Four Ways to Learn Sea Kayaking

by Eric Soares on December 28, 2010

I learned how to sea kayak from a book.  Written by Derek Hutchinson, it was called SEA CANOEING.  From that book I learned how to roll, how to outfit a sea kayak, how to surf and seal land, and how to stay safe on the water.  But that was not the only way I learned how to sea kayak.  To advance further I had to find better ways to learn.  Let’s take a look at four good ways to learn sea kayaking, starting with the most available and working up to the highest way to gain knowledge and skill.

I'm reading about rock garden "transition zones" in John Lull's SEA KAYAKING SAFETY & RESCUE book

Books and DVDs

I have a complete library of sea kayaking books, which I refer to regularly.  If I want to hone up on piloting and dead reckoning, I read David Burch’s FUNDAMENTALS OF KAYAK NAVIGATION.  When students ask for a good kayak surfing book, I suggest Nigel Foster’s SURF KAYAKING.  My library ranges from basic books such as John Dowd’s SEA KAYAKING to specialty books on dangerous marine animals and living off the sea to destination books such as the one I’m reading now, Simon Willis’ THE SCOTTISH SEA KAYAK TRAIL (which is a very interesting read, full of gorgeous photos).

Magazines are also good sources.  I regularly read Sea Kayaker magazine and a plethora of others.  I also read club newsletters such as Bay Currents from the Bay Area Sea Kayakers.  Many websites and kayaking blogs present useful information and comments from readers.  The point is you can learn a lot about sea kayaking by reading—constantly.

3 interesting acquisitions to my Sea Kayaking DVD collection

DVDs are a good way to see techniques in motion.  I’m slowly collecting good ones which range from Brent Reitz’ FORWARD STROKE CLINIC to University of Sea Kayaking’s BEYOND THE COCKPIT.  There are many good DVDs out there, so check them out.  Also, you can watch kayaking techniques on YouTube and the like, which is free!

Classes

Because I learned from a book without a teacher to correct my mistakes, I now have a funny-looking roll.  It works, but it’s ugly. There is no doubt it is much better to learn from good teachers, as they can answer questions, show techniques, and provide feedback so you can improve quickly.

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog on Helen Wilson’s rolling clinic.  Literally, in one day she taught 3 people to do a basic roll and taught Jim Kakuk to do a Greenland-style hand roll.  Not many could learn that quickly just from reading a book!

Anders Landin (in red) lectures on surf safety

I took classes on river canoeing and river kayaking, and both really helped me gain confidence and skill on the river.  My wife took a forward stroke class from Olympic gold medalist Greg Barton, and afterward she paddled nearly twice as fast.  My advice is to read books and watch DVDs, and whenever possible, take an on-water class with a qualified instructor.

Mentoring

What’s better than taking a class?  Having an expert train you one-on-one over time.  The ideal learning situation is to have an experienced boater teach you the ropes for a year or more, introducing you to ever-greater challenges in increments.

For instance, senior Tsunami Rangers take eager and adept but less experienced kayakers under their wing and teach them increasingly complex techniques in bigger and bigger seas.  They start in small surf and practice perfectly (“Perfect practice makes perfect”) until the protégé asks for more difficult water.  After mastering that, the squire is ready to graduate to rock gardens and caves, under the watchful eye of at least one caring mentor.  Thus far, we have never had a protégé fail our test to become a Tsunami Ranger officer.  Mentoring is the reason.

Discovery

In my mind, discovery is the highest form of learning.  If you’ve been fortunate enough to read good books, take classes, and be mentored, you are well on your way to becoming a complete kayaker.  But there is always learning to be had.  You don’t know it all; in fact, for most people, including myself, I think it’s safe to say that we really don’t know much about the sea, about boats.   It takes a lifetime.

The highest form of learning is through personal discovery

At some point we become our own teachers.  We seek new knowledge, new frontiers, and experiment with what works and what doesn’t.  Discovery is not the fastest way to learn, nor the easiest, but for me it is the best.  I am so happy to discover something I did not know.  Like the time I grokked that when broaching, you can create a cushion of water in front of you to protect you from severe impact.  Or when I realized that I could plane with the waves when paddling in following seas with a strong wind behind me and go really fast.  The list of discoveries goes on.  Every time I paddle, I’m open to learning something new.

My new year’s wish to you is to be a reader and a watcher, a student of kayaking, and a teacher.  And may all your discoveries be timely!

I’d love to read your experiences as student and teacher.  I’d like to know something you discovered on your own.  And oh yes, which sea kayaking book influenced you the most?

