Want a recipe for outdoor fun? Take one beautiful summer day after nearly a week of rain, mix in six novice kayakers with a common attitude of wanting to explore and learn, put them in six kayaks on calm water, stir things up with a personable, experienced, funny and very capable instructor, and let the fun begin.
The class, Introduction to Kayaking, offered by the Contoocook River Canoe Co, (contoocookcanoe.com), promised to teach basic paddle strokes to move and control a kayak, plus the basics of what to do if you unexpectedly tip your kayak. The setting was a placid stretch of the Contoocook River in Concord, N.H.
The class began at a picnic table with some basic safety considerations, then moved on to a quick lecture on the different types of kayaks, paddles and how to hold them, and how to combine a kayak and a paddle to start having fun. Pretty quickly we moved to the water, where everyone learned how to get into a kayak (one of the hardest lessons to learn!).
Once everyone was safely launched, instructor Jeff Brent started demonstrating how to efficiently move a kayak forward in the direction you wanted to go. From there, it was on to how to turn a kayak easily, and how to move it sidewise when you need to. Basic stuff, but all necessary if you are going to really enjoy kayaking on all but the most basic level. I tagged along, intending to just observe and take photos, but I managed to learn some stuff myself along the way.
Rather than sticking to a fixed curriculum, Jeff went with the flow, using "teaching moments" whenever they happened. Dave was trying a sculling stroke, ran his paddle blade too close to the side of his kayak and suddenly found himself in the water. (Several others in the class had "almost" moments, and I came close to dumping a couple of times myself.)
For most of us, the six-hour class didn't last nearly long enough. Contoocook Canoe is running the same class again on Aug. 18 and Sept. 1 if you are interested. Life isn't a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!
Contoocook River Canoe provided a top-notch Intro to Kayaking clinic, but you might find another venue more convenient.
From personal experience, I can recommend the classes at Zoar Outdoor (zoaroutdoor. com) in Charlemont, but they are oriented strictly to white-water river paddling.
Both Coastal Maine Kayaking (coastalmainekayak.com) in Kennebunkport, Maine and H2Outfitters (h2outfitters.com) in Orrs Island Maine also have kayaking courses I can recommend from personal experience.
I haven't done classes with them, but Charles River Canoe & Kayak (paddleboston.com) serves Boston and the ‘burbs. On the Cape, Cape Cod Kayak (capecodkayak. com) in Pocasset and Goose Hummock (goose.com/paddle-sports.html) in Orleans both offer Intro Kayak lessons.
Kayaking is about as close as you can get to a universally accessible outdoor sport. Almost anyone who wants to can get into a kayak and paddle it. Even non-swimmers can safely kayak with a properly-fitted PFD.
My friend, Max, loves to paddle his itty-bitty Jackson Fun 1 kayak. Max is 4 and started paddling when he was 3. At the other end of the spectrum, my friend, Edie, asked for and got a Liquid Logic "Coupe" sit-on top kayak for her 75th birthday. The sit-on-top design is simply easier for her to get into and out of than a sit-in kayak.
For kayakers with special challenges
Some kayakers have other challenges. Most adaptive sports programs offer paddling programs for people with disabilities.
Ability Plus: abilityplus.org
All Out Adventures: alloutadventures.org/ Program_Schedule.html
Maine Adaptive Sports: maineadaptive.org/ paddling.php
Northeast Passage: nepassage.org/ recreational-sports/paddling/
New England Disabled Sports: nedisabledsports.org/sports/Paddling
New England Handicapped Sports Association: nehsa.org/news/articles/2013kayak.cfm
Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports: vermontadaptive.org/boats.php