This is for the benefit of new members here wondering if taking lessons is important, and also so I can unload my own experience and let go….
I’m coming back to kayaking after starting a family. I had solid average skills, my own sea kayak and took safety seriously. My roll was novice level: always with someone else just in case. I want to get back into paddling and arranged a lesson to brush up my skills (spoiler: they sort of suck after ten years) and get over the capsize apprehension by doing some self rescues.
If you’re new and don’t think about capsizing or needing help, please start to do so now. It’s inevitable.
We spent the first minutes of the lesson standing in the water practicing the steps to wet exit. Check water depth and sea bed. Check PFD, skirt. Deep breath, lean forward, control paddle, roll. Tap on hull, wave, hands to hips > locate grab loop, pull, slide out. Finish with feet hooked onto coaming. Got it. Demonstration by coach. Got it. Time to go.
As I set up, I mentioned “ I wasn’t initially taught to wave my hands.” Let me read it back to you. ( some people may see the foreshadowing).
Ready to go, I took my breaths, leaned and rolled. Tap. Wave. Wave. What happens next? It’s dark down here and I can see the bottom. I forgot the next step! The whole purpose of the drill… I forgot it. Froze. I waved my one hand as if to say “ hey I’m still down here” and my coach rolled me up.
As you can imagine I was upset, panicked and mostly disappointed. I had one job! A job I’ve actually done successfully before. As we debriefed the only thing I could focus on was the waving, and how that was new to me and I think I got fixated on it, to the point I forgot to bring my hands down to the pull loop and exit. I eventually got it on the next spin but my head was fouled up for the rest of the morning knowing how close real failure would have been if I were alone or not having had some instruction.
I’m still upset with myself and, if I close my eyes, I can see the water and instantly be transported back to that fear. I was at a training session and I’m glad it happened there in front of an experienced coach and that we could debrief and correct the situation. I hope someone, even one person, reads this before throwing the boat in the water and heading out without any safety training. This is an activity where you should expect and be prepared for an emergency. Don’t let it be your first and potentially last time.