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Rick Blair December 29, 2010 at 10:51 am

My biggest influences have been John Lull’s Sea Kayaking Safety and Rescue and The Kayak Roll by Performance Video. I study well known instructors such as Chris Spelius, Mary Deriemer, Helen Wilson and Dan Crandall. I have taken both white water and sea kayaking instructor development workshops and that really showed me, literally on video, what skills I can continue to improve. I have guided and taught new kayakers, but find greater enjoyment paddling with clubs or close friends and volunteering with military organizations. The Tsunami Rangers have been a great source of positive energy for me over the years and I appriciate all of your insight and leadership the most of all! If I had not met you I would probably still be a board surfer. Instruction is great, but there is no better way to improve than time in the cockpit. What I have discovered on my own is that my ocean surfing skills greatly improved by concentrating on down river whitewater drills. My boat control, edging and bracing really improved in sea kayaking after more time on the river. Great post. Have a happy new year!

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Eric Soares December 29, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Rick, you have a well-rounded approach to learning. I wholeheartedly agree that experience on the river (in kayaks, canoes, rafts) will really help sea kayakers with boat control; and for sure, nothing beats time in the cockpit. Here’s a short story which illustrates the time-in-the-cockpit axiom.

Jim Kakuk and I once had a guy take our rock garden class in a giant Chinook kayak. His resume wasn’t impressive–he had completed no classes, read no books, and had only been paddling–by himself–for a year. I was just about to tell him he wasn’t qualifed to be in the class, when he volunteered that he paddled EVERY day–on the coast at Fort Bragg, California (a place with lots of surf and rocks). I let him take the class and he handled that Chinook like it was a race car and he was Mario Andretti. He did fine in the class and proved that quality time in the cockpit is a good way to learn.

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Andy Taylor December 29, 2010 at 7:42 pm

Hi Eric!

You asked me to post how I learned to sea kayak…

Well, I guess I partook of all four elements of your “ways to learn” but particularly the last two:

I was inspired in all things aquatic by my father, Forrest Taylor, who was a real Waterman in the old-school sense. A former commanding officer of a US Navy Underwater Demolition Team, he competed in swimming, paddleboard racing (including the 36 mile race from Catalina to Manhattan Beach), and dory racing, and dove for lobsters, abalone and fish beginning in the mid-40’s. In 1965 or so, when I was a young boy, he and his friend Bill McGrey put a few items into drybags they made themselves, tied them to the decks of paddleboards, and sitting on the paddleboards and using kayak paddles they crossed the channel from Ventura to Annacapa Island, and then on to Santa Cruz Island where they spent several days camping, diving, and circumnavigating the island.

Another of his friends was Chuck Sherburne, who in the early 70’s designed and built the Oddysea surf ski. My father got one of the boats, and I started borrowing regularly it to paddle around LA Harbor in 1975. In ’76, when I was 16, Chuck let me build my own ski using his mold at his garage (and with his assistance!). Then I really started paddling. Nothing technically challenging, just lots of distance. After some initial instruction from my father, I adopted the protocol of “learn by doing”.

About that time I, too, discovered Derek’s SEA CANOEING. This was the only book of any kind on sea kayaking that I could find at the time. I read it many times. It was interesting and inspiring, but at the same time was a little hard to relate to. I came from a background of Watermen, that is, in-water sports. Surfing, free diving, water polo, competitive swimming, paddleboards, surf dories, etc. All with the bottom line being that you are going to be in-the-water at some point, and that more importantly you were OK with that: it was your element. The British model seemed to relate to it from the other end; like, don’t ever get in the water if you can help it. Understand, too, that sea kayaking as a sport simply didn’t exist in this country at that time, and people would gawk at the sight and ask silly questions.

The next year, my friend Tim Thomas and I paddled out to Annacapa and spent a week camping and diving. Two years later we decided to paddle down the west coast of Baja. This was accomplished in two trips, the second of which was solo.

My skills were improving, but I still didn’t roll well, and realized that if I wanted to do more difficult projects I was going to need to learn. I took an afternoon rolling class with a whitewater kayaker and got my screw roll down on one side, and then spent many hours in SF Bay practicing; screw roll, steyr roll; right side, left side, until I had them down, then started practicing them in more difficult water.

About that time I got a call from Steve Sinclair, who had started an ocean kayaking business on the Mendocino Coast. He was looking for help, and knew that I had an aquatic background and had done some paddling. He asked me to come up and check it out.

When I went out paddling with him one stormy day in the early spring of 1982, I realized that here was someone unique. He was doing things regularly, for fun, that I had only read about a few rare persons surviving by accident. And he had developed very specific techniques for this kind of paddling. And he could explain them, demonstrate them, in real ocean conditions. I knew then that I had to learn what he knew. By the fall of that year I was living in Elk in the back of my pickup, and paddling almost every day, and (eventually) in every imaginable condition of wind and sea, with Steve as my mentor.

