Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Hold Your Breath

Recently my 12 year old son told me that he'd like to get involved in paddling whitewater in a kayak.

His first kayak ride happened when he was about 6 months old.  He rode 'papoose' between my knees in my 15 year old Perception Caspia on a fun little ride down the Clarion River in Pennsylvania.

Over the next couple of years he got used to seeing me in my boats, and going along when Mom and he were my 'shuttle bunnies'.

Getting ready to put my Pirouette in for a run on Slippery Rock Creek.

We would travel around Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia and camp - and there was almost always a kayak on top of the car.  Kenny soon learned that Daddy would try to get in a boat trip any time he could.

Me paddling past Kenny at our campsite on the E. Br. Greenbriar River, WV.

And he got the chance for quite a few more rides while he was still just a toddler.  Many times we would camp in the Allegheny National Forest and take a boat along so we could enjoy a peaceful ride on the Clarion River.

When he got a little bigger I'd take him to a creek along with a small inflatable raft.  I'd put a leash on the boat and wade downstream, letting him float along and enjoy the water.

The growing boater on South Sandy Creek, PA.

He always enjoyed these creek trips, so just before he turned 6 we got him a child sized kayak for Christmas.

He loved to sit in his boat, and spent a lot of time pretending to paddle.  But he also got to spend a good amount of time on the water, learning how to balance in a kayak.  He never paddled any real rapids, but he loved to get in the water and paddle around while I was his 'safety crew'.

More fun on the Clarion River.

But he outgrew that kayak pretty quickly, and he seemed okay with that.  We've gone on many canoe trips together, on the Clarion River, and on Ohio's Beaver Creek.  Of course on these trips he's as likely to jump out of the canoe and swim the whole distance as he is to ride in the boat.  But getting to be comfortable in the water is a good thing, and as long as he is enjoying himself then I'm happy.

Then this year he said he wanted to try paddling whitewater.  At the age of 12 he's just about the same size as I am, so he fits in my kayak just fine, as well as the life jackets and spray skirts.  So this spring we've spent some time on Slippery Rock creek at low water - learning the safety aspects of whitewater kayaking.  He's learned how to use a throw rope, and how to repack it.  We spent a good amount of time teaching him to 'wet exit' the kayak - that is how to get out of the boat when it flips over.  And after a couple of tries he gets it - no need to panic, just do what you know has to be done and you'll be fine.  We've even run a couple of easy rapids, with him in the boat and me standing by as safety.

Now he just needs to build up some more arm and upper body strength - and the way to do that is to paddle a bunch more.  We've had some trouble getting water levels that are appropriate for him, but he's done a couple more canoe trips that definitely helped out.

But I admit that I do kind of dread him running more difficult water.  Accidents happen (brother do I know that!) and I don't want them to happen to him.  So we'll go very slow in our progression, and make sure that there are never any corners cut.  Safety first - and second for that matter.  But I have a feeling that soon enough he's going to want to push it a bit and hit some real whitewater.

And I'll be right there, ready to be the 'safety crew'.

1 comment:

  1. I just got off the phone with my 26 year old son. We have a standard old joke between us about "we'll play catch." The joke is that we never did. I don't even know if he can throw a baseball. (For that matter, I don't even know if I can throw a baseball,'s been awhile.)

    All he learned from me is work, which I guess ain't all bad. Self-employed and trying too hard, I worked. All the time. He did too. I have pictures of him with a tool pouch on when he was twelve.

    A picture of him with a smile and a ball glove would be nice, though. I just got off the phone...he was at work.