Paddling in the pool

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo Craig Edwards, left, and Ashley Coombs, the aquatics supervisor for the Town of Hay River, hold a kayak outside the Don Stewart Recreation Centre.

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
Craig Edwards, left, and Ashley Coombs, the aquatics supervisor for the Town of Hay River, hold a kayak outside the Don Stewart Recreation Centre.

Before any would-be kayakers decide to head out on the Hay River, they can learn about operating the watercraft in a much more controlled setting – the swimming pool.

The Town of Hay River is about to offer clinics on kayaking.

On May 14, there will be an introduction to kayaking, followed by advanced kayaking on May 15. The two sessions will be repeated on June 11 and 12.

The clinics are the idea of Ashley Coombs, the aquatics supervisor with the Town of Hay River, and Craig Edwards, who previously worked for 10 years as a kayaking guide and instructor in B.C.

Edwards said it is very common to do kayaking courses in pools in the south, including on the West Coast and even in Toronto.

“It’s a great recreation,” he said. “And a lot of times these pool things, as you progress, it grows into rolling and playing around with more of the advanced techniques. But we figured just to start out that we’d get some of the basic theory going.”

One of benefits of kayaking in a pool is that it’s a completely controlled environment, Edwards said.

“You can build your skills so that you can safely get out on the water once everything is defrosted and warmed up a little bit,” he said. “So that was kind of our idea. I was saying let’s do it this time so that we can get people prepped for the summer.”

Coombs is going to take the course herself.

“I have personally gone kayaking down the river once and it was nothing that I had any formal training on,” she said. “It was just kind of get some kayaks rented and off we go. Paddle away. Now it’s kind of like let’s just get the 101 on it, basically.”

Coombs said there is considerable interest in the clinics.

Edwards said they will basically build on what the students may already know.

“Although I have key things that I’m trying to do,” he said, listing basic paddle strokes, rescues and safety.

There will also be instruction on how to get out of a kayak if it tips on its side.

“Not every tip is an emergency,” said Edwards. “In fact, very few of them actually are.”

Instead, when a kayak tips on its side, a person can just float out of the craft.

“So it’s actually not as daunting as people think,” he said. “Your boat will go over, but your lifejacket kind of catches you and pushes you.”

As for the more complicated roll in which a kayaker goes upside down and then rights the vessel, Edwards said that is only something for advanced kayakers to attempt.

“You never put a newbie in a sealing spray skirt,” he said. “As an advanced kayaker, I want a sealing spray skirt so I can roll.”

A spray skirt keeps water out of a kayak.

Edwards said there will be some discussion in the advanced class about how rolling is done and a little bit of practice on it.

“But the thing about rolling is it’s more or less a self-discovery kind of thing,” he said. “You’ve got to get out there and do it. And in a three-hour clinic it’s impossible to really teach a person because it’s all about finding your own way to do it.”

However, anyone who wants to learn about rolling should do it with friends and never alone, he cautioned, noting it took him two or three seasons to learn how to do a good roll.

There will be a fee for the clinics.

Coombs said people can also bring their own kayaks.

“They do need to be clean for pool use,” she said, adding there will be an extra fee for kayak rental.

The Town of Hay River has rented kayaks for the clinics.

Edwards said there is no age requirement but a participant has to be able to handle a kayak which he estimated means a person would be at least about 13 years of age.

“It’s not really an age limit,” he said. “It’s more of a physical size. You need to be able to control a boat.”