I had intended to stay and paddle with Steve for a few months, maybe until the following summer, but… I’m still here!

Happy New Year!

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Eric Soares December 29, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Andy, thank you for your detailed answer. You have had the kind of learning experience that most of us dream about–a competent father who taught you the ropes, older guys like Chuck Sherburne who showed you how to build a great boat, a good book like Derek’s, a rolling class, plenty of on-water time, and especially, the opportunity to be mentored by a pioneer such as Steve Sinclair. Maybe that’s why you are such a fantastic paddler.

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Wayne Horodowich December 30, 2010 at 12:44 am

Hi Eric,

First let me say nice T-shirt and thanks for showing one of my videos on your blog.

I was a self-taught sea kayaker until I came across one of the many books by that short cantankerous Englishman named Derek Hutchinson. He was my kayaking guru until our first meeting, but that’s a story for another occasion. In spite of our rough start together, he is one of my dearest and closest friends. His contributions to sea kayaking are to numerous to mention.

I can safely say that self discovery was my primary learning method for sea kayaking. Once bitten by the bug, I absorbed every bit of material I could get my hands on. In addition, I went up and down the California coast taking classes from many different instructors. As an instructor, I feel it is my obligation to learn as much as I can from as many people who are willing to share their thoughts and techniques with me.

There are so many different ways in which we learn I am not sure I can categorize all of them. I do make a distinction between learning and mastering a skill. The only way to master a skill is to go out and do it, repeatedly. I learned how to do a paddle float recovery just by looking at one picture. It was a sketch drawing of a paddler lying on their back deck with their feet up on the paddle shaft and the paddle had a paddle float on it. Just seeing that picture was enough for me to go out and try a paddle float recovery by myself. Even though my first attempt was clumsy, it was successful. Therefore, I learned that technique by a single hand-drawn picture. I mastered the paddle float recovery by doing it over 1000 times. I actually sat down and calculated the number of times I’ve practiced and demonstrated in the classes over the many years of teaching.

Since people learn in so many different ways, I believe a good instructor needs to be able to teach in ways to match the needs of the students. That is why I love taking classes, even to this day, from other instructors. There is always something new to learn when you watch someone else teach a class. Not all the lessons are good, but there’s always something to learn, even if it is “how not to do it.”

Without exception, I have learned something from my students in every class I have ever taught. Sometimes it’s a new way of doing a skill. Other times it could be the way they ask a question. Even a puzzled look from a student caused me to explore a new way to explain a skill. The learning process is never-ending. That is one of the many reasons why I love teaching so much.

One of my goals as a teacher is to make myself obsolete. I try to create thinking paddlers. When one of my students becomes self-sufficient I feel as though I have done my job.

To give credit where it is due, I have learned a lot from you, Jim and the other Tsunami Rangers over the years. I want to thank you all for your contributions to the sea kayaking community. Even though you and I have never paddled together I have learned a lot from you specifically. As an example,” I am not afraid of nothing. It’s something that I am afraid of.”

In closing I want to thank you for your helpful comments on the maneuvering video script. I finalized the script last night and it is 42 pages long. I voiced the script today and I have three hours and 53 min. of raw tape voiced. Our strokes video was also 42 pages long with a final running time of three hours and 28 min. This maneuvering video is going to be at least three hours long. I think I’m going to have at least three to four months of editing before the video is finished, if I’m lucky.

Thanks for your thoughts on learning and teaching.

Wayne

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Eric Soares December 30, 2010 at 9:17 am

That “short, cantankerous Englishman named Derek Hutchinson” seems to be a common element in the learning of many of us uh, mature kayakers. Thank you Derek. As useful as his SEA CANOEING book was, two things I did not go along with. One–using British navigation (slightly different from ours in the States), and two–his claim one should dress like a “sensible hill climber” instead of “wearing rubber like a stinking, out of work frogman.” I’m proud to say I wear rubber when I kayak, and look good too!

Strangely, though I’ve never taken a class from Derek, I feel he is one of my mentors because his book (and those he has written since) resonates with me. Somehow, I easily understand what he means. I have also had the pleasure of listening to his well-told tales at symposia and in person. Derek is one-of-a-kind and a treasure in the sea kayaking world.

BTW, Wayne, I thought your “Surf Zone” class at the Pt. Townsend symposium was in many ways better than ours. You have a way of teaching that helps students visualize what they should do on the water.

