkie type who likes shooting white water on rivers. I am a nature lover type who likes paddling on the salt water. I love the serenity and inner peace that gracefully gliding along the water as part of the natural environment gives me. I always look at the power boaters in their big, noisy crafts and shake my head because they do not know what they are missing. Ocean kayaking is about the simple joy of being outdoors observing the wonders around you. Every trip is a unique exploration into another world.

After reading the book, the Starship and the Canoe, I really wanted to take up ocean kayaking. There is a certain romantic explorer feel to the kayak that no other vessel emulates. They are sleek and efficient marvels of engineering. Their design has been honed over generations of trial and error making them perfectly suited as human powered water craft.

Kayaks are distinct vessels that were invented by the Eskimos of North America over 4,000 years ago. They are not canoes. The word kayak translates from Inupiat as “man’s boat” or “hunter’s boat.” They were very personal items especially made by each man of the village for hunting. They would go out alone or in groups to hunt seals, sea lions, and even whales. Amazingly, they braved freezing waters with waves, ice, and predators in all types of weather. Without their kayaks, the Eskimos could not have survived in the arctic regions. Therefore, their kayaks were their most prized possessions.

They were traditionally made from a frame of bone covered with stretched animal skins. Since the Eskimo peoples had no written language, kayak building techniques were orally passed down from father to son each generation. Today, kayaks are made from plastics, fiber-glass, Kevlar, and wood. They can seat one, two, or three people. However, they all still resemble their forefather crafts of generations ago. Few kayakers make their own boats anymore, though.

Keeping with Eskimo tradition, I decided I really wanted to build my own kayak. However, I had never built a boat of any type before. So, I began researching kayak building techniques in my spare time. To my surprise, one of the premier kayak designers is headquartered right here in my backyard, Pygmy Kayaks. Pygmy sells kayak kits that you build. I took a trip to Port Townsend, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula to check them out. As soon as I stepped in their shop, I was hooked. Their kayaks are gorgeous pieces of functional art!

I dreamed of building and paddling my own kayak for a few years. Then, one Father’s Day eight years ago, my family really surprised me with a very special present, a Pygmy kayak kit! The model is called an Osprey. This particular Osprey has three cockpits, one for me and one for each of our sons, Aaron and Elijah. It is 20 feet long with a rudder, so a sizeable kayak. I was beyond thrilled. Over six months later and a trashed garage and a few stressful moments, an authentic home built kayak emerged. Building my own kayak adds a certain pride and personalization to the craft. Even better, Aaron and I built it together. It was a true father and son project. We adorned it with an inlaid design of an Orca with the sun, moon, and stars. We burnt its name in to the bow, Orcas Dreams, as a final Christening gesture.

We have paddle many places in the area. There is even a Northwest Discovery Water Trail that avid paddlers can follow with boat in only camping areas along the shore. You experience things in a kayak that you could never do in any other type of water craft. We have seen a lot of wildlife while out on the water. The water in the Puget Sound area is surprisingly clear. You can look over the side of your boat and see sea stars, anemones, fish, and more. My boys and I have gotten to know the names of most of the near shore animals in the region.

There is a rock formation just off of the coast where we live that we dubbed Indian Rocks (I have no idea of their real name or if they even have one.). We occasionally paddle out to them because they are the sun bathing spot for dozens of seals and sea lions. As we approach them, the shy animals will jump into the water. Each time, I stop paddling and wait. In a little while, we are surrounded by curious big brown eyes checking us out. They always keep a slight distance, but seem to enjoy watching us watching them.

We almost always see bald eagles, blue herons, ospreys, and other majestic birds on our excursions too. No matter how many times we see eagles, we still get excited and point them out. They are truly beautiful creatures. We have even witnessed them swoop down into the water and catch fish and fly off with them grasped tightly in their talons. We have gawked at baby geese and ducklings paddling along in the water with their mothers too. Each paddle is a surprise, which is one of the things that makes ocean kayaking an incredible experience.

There are a few places around the Puget Sound region to rent kayaks or take kayak guided tours. The guided tours out of Anacortes are particularly good. I also recommend Port Townsend Outdoors on the Olympic Peninsula (Plus if you go there, you can stop in Pygmy Kayaks!). If you are in the area, ocean kayaking is a very special experience you will remember. If you are worried about safety, then I suggest going with a guided tour. You will have a great time and not have to worry about anything. They will instruct you on paddling techniques and safety. If you are going alone, then please be careful and educate yourself on kayaking and the region. My best advice, stay close to shore (that is where all the cool stuff is anyway). The U.S. Coast Guard is kept very busy rescuing boaters who have over-extended themselves. The waves, tides, and current in the region are notoriously dangerous. Plus, a low and small kayaker is hard for a fast motor boat to see. So, be safe.

On the anniversary of getting my kayak this Father’s Day, I hope to be out there on the salt water enjoying a good paddle. Maybe I will see a whale this time. Even if I do not, just being out there is relaxing for my soul. I will see something interesting. I also will relish the fact that my son and I built my kayak and how special that truly is to me this Father’s Day.

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