Watercraft Pleasures
By Robert Loewendick / August, 2011

The heron's gaze was aimed at a target near its feet. The long-legged water bird was sizing up his meal that was unaware that it had been selected for life sustainment. The heron speared the water surface with his beak and, just as quickly, retracted from the attack with a writhing baitfish hanging out each side of his bill. Two jerks of the heron's head and the minnow was consumed. I could hear the wildlife feeding as if I was only several feet away - actually, I was - sitting quietly in my kayak, taking in the early morning feeding scene with the heron paying little attention to me.

Paddle sports (kayaking and canoeing) continue to attract people of all ages, physical abilities, and lifestyles. A study performed last year by the Outdoor Industry Association revealed this fact. Kayaking and canoeing have increased in participation by 4.1 per cent and 4.9 per cent, respectively. Paddling provides several elements of excitement for those taking (or avoiding) the plunge.
As many families and individuals focus on spending their recreational allowances frugally, it becomes clear that paddle sports fit the bill nicely. Similar to biking and hiking, paddle sports offer an additional means to spend recreation time together. An 18-foot canoe can handle two adults and one child comfortably. Or for families with multiple kids, two canoes provide the family unit with a pleasant flotilla. A pair of recreational kayaks will keep a family content with taking turns for thirty-minute voyages on a lake or pond.

A trend witnessed at most marinas, parks, and campgrounds is the rental of canoes and kayaks. This fact gives the occasional paddler an option to fulfill his or her desire for a dose of stress-relieving aquatic fun, without spending a few hundred bucks. Renting a canoe or kayak is perfect for those wanting to take a test run before committing to becoming an owner of these watercrafts. Avid paddlers are typically enthused to share their knowledge of the beloved sport with those inquiring. It's common practice for avid paddlers to invite the prospective newbie to join them at the water's edge for an episode of hands-on trial.

Paddling opens up possibilities of adventure that leave non-paddlers on dry ground. Adding a kayak or canoe to a camping trip allows campers to do more than sit around the campsite (unless that is the intention of the camper). Nearly every vehicle can carry a canoe or kayak on top. Doing so gives the camper or the one-day adventurer additional places to explore, with the ability to leave the shore.

For anglers, a canoe or kayak provides the vessel to access remote waters that are not reachable by larger boat or by walking the shoreline. A variety of packing systems are available on the market to outfit a kayak or canoe for a multi-day angling or paddling adventure. It's surprising the amount of gear that can be strapped to and in a paddled craft. By using "dry bags," satchels that are brightly colored and can be sealed watertight, the paddler can rest assured his gear will be fine, in case a roll-over happens.

Experience is crucial to developing into an efficient paddler, although it doesn't take years to become skilled enough to maneuver a kayak or canoe with ease. Paddling is commonly considered to be a super-skilled activity for the agile. This isn't really true, but a couple of hours learning to feel the balance of the watercraft will get you on your way.

Begin in shallow water in case you go over. You can simply stand up and try the attempted maneuver again. If you purchase a paddle craft, reputable dealers will provide useful instruction. The effort will be worth the time invested, and the benefits will soon be reaped. You'll realize this as you glide toward your first close-up, wildlife encounter, or after returning from a day of relaxing paddling.

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