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David Whalen LCDR December 30, 2010 at 9:42 am

I learrrned kayaking by using the acronym PAIN:

Peer pressure
Accident
Insanity
Necessity

8^)

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John Soares December 31, 2010 at 8:23 am

Funny Dave! And that’s how a lot of people do a lot of learning about outdoor sports, especially when they’re young.

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Simon December 30, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Hi Eric
I’m glad our DVD of Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown falls into your category of good DVDs. There are four short films about it on our website:
http://www.seakayakwithgordonbrown.com/

Happy Hogmanay from Scotland.
Simon

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Eric Soares December 31, 2010 at 9:44 am

To the PAIN acronym, we could add an S (PAINS). The additional word would be “Stupidity”. We can’t forget that!

Happy Hogmanay everyone!

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Wayne Hanley December 31, 2010 at 4:13 pm

I just realized how much of a sea kayak tragic I am, I have all three of the DVD’s pictured plus many more (all the USK, thanks Wayne), over half of a bookcase is kayaking related, I had some spare time a week ago so I made a Norsaq and started a Unnaq and my wife and I went for a paddle on Christmas day in 20-30 knot winds, I have a problem.

One of the strange things that encouraged me down this path was the arrival in Australia of the Kon Tiki raft and later reading Thor Heyerdahl’s book about the expedition, this lead me to read more and more books about expeditons, in particular the “man against the elements” type. Sea Kayaking has always featured highly in this genre and still does. Jon Turk, Jon Bowermaster, Paul Caffyn, some guy named Eric Soares and others have written inspiring accounts of what can be done in a kayak, this in turn encouraged me to get out and try things and when I found my short comings I read a book, watched a DVD or sort professional help.

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Eric Soares December 31, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Your situation really is tragic, Wayne. All that time wasted kayaking, reading about kayaking, building kayaking toys, and watching kayaking DVDs could be spent doing something useful like uh…nothing..comes to mind.

After I finish the Simon Willis book on the SCOTTISH SEA TRAIL, I plan to read Jon Turk’s THE RAVEN’S GIFT. So much to do, so little time. Of course, I live in Oregon, where it’s snowing right now, and you live in Australia, where it’s summer.

An aside: I hope you and all our Aussie friends are okay. The flooding there is very serious.

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Tess Dodd January 5, 2011 at 9:09 pm

re the aside: My sister has been visiting from North Queensland since before Christmas and is unable to return home for a couple more weeks due to road conditions, flooded rivers etc. As well as loss of life, homes, crop and livestock, some of the flooded townships have to deal with displaced wildlife ie: snakes and crocs. I’m not sure about the rest of the east coast of Australia, but my homestate (Queensland) is looking at a $billion flood recovery bill.

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Tess Dodd January 5, 2011 at 10:26 pm
Wayne Hanley December 31, 2010 at 8:52 pm

I haven’t read THE RAVENS GIFT yet (it is on the list), but his other books were a great read. It is 39C currently at 2:50pm on the 1st of January 2011 (the downside of an Aussie summer) so I might have to go for an evening paddle latter. So happy New Year to you all.

Re the aside: Most of the inland rivers of all of our Eastern States are in flood or have been in the last month and now some of the coastal area of Queensland is as well. To those that have been affected I am sure we all wish them the best for the rest of 2011.

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John Lull January 1, 2011 at 2:15 pm

My first ‘kayaking’ experiences were in a “Walmart-special” tiny inflatable raft on the north fork of the Yuba River. No on told me it was class 4 whitewater, and I had no idea what an eddy was, or anything about stroke technique (duffeck stroke anyone???), or that the bottom of my raft would tear out on the rocks. Ignorance is bliss, but I was lucky.

And yes, as Andy says (good to hear from you Andy!), I immediately discovered this was an in-water sport! I would make it part way down a rapid, then capsize and swim (if you can call it that) the rest of the rapid. Most of my recollection of that day is being underwater seeing bubbles rising, while I bounced along off the rocks, gasping for air. I knew there had to be a better way, but I was hooked. No need to tell the rest of the whitewater story, but I eventually got a real kayak, learned to roll, and found out what an eddy is and just how handy they are!

Meanwhile, like the rest of you, I discovered Derek’s book, and I took my first kayak class from him on a cold January day. I learned some things from Derek’s book, but mostly it was an inspiration to get a sea kayak and get on the water. I read it from cover to cover a couple of times. Within a week I had bought a sea kayak along with my (future) wife June, and Rick, a friend of ours. We started paddling all over SF Bay and learned to handle wind and choppy seas. I think those might have been some of my all time favorite paddling experiences, because it was all new, adventurous, fun to discover the Bay up close, and we were learning to paddle mostly on our own. Not many classes in those days.

