Kayaking, Kids, and attitude

I had my kids out on Lake Michigan this weekend.

Gabriel my 8 year old in his Umiak and I towed my 5 year old in a white water kayak. We paddled about a mile to the St. Joe Lighthouse. Gabriel was doing great going with the wind, he was having a blast going with the wind. He even got to play in some small reflecting waves near the pier as we got close. He even threw in a low brace or two when he overbalanced. I saw him use his extended paddle sweep once or twice as well to bring himself back on course. I have to say, I was fairly impressed as he essentially treated a very confused water situation with very little anxiety. Of course he has no frame of reference for danger. But I have seen adults with more training freak out and capsize in the water he was paddling.

Isabella was really enjoying the ride as she was being towed. She essentially shouts “Mush Mush,” when I slow down.

Laura my wife was following the towed kayak to make sure Isabella was doing ok.

The wind was coming up as a summer squall was hitting us from the south west as we neared the pier. It was unexpected, but manageable. Oddly enough it only rained for about 5 minutes and there was no lightning. Land was within a few hundred yards as we tagged the lighthouse. But the wind picked up on our way back and Gabriel got pretty tired as we traversed the channel. So I slapped a contact tow between the two kayaks and pulled both kayaks away from the pier. Unfortunately my wife had a strange leg cramp inside her kayak. While she was trying to stretch it, she over balanced and capsized.

What she did will continue to amaze me. She has only practiced wet exiting once when we first bought her kayak. So when she went over I was expecting total mayhem. But she calmly stuck her paddle in her armpit. She took off her eyeglasses, (no croakies) and hat and stuck them in her

lifejacket. Then she wet exited. I sculled over and performed a quick t-rescue and she was back underway in about 45 seconds.

The rest of the way back to the beach was uneventful except for Gabriel getting his first taste of Lake Michigan surf. He paddled hard and caught two good rides into the beach.

I think it’s pretty amazing how attitude and approach diminished any real danger there was. Because no one panicked, we all had a good time. Of course there wasn’t any real danger as there were lots of boats around, and the water temps are in the high sixties. But I think half of everthing in this world is about your attitude. My wife not freaking out about a capsize and having the prescience to calmly stow her glasses in a pocket while hanging upside down awes me. I have done lessons with dozens of people who try to breath water on their 2nd and 3rd attempts on wet exits. And really almost drown when they go over on accident.

But then again I think it also depends on your attitude towards the water. If you love the water, and don’t mind having a bit injected up your nose willy nilly, nothing seems that bad.

I don’t necessarily recommend taking your family of 4 out into a squall on lake michigan your first time out. But I think if there is one thing that will make or break your paddling is getting comfortable in your kayak on the water. Get out and play, so when things do go wrong, nothing will phase you.

Kudus To You
and your family for having practiced rescues and keeping your cool when one was required.

We had our first required rescue Memorial Day weekend in Topsail Sound, a small saltwater bay. We had confused water due to some wind and a multitude of boat wakes but otherwise ideal conditions. We had just headed out for our last paddle of the day and my girl friend got her paddle stuck in a wave and over she went. We did an uneventful T rescue, though it was with about a three knot current and 1-2 foot wakes and chop. All went well but it did take us a couple of minutes, not 45 seconds. And, I did not have two children to watch while performing my part of the rescue. Sounds like you and your wife did great!

happy paddling,


Your right to be impressed
Just this morning I was teasing my wife about her wet exit technique from last night. She is getting pretty reliable with her onside-extended paddle roll. She hasn’t missed in 3 outings over the last two weeks. However, when I suggested she try to do it non-extended she exited really quickly after one unsuccessful attempt and complained about all the bruises she gave herself. I told her that if she’d quit fighting off the piranhas that appeared to be attacking her (based on my observation of the froth surrounding her kayak) and “calmly” exit she might not get so badly bruised.

I’m lucky she’s got a great sense of humor.

You should also be proud of your kids. My daughter did her first 4 mile paddle without being towed over Memorial weekend in ideal conditions. I don’t think she’d have done well in the wind.

Calm, Confidence, Calculation, Community
Sounds as though you’ve got the 4C’s along that make venturing the 7 Seas a whole lot more inhospitable for Tragedy. Makes bringin’ in the fifth C, Comedy, and his big brother, Fun, a certainty.

Glad you and your family had a great time out on the water.


Good for you
the family that plays together attitude is great. esepially when you have the young ones seeing well exicuted safety procedures. If your wife was floundering around and it took 5 attempts to get anything done, then I think the children would remeber that, and have a bit more fear in rough situations.

Keep on having fun, and tell us about the kids (I vicariously live through other’s families)!


Gotta love a woman who’s calm…
…under pressure.

I was a bit surprised by your “She has only practiced wet exiting once” comment though. I’d have thought you’d train family more than that…

Maybe I’m reading that wrong and you meant one practice session and not a single wet exit? Maybe an extensive session? Kids too?

Obviously though, whatever the prep - she was fine where it counts! Wet exits are traumatic for some(?) and they need a lot of practice, and simple no-brainers for others who have it down form the first time.

Call me a Chicken$hit, but I’d be nervous with a novice paddler AND two young children in a mixed flotilla like that. Odds are good nothing much would go wrong, and things would be manageable if it did - but if one more thing had gone wrong…

training session

– Last Updated: Jun-15-05 3:21 PM EST –

the wife has had several training sessions, but she really has only wet exited once or twice in practice sessions. And this is where I taught her a t-rescue . But I haven't forced her to practice it over and over, because she hasn't shown that much of an interest. She actually showed an interest in rolling after this though! But this was her first actual wet exit in conditions.

My eight year old is a little sea otter who loves practicing anything where he gets wet.

The five year old was being towed the whole way.

Training the family is something I try not to force because I want 0 resistance to it. If it isn't fun they will dig in their heels. My dad mistakenly tried to teach my brother how to sail, and as a result he won't set foot on a sail boat to this day. So I am trying to learn from his mistakes.

Nervous, maybe a little when I was towing both kids and the wife went over. But like I said, it's about how people handle situations. She didn't freak out, and as a result everyone still had fun.

One more thing can always go wrong.

glad yer ok

– Last Updated: Jun-15-05 3:33 PM EST –

I am suprised more folks didn't berate ya for taking your kids out on big water. I thought Coffee was full of it ,when he was talking of how people bashed him on this site for his paddling comments. While I don't know exactly the conditions you were in it doesn't sound the safest to be towing young kids in the conditions. Finally , once again , glad everyone is safe.

The Second Time…
I took my wife on a class II ww run, she flipped right next to a particular structure - Pancake Rock/surf hole - she was pinned against the rock. I was in the eddy below and was trying to get to her when she pushed herself free from the rock and then wet exited and she dropped into the eddy. She floated down the next set of rapids with her feet in front, bruised her legs quite a bit, and lost the paddle. All in all, she was a good sport about it. Gotta work her on a roll this summer.


that takes
character if she’ll go out again after being pinned to a rock.

It scared the crap out of me. I was ready to get out of the boat to get to her.


That’s great!
I put Samantha in my kayak this weekend too. Funny my kayak almost fit her. She also made it go all on her own (she just turned 5). I’m going to build her one that fits. We have an excellent shallow lake by me that’s perfect for kids to paddle on.