I remember my first kayaking experience; it was my first summer in Deep Cove as part of staff training, and…I hated it!! I struggled to keep up with others, I got really cold, and found steering a challenge – it’s safe to say that I never thought I would go on to be taking a Level 2 Paddle Canada Skills Course, but 4 1/2 years after that first experience I found myself wanting to learn more and push myself to improve my skills.

The course description says that “This four or five day course will allow you to take kayaking to the next level. This course gives you the skills to go from day tripping and short outings, to multi-day overnight trips.” It was exactly what I was looking for. I’ve kayaked a fair amount over the last few years, when you’re working in the Cove, kayaking is a perk you can take advantage of, but I had never taken it further than a couple of easy overnights and paddling in the sunshine with friends. This course was going to be somewhat different!

Classroom learning on paddle course
Learning in the classroom

Day 1 of the course was split, with the first half of the day on land learning firstly about different kinds of kayaks, and then going into detail about weather with a focus on wind – one of the biggest factors that can affect your paddling. Mike and Mike our fantastic instructors focused on local details and where the majority of our paddling would ever take place. We looked at the marine forecasts for Howe Sound, and the Strait of Georgia – South of Nanaimo and discussed what the week was looking like.

The second half of the day was spent on water…and in water! We learnt different launching methods (my favourite being the one where you get your buddy to help you!), forward stroke efficiency and sweep strokes. Then came the part that I had been dreading – rescues. I am particularly sensitive to the cold, so deliberately putting myself under water in the middle of November wasn’t exactly my idea of a good time. Surprisingly, I didn’t find it too bad – my drysuit worked for the most part, and a Kokatat Surfskin hood really helped to keep the heat in. Nonetheless I was happy to jump in a warm shower after the rescues section was over!

Day 2 was similar to the first, except we started with decision making, and navigation. I am the first to admit I am a bit of a nerd, so poring over charts of local areas and learning about what they show in detail was really fascinating. We were learning skills for life for sure. The afternoon on water was great – learning strokes like the sideways draw, how to do a bow and stern rudder and draw, and the cross draw. These are strokes I’ve seen guides and instructors use, so it was great to learn them and practice them myself. Then it was rescue time again – this time the scoop, and hand of god rescues, which involves the person being rescued hanging out underwater while the rescuer comes over and attempts to flip the boat with you still in it. A great tool to have…harder to practice over and over again this time of year but it sure feels good when you nail it!

Warming up on the beach for November paddling
Warming up for November paddling

Day 3 was a half day due to the holiday, so we stayed dry, and I revelled in more details about tides and currents – absolutely fascinating. Following a long discussion about how to decide ‘to go or not to go’ we decided that despite a fairly strong wind warning (35-45 knots) that we would head to our intended departure point of Egmont on the Sunshine Coast for our overnight paddle the next morning. Mike also gave us a great summary of what gear we would need, and the best way to pack for our kayaks – using small dry bags so you can ‘tetris’ your boat is by far the easiest way to do it due to limited space and small hatches to get your bags through.

Bags for kayak trip ready to go
Small dry bags packed prior to going into kayak

A few purchases later at Deep Cove Outdoors and MEC I was all ready to go. I’m not going to say I wasn’t nervous, but the nerves were definitely tinged with excitement. I’ve been wanting to visit the infamous Skookumchuck rapids since I first heard about them – but paddling through them?? I guess the skills I’d learnt through the first part of the week would really be put to the test!

Stay tuned in the next couple of days for the next instalment!