Then I met Eric & Jim & the Tsunami Rangers, and the adventure went up a few notches!

So, yeah, I want to chime in and agree the only way to really learn to kayak is through experience on the water. There are lots of valuable techniques to learn, including some short cuts and important safety tips, by taking classes, reading books, and watching videos. But ultimately you only learn by doing it. If I was to recap my entire book, that would be what I’d say.

Happy New Year,
John

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Eric Soares January 4, 2011 at 9:28 am

I think the film DELIVERANCE lured a bunch of yahoos to white water. I was one of them. I too did some dumb (but still fun) river trips. I relate a couple of the canoe stories in my CONFESSIONS OF A WAVE WARRIOR book.

This is a topic for a major blog post, but I must say (agreeing with Rick earlier), that learning to navigate rivers will greatly help a person become a good sea kayaker. I have noted that river kayakers learn to surf in the ocean easier than sea kayakers, because they are used to being upside down in turbulent water and dealing with it, and thus are more fearless–a good thing in the surf.

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Mark Hutson January 5, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Great article Eric! I thought the four separate learning methods insightful. And I especially liked the “personal discovery”. Guess I relate to that one the most. 30 years ago we were a bit rough around the edges as we took boats out onto the open ocean. Thank goodness for previous whitewater river paddling experiences and early boyhood days of surfing and skin diving in Hawaii! Nowadays one can fast track the learning curve with all the great instructors, dvds, books etc.

Now that I’m 60, I’m going into phase II of my business, which is teaching/training others to help guide trips for me. What I have to keep reminding myself is how valuable the “personal discovery” learning method is and let my apprentices have some of their own learning curve rather than me trying to teach them everything about guiding in the open ocean environment. One remembers the lessons learned from mistakes the best!

As a small (tiny!) sea kayak business operator in New Zealand for the last 25 seasons, I hope you don’t mind if I put my website address here for any others thinking of taking an organized trip Downunder– http://www.nzkayaktours.com

cheers, Mark

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John Nagle January 5, 2011 at 5:24 pm

How I learned to kayak?
Years of swimming, diving, boating, body boarding and playing in the waves was the bases for jumping on a kayak for the first time and pushing off into the waves, which happened to be at Rodeo Beach at the Ranger’s Golden Gate Race sometime around 1988. There was a Monte Carlo start out through the surf around a buoy and back to the beach. I was leading the pack until I had to turn the kayak, which I had never done before. After righting myself I dumped myself and boat onto the beach only to get ready for the long course around the Point Bonita lighthouse, through the potato patch under the Golden Gate Bridge and return. Balanced in the front of a Tofino tandem with my brother behind me on the rudder, keeping us afloat, I had an exhilarating time paddling into the wind in discombobulated seas singing at the top of my lungs while plunging that paddling into the sea.
How did I learn? By paddling with experienced watermen who taught me to read the waves, respect the sea and experimenting with a safety outlet and another paddler standing by as a safety. How did I learn? By not dying! That which makes me stronger most likely didn’t kill or maim me.
My brother David Nagle is currently motoring his boat from Seattle to Rangle Alaska with his wife Dorothy and is maintaining a Sail Blog at http://www.sailblogs.com/member/sempergumbi/?xjMsgID=157046. Jim Marsha Kreofsky are living in Cool and are training for the Way to Cool Run.
Banzai Bozo says “No, you go first!”

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Eric Soares January 5, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Sounds like both Mark and John above learned primarily through “self-discovery.” But I know Mark also has an extensive library, because I have looked through it.

As a former Green Beret, John learns best by just crashing in and doing it. I know because I’ve kayaked with John and his brother Dave and friend Jim Kreofsky and have seen them crash on numerous occasions. But they always come through. The Banzai Bozos say: “Less talk and more rock!”

