Always wanted to kayak? Here’s how

JANELLE PATTERSON The Marietta Times Jessica Talbott explains safety tips on the Ohio River as Louisiana couple Gretchen and Seth Halpern head down river in a tandem kayak.

With ample waterways to utilize this summer, why not try out a paddling sport?

That’s how Jess Talbott at the Marietta Adventure Company feels.

“I grew up on the water, paddling all over Lake Erie,” explained the 23-year-old Marietta transplant who before settling in the area guided sea kayak adventures in the Bahamas and whitewater kayaking in the New River Gorge.

Talbott said she loves the challenge of the water, but also the relaxation of floating down the Muskingum, Ohio and Little Muskingum rivers after a solid upstream paddle.

Others, according to Hallie Taylor, co-owner of the adventure company, got into kayaking for the more recent popularity of fishing from sit-on-top kayaks.

JANELLE PATTERSON The Marietta Times When paddling in reverse, the best traction against the water is achieved by keeping the paddle in the same position as when moving forward.

But how does one get started in the paddling scene? What level of physical fitness do you need? How expensive is it?

Getting started

Talbott recommends renting a few different kayaks before buying to make sure the investment is exactly what you want.

“A boat from a big grocery chain may be just fine, but those are plastic, drag lower in the stern and can tip easier,” she explained. “People have a better experience and feel more capable on the water with a better quality boat. It’s not about how much strength you have when you’re paddling, but how efficient you stroke.”

Polyethylene kayaks have better stability, she said, which then affords the paddler a more pleasant experience on the water.

JANELLE PATTERSON The Marietta Times Jessica Talbott explains how to perform a “J” stroke to make a tight turn in smaller rivers and creeks.

Kayaks at the adventure company can range in price from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand depending on the features, with more basic options in the $400 range and the more streamlined options reaching $1,800. Others at Dunham’s Sports in Vienna range from $150 to $700.

There’s not a high level of physical fitness needed, Talbott said.

Experienced kayakers say the exertion used when paddling is comparable to going for a walk. Someone who plans to kayak for three to four hours should be someone who could also walk for that long, at their own pace. There is also a reasonable level of fitness required for getting in and out of the kayak.

“The beauty of it is you can make kayaking as intensive or relaxed a workout as you want it to be. There really is no physical limitation,” explained Talbott. “I’ve had customers who have had back surgery, rotator cuff surgery, worried about sitting for too long but we’ve been able to adjust the seats and help them be comfortable. It’s really all a mental game of what you feel capable of.”

Those who can’t swim are even encouraged to try kayaking, assuming they have the proper personal flotation device to keep them afloat if necessary.

JANELLE PATTERSON The Marietta Times Jessica Talbott, of the Marietta Adventure Company, explains how to keep one’s balance in a kayak by keeping hips and legs spread to the sides of the boat while keeping a straight abdominal core.

Standard PFDs are available for as little as $30, depending on the features you want. U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFDs are encouraged and can be found in both standard and inflatable versions. Standard jackets require less maintenance while inflatable PFDs can be more lightweight and comfortable. Those shopping for a jacket should have the measurement at the broadest point of their chest handy to know the proper size.

So with a proper boat, paddle, life jacket and some packaged water Talbott said many local waterways are friendly to those first trying the sport.

She also recommends using a lighter-colored paddle for better boater visibility, saying she prefers light-colored paddles, which can range in price from $25 to $50.

Talbott also explained that while getting on the water the key to not flipping is keeping a low center of gravity while getting in the boat. Graceful entrance and exits just takes practice.

“Loose hips, but a stable core, that allows you the greatest mobility in the boat,” she explained as she slightly leaned into her strokes but kept her legs pressed against the sides of the kayak.

She said one will have a better experience paddling with hands shoulder-width apart, and stabilizing the boat with a wide seated position and leading core.

Where to start

“The Muskingum River is always a great starting river, paddling with the current kind of takes you along as you go and it’s not as strenuous,” said Talbott. “Plus it’s less boat traffic and you’re less likely to run into things because it’s so wide.”

Taylor also suggested the flat waters of Veto Lake, which can be a great place for a family to start kayaking.

“There’s no current there so a there-and-back is easy to do and there aren’t a lot of boats on there but it’s beautiful,” she said.

Then as one gains confidence and if the water levels are high enough, Duck Creek and the Little Muskingum River also provide scenic and secluded routes in the area.

Louisiana residents Gretchen and Seth Halpern, 30 and 33 respectively, spent a recent day on the water for the first time in a tandem kayak from the adventure company, and were surprised that they could kayak with such ease.

“We’re from Baton Rouge and this was our first time really on the water in a kayak,” said Gretchen. “It was a very easy ride for the most part.”

Seth added that even without significant experience or advanced fitness level the pair found the trip both relaxing and a workout.

“It was definitely a workout where the Muskingum met the Ohio and the current started up. We tried to make our way to the tip of that beach (at Buckley Island). That was the hardest part,” said Seth.

“We’re flatlanders, anything up here is an extra workout, but I enjoyed doing the tandem together because when one of us got tired, the other could push us along for a bit,” added Gretchen.

Talbott also added that one woman she took out a few weeks ago as a novice, after one guided trip, has been going out on the rivers weekly alone.

Safety

“The biggest safety concern is being seen. You do have the right of way on the river, but boats may just not see you,” said Taylor. “Staying close to the shoreline and leaving the center open for boats helps, plus you tend to see more things along the shoreline anyway and there’s often shade too.”

If kayaking at night, Taylor said some people will attach a light to the boat, paddle with white reflective blades and wear reflective clothing. Anglers may even attach a light on a flag on the boat.

Other safety concerns include steering around obstacles and navigating a current so that trees and docks don’t pull the kayaker in and under.

“But people seem to be the most scared of crossing the Ohio River,” said Taylor. “That’s purely mental though, it’s like crossing the street. You need to be aware of your surroundings and look both ways.”

Navigating the water

Talbott also spoke of four basic strokes she teaches in her Kayak 101 class: a power stroke, J-stroke, reverse stroke and sculling.

“The power stroke is basically how you move forward and J-stroke acts like your rudder,” she said. “Then what most people don’t at first realize about going backward is you don’t flip your paddle. You keep it in the same position and move in reverse.”

Sculling, for kayakers, is a parallel sideways movement.

“You move your paddle in a figure-eight motion,” explained Talbott.

In her class, on guided excursions and also just with shuttling kayakers to points along the rivers, she also covers how to adjust your boat and seat for the right fit, how to hold the paddle and why, entrance and exit methods and maneuverability practice.

The next class will take place Sunday at noon and the next guided sunset tour will take place at 6:30 p.m. on July 27. More information can be found through calling Marietta Adventure Company at 740-538-0801.

Sunset Guided Paddle:

– When: July 27 at 6:30 p.m.

– What: A calm 2.5-mile kayak down the Muskingum River to Buckley Island on the Ohio River beneath the Williamstown Bridge as the sun sets.

– Where: Group meets at Marietta Adventure Company 30 minutes prior to launch.

– Who: Open to the public, with reservations preferred.

– Cost: $35 per person to rent a kayak and for shuttle service or $30 if supply own boat.

– To reserve your spot in either trip or for daily shuttle service call the shop at 740-538-0801.

Source: Marietta Adventure Company.

Kayak 101 Class:

– When: Sunday at noon.

– Where: Shuttle and group meet at the Marietta Adventure Company 30 minutes prior to launch.

– Who: All novice kayakers welcome.

– Cost: $40 per person all-inclusive, includes kayak, PFD, paddle, transportation and instruction or $30 per person if you bring your own kayak.