Kayaking comes to me in winter dreams, as spring anticipation, summer pleasure and fall farewells. Not to say the pleasure can't extend to open water in December or a calm lake on a sunny March or October afternoon, but warm summer days are the best in my book. I'm lucky to have the ability and the time to enjoy this amazing activity.
Kayaks come in all shapes, sizes, colors and price ranges. If you are interested in buying one, take my advice and do some research first. Just walking into a big box store and grabbing the first one to catch your eye, might not result in the best experience. The first kayak I bought is still my favorite. I went to a small, local dealer, and he helped me make a good choice. The second one was bought on a whim from a warehouse type store and that one sits unused most of the time. It's heavy, doesn't track well and you get tired just trying to paddle it. Try not to make the same mistake I did.
The number one question you want to ask yourself is "Where will I be using my kayak?" Will you be paddling around a calm lake or down a lazy river? Or, will it be in open or fast water? Think about how far you want to go in your boat will it be for a few hours or an overnight trip? Will you need storage space for gear? Will you be paddling alone or in a group? If you are kayaking solo, you will have to launch and load by yourself. How will you transport and store your kayak? Lots to think about, but it is necessary. Don't be afraid to ask questions and try out different models.
There are many recreational activities you can enjoy on Chautauqua Lake, including kayaking.
Photo by Susan M. Songster-Weaver
I am not an expert on kayaking. I am speaking from my experiences, along with what I have observed and what I have learned from my mistakes. There are a few basic facts you should understand. Shorter kayaks are easier to manipulate, transport, launch and load. They are lighter, less cumbersome and easier to turn in calm lakes and rivers. But, they are slower. These boats are good for kids and small adults. Make sure you check the weight limit - it is important.
Longer kayaks are easier to paddle, especially if you are going long distances. Once you get them up to speed, you just sail along. I tried one in Florida and was impressed. It held a straight course and was faster in open water than my short sit-on kayak. Plus, I glided farther with each stroke. I covered a lot of distance with a minimal amount of labor.
Another factor you need to consider is the width of your craft. Wider kayaks are more stable to get in and out of, but the wider it is, the slower it will be. Narrower kayaks with a cockpit can pose a challenge when you are trying to get in and out. You have to determine what is best for you and where you will be kayaking the most. I found great information on the website www.rei.com under the "Learn" tab.
Once you think you are ready to go forward with your kayak, stop and research paddles. A light, strong paddle can make all the difference in the world. Good ones can be expensive, so it has to be a well thought out decision.
If kayaking adventures are in your future, please play it safe. Don't ever under estimate the power of water and Mother Nature. A beautiful calm day on Chautauqua Lake can turn ugly quickly. Life jackets are life savers. Rivers can be unpredictable, too, especially during times of high water. Kayaking with someone else is best, and it is smart to have a "dry bag" so you can carry your cellphone. The Chautauqua Watershed holds many wonders - make your memories good ones. See you on the lake and on the trails.
Susan M. Songster Weaver is retired teacher, nature lover and longtime CWC volunteer and supporter. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local nonprofit organization that is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, call 664-2166 or visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or www.facebook.com/chautauquawatershed.