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Tess Dodd January 5, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Hi Eric
My comment is from a students perspective.
My learning curve has been slow; I wish I’d taken up the sport earlier. I didn’t have the advantage of white water or river experience prior to discovering sea kayaking. My intro was via an organised trip with 9 of my girlfriends. None of us had ever been in a kayak before; the guide must have felt like he was herding kittens that day. Visiting places accessible only by water under my own power appealed to me and watching the guide roll his kayak sparked my interest further.
My second kayaking experience sealed the deal. Paddling in rough water in a borrowed boat, I loved the energy of the environment, the wind and choppy water pushing me around. I had no idea how to get back in if I tipped out but I was having so much fun, the thought of capsize had not occurred to me. What I did know was that I wanted to sea kayak.
I joined a uni club where I could try a different kayak on every trip. Most of their outings were on the river and after a short time I yearned for the sea. My hiking club ran a kayak camping trip to a local Island. I signed up. We travelled there & back by barge. Conditions were mild and water visibility was super clear but all trips were short, planned with the current and were within metres of shore. Their fear factor was too high for me. I realised if I wanted to venture into the sea, I had to find people who kayaked where I wanted to go and/or become self sufficient.
I agree with the comments here. I learn a lot from reading and watching videos and more from re-reading and re-watching, but the things that work best for me are ‘doing it’ and quality mentoring.
When I was first learning to roll there was a queue of ‘experts’ lined up offering me conflicting information (even though half of them could not roll themselves). The outcome being I became even more confused and thought I would never learn the seemingly complex skill of rolling. And if I couldn’t learn to roll, how could I kayak in the surf and the sea? Once I became more selective about the source of information and distanced myself from every Tom, Dick and Harriett with an opinion or a loud voice, it all began coming together.
I’ve since connected with amazing mentors, in person and virtually, who have fast tracked my learning, you included Eric.
Thanks You
Tess

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Eric Soares January 5, 2011 at 6:54 pm

Tess,

All of us are commenting from a “student’s perspective” because we are all always learning. I’m sure most “expert” boaters would agree that just when you think you are doing good…WHAM! I’ve been flicked by Neptune’s thumb more times than I can remember.

I’m glad you cleared through the crap and persisted on your roll. It’s an essential skill for any advanced learning.

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Nancy Soares January 5, 2011 at 7:31 pm

I learned to kayak because I married Eric and it’s one of the things he likes to do a lot. I am a good swimmer and love the water. I grew up in Sacramento floating/swimming down the American River in inner tubes, rafts, a canoe, and a life vest. I also like the idea of getting to places only accessed by boat. I like caves and rock gardens, too. Eric made me paddle a rudderless Tsunami X-O for 6 years before I ever paddled another boat. The idea was to teach me stroke technique without having to actually teach me much – the boat did it for him. By the time I went to Santa Rosa Island on a Ranger retreat, I was good enough to really have fun in a Tsunami X-15.
I am of the PAIN(S) school. I just go out, trusting in my husband and my ability to swim. I have never learned to roll, although I have successfully rolled in surf. That’s why I only paddle sit on tops, but I have no need for boat other than my Tsunami ones, so it doesn’t matter.
Big moments in my training – surfing at Pillar Point, the Tsunami retreats I’ve gone on, and the stroke clinic with Greg Barton. The most important thing I ever did was train for the Tsunami Extreme race. Eric mentored me and my partner, Denise Vidosh, in a Tsunami X-3. We trained for 8 months and it was one of the most difficult, frightening, and exhilarating thing I have ever done. Again, the basic method of training was “get out there and survive!” The idea was to train in all weathers and consequently training was so tough the race was almost easy.
Oh, and I must mention swimming in a rock garden and getting bashed on the head by a flying Tsunami X-2 with Andy T. in it. Hi Andy:) It’s not for everyone, but it works for me! Thanks, Eric, for making my life so rich and exciting!

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Eric Soares January 5, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Nancy, thanks for such a sweet comment. I guess that’s one of the reasons we are together, because we are on each other’s side.

I was glad to help you and Denise prepare for the big race (read Nancy’s story in CONFESSIONS OF A WAVE WARRIOR), but the real learning and teaching was done by you two. You went out day after day in substantial conditions, worked out the bugs, and “discovered” proficiency. I’m proud of you both!

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Jim Tennermann January 8, 2011 at 6:32 am

I was introduced to salt water by a merchant marine friend in 1983. He had some kind of homemade boat that loosely resembled a kayak. One night we paddled that thing under starry skies to a remote spit of land where we landed and smoked and drank like, well, sailors. It was spectacular! I had absolutely no idea of where I was and I still do not know how I returned to land that night. When I woke up on the beach the next morning, I observed that the “remote spit of land” was in fact part of the beach and we had only paddled across a small lagoon. The kayak was still beached on the spit 50 yards away, so we probably walked back or waded through the lagoon. No matter. Inspiration can come from anywhere.

I bought a kayak and learned to paddle through trial and error, exploring the Boston Harbor Islands and most of the Massachusetts coast. I read all of the kayaking books I could find at the time, but the most influential books were Willard Bascom’s “Waves and Beaches” and Chapman’s “Piloting, Seamanship, and Small Boat Handling.” Navigation can be a big issue in New England.

The emerging sea kayak scene on the east coast was not interesting. Many (but not all) of the people were stuffy and opinionated, constantly debating each other over details and safety and establishing a pecking order of authority; no inspiration and no “starry nights.” I have a bad attitude when it comes to authority, so I continued to paddle solo until I took an interest in ocean racing. I got some very good coaching from Doug Bushnell and practiced the fine points of paddling long and fast. I was also fortunate enough to meet Ken Fink, an all around good guy, good paddler, and professional oceanographer.

