I couldn’t believe the candor the first time someone admitted to me that he would never try kayaking because it terrified him. I had just pulled my 18-foot kayak up on beach in a park in Peterborough when this pleasant, middle-aged man stopped by. First he asked a few questions and then he made this startling admission.
Perplexed I remember asking why. At the same time, I tried to figure out what he found so frightening. As an answer came to mind I added, “I’m sure white water kayaking in big rivers with the water pounding down around you is intimidating. But you don’t have to fight rapids in those stubby, white-water boats to enjoy kayaking. What I do is called sea kayaking and you do that in lakes or even the ocean. You can surf in the waves or just go for a quiet, evening paddle.”
“No,” he said. “That’s not it. Bigger kayaks like yours frighten me even more.”
“But why?” I asked.
“Because in a lake I wouldn’t even be able to touch bottom and I’d be buried inside a larger kayak.”
“I still don’t understand,” I said. He was no longer looking directly at me. Instead his eyes flickered nervously to the side.
“Because if I tip upside down I won’t even be able to grab anything on the bottom to pull myself out. I’ll be trapped inside the kayak and, well, you know, drown.”
“So you think because you’re encased in the kayak that the water will keep you pressed inside when you’re upside down?” I asked.
“Believe me that’s not how it works. Actually when you turn over in a kayak, gravity takes over and you just fall out. In fact, you probably couldn’t stay in the kayak even if you tried.”
“But that skirt you wear to keep water out will hold me in.”
“You don’t have to wear the skirt,” I said. “But if you do to stay dry, it depends on the type of skirt you wear. White water kayakers wear a thick neoprene skirt to keep as much water out as they can when they play in rapids. The top of the skirt is cinched around their upper waist. When they get into their kayaks, the elastic hem of the skirt is stretched tight over the lip around the cockpit. The seal is so strong that the only way the white water kayaker can exit the boat is to pull on a loop that’s stitched into the front of all skirts. Once they break a corner of the seal around the lip, the whole skirt breaks free. But that’s not a problem for a sea kayaker because our skirts are generally made out of thin nylon and they’re not nearly so tight and strong. In fact, the first time I ever turned over I panicked and forgot to pull the loop.”
“What happened?” he asked.
“I started to kick and push out against the sides of the kayak and the nylon skirt just came off. It was easy to get out.”
We both stared at each other for a few seconds and I said, “Look, sea kayaking is lots of fun. Why don’t you just give it a try?”
“Not in my life time,” he replied. Then he turned and walked away.