Everything changed for me when I traveled to Half Moon Bay and met the Tsunami Rangers in the late 1980s. I have no idea what motivated the Rangers to tutor a clueless dork like me, but they taught me how to surf and opened my eyes to many things oceanic. The Rangers exposed me to conditions that caused me to fear for my life, but they kept me safe and guided me with patience and good humor. I still live on the east coast and my paddling motivation now is the exploration of oceanic wonder. I have introduced a few people to paddling/surfing and have found that it is possible to do this in one session, illuminating a potential pathway to joy and discovery for others. This is satisfying. We are all students and teachers.

Summary of how I learned: Inspiration, self discovery, reading/practicing, sitting at the feet of masters when the chemistry was right, passing on the knowledge and hopefully the inspiration.

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Eric Soares January 8, 2011 at 10:27 am

Wow! You are a good writer, Jim. I loved reading about your start down the sea kayaking path. It’s amazing it didn’t end on that first outing across the lagoon. I’m glad you kept with it and that we had a chance to cross paths.

We Tsunami Rangers have a soft spot for you and none of us know why. It could be we admire your strong enthusiasm for life and just going for it!

Oh yeah, thanks for mentioning Willard Bascom’s WAVES AND BEACHES. This is THE book to learn about basic oceanography described in layman’s terms. Every kayaker should have this book. Unfortunately, I loaned mine to some scalawag and it’s gone. John Lull, do you have my book? When I thought about scalawags, your face popped into my mind.

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John Lull January 8, 2011 at 11:25 am

Sorry Eric, while this scalawag does have Willard Bascom’s excellent book WAVES AND BEACHES, I bought it brand new with my own money many years ago! Being the scalawag I am, ain’t no way no how I would lend it out without a bright ‘tracer’ on it, identifying it as mine. You’re welcome to come by and reference it sometime, though, at least until the true scalawag who has your copy comes forward.

To those who haven’t seen this book, it’s out of print unfortunately, but if you can dig one up somewhere it’s well worth a read. It has everything you want to know about waves. But I think the information is available from many sources these days.

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Cate January 18, 2011 at 8:50 am

Great post. Your photos are super fun. I think that a combination of all 4 means is ideal. I liked reading Nancy’s comment. I understand that we are in the minority of women who have successfully learned and (mostly) enjoyed learning from our significant other.

Cheers,
Cate
http://www.liquidfusionkayak.com

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Eric Soares January 20, 2011 at 10:50 am

Cate,

You’ve given me an idea for a future blog post. Learning from your lover–will the relationship take it? Hmmm. I’ll think about that. Seriously, Nancy and I teach each other what we know. In addition to teaching me yoga, Nancy was my sponsor when I first learned jujitsu and tai chi.

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Tony Moore February 3, 2011 at 8:23 pm

I came into kayaking through the “recreational” route. Having 7 kids, and having always been a waterperson (mostly free diving and spearfishing), I wanted an activity that we could all participate in, on the water. I bought 2 Ocean Kayak Malibu 2″s (doubles)…12 feet long, 34′ wide, real tubs! But at the time, I didn’t know any better, and we had a great time with them. In spite of their dimensions and complete lack of any speed, we cruised the open coast off southern Rhode Island, surfed in them, jumped off of them, played “king of the kayak” (similar to king of the hill), even did a ten-mile crossing out to Block Island. Eventually, I started buying more serious boats. Probably the biggest boost in my learning experience was joining the R.I. Canoe / Kayak Association, and I also did a lot of reading (yes, Derek Hutchinson was in this mix, as were Nigel Foster (surf kayaking), John Lull safety), and Eric S. / Michael P. (extreme sea kayaking…WOO_HOO!!!). And the learning continues. Up until last fall, I used exclusively sit-on-tops, some very high performance (I own 2 Tsunami X-15’s, and one X-2). But starting last fall, I began using my wife’s old plastic Aquaterra Sea Lion. Yes, it’s old, it’s plastic, it’s low-tech, but I love that boat! I’m very impressed with the solid connection you have with a sit-inside boat, and the added warmth is welcome. (I only use it for touring in the colder months, for surfing / rock gardens, I use one of the Tsunamis). Because it has no rudder or skeg, I get a good opportunity to practice corrective strokes. I just wish I could roll the thing…the only roll I do is the Steyr (in the Tsunamis), but I can’t lean far enough onto the back deck with the Sea Lion. Maybe it’s time to learn a front-leaning roll?
Tony

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Eric Soares February 4, 2011 at 9:27 am

Seven kids! Well, the Ocean Kayak boats were no doubt perfect for family outings. I did a previous post on family kayaking in rock gardens (check it out). I’m of the school that all boats are good boats if they serve their purpose.

It’s funny about sit-inside kayaks. I have paddled many of them, and appreciate the melding of boat and paddler, but much prefer washdeck-type boats where you and the water are one. My first washdeck kayak was an Odyssea surf ski, made by the Acker brothers, that I bought from Steve Sinclair. Then Jim Kakuk and Glenn Gilchrist made the Tsunami X-1 and other boats, and I’ve paddled those exclusively for 25 years and never looked back. However, I’m planning on getting a river kayak as I now live near the Klamath, Rogue, Illinois, and Umpqua rivers. And I went rafting twice last summer. I guess all boats really are good!

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Moulton Avery February 14, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Call me Twistoflex, Eric, but I just love this TR blog. One reason the committed younger sea kayakers can soar is because paddlers like you blazed the rough, dark, trial-and-error trail, and then cared enough to provide them with a flashlight. Isaac Newton got it right when he famously remarked “I saw farther because I was standing on the shoulders of giants”.

Nothing in my experience beats time in the saddle, but that time will be used a lot more productively if one has (preferably) a mentor, or (second best) a good instructor who can illuminate the path to good technique. Anyone lucky enough to have you as a Sensei on the water is very fortunate indeed.

With respect to sea kayaking, 20% of what I know, I read, 10% I was taught, and the rest I learned in what you so aptly call the school of hard rocks. That ratio is changing with the advent of more books, all these fabulous videos, and dedicated instructors with a wealth of experience under their belts. Helen Wilson comes to mind – with her respect for – and dedication to – the original Inuit techniques. I would gladly demonstrate my uncanny mastery of the half-roll 100 times to earn an hour of her instruction. An eternal truth still applies: All of it quickly grows stale without practice. I agree that in the true sense of knowledge, we’re all still learning, refining, trying to make the rough edges a little bit smoother. If I recall correctly, when he was an old man, Aikido Founder, O Sensei Morihei Ueshiba remarked that he thought he was finally starting to get the hang of Shihonage. A great man, respectful of what he created, and humble right up to the end.

I still have my hardcover copy of Bascom’s Waves and Beaches because, unlike you, I’m the sort of selfish rodent who doesn’t lend books. The picture of Bascom surfing that DUCK in on a wave that made it look tiny still makes my jaw drop. Oregon coast if I recall correctly. I saw a hardcover edition on Amazon for $150. If no one fesses up, maybe your blog fans can take up a collection. Count me in for $15.00….

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Eric Soares February 15, 2011 at 10:48 am

No one needs to pony up for me to get WAVES AND BEACHES. Andy Taylor sent me a copy a couple of weeks ago, as a gift. Thank you so much, Andy!

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Moulton Avery February 15, 2011 at 9:28 pm

I apologize, Andy, for having the temerity to suggest that I was a worthy opponent in your bid for the coveyed TR RantMeister Blog Award.. I concede. My feeble efforts are but a puff of breath before your Divine Wind.

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Andy Taylor February 26, 2011 at 9:19 am

Yes, beans are the staple food of our clan, so our Wind is strong!

Actually, it’s that I’ve never adjusted to the new paradigm of electronic communication. Hurried constricted jottings, filled with abbreviations. So quick, so convenient; so…disposable! Really I would be more comfortable with the 19th century model of long, thoughtfully composed letters written by hand with a fountain pen.

And I can’t claim to have been so magnanimous as to have bought Eric a $150 dollar book on Amazon (I love you, brother, but…). I simply had an extra copy.

Andy

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John Lull February 26, 2011 at 11:27 am

“Actually, it’s that I’ve never adjusted to the new paradigm of electronic communication. Hurried constricted jottings, filled with abbreviations.”

Man, am I with you on that, Andy! The whole ‘texting’ phenomenon with no grammar, miss-spelled words, and letters standing in for words (like u no wat i’m sayn), just leaves me cold. I guess I’m dating myself as old school, but I sure hope some of the younger generation learn to read and write in complete sentences so someone is left to write books and great literature!

Now, back to kayaking…

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Moulton Avery February 27, 2011 at 9:40 am

We’re smart little monkeys, but we weren’t designed for the future, which, much to my surprise, is where I now find myself living – minus the jet-pack and robot assistant that I was promised in grade school….

U gys crak me up. No wat I sane?

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Bobby Guidry January 25, 2016 at 5:42 am

Can you tell us more about this? I’d love to find out some additional information.

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