News and Tribune

June 20, 2014

STAWAR: Yippee kayak yay!

Local columnist

— A few weeks ago, our granddaughter celebrated her 11th birthday. She is our “sporty” basketball- and soccer-playing granddaughter, so after negotiating with her mother, we got the green light to buy her a kid-sized kayak.

It’s one of those molded plastic affairs with an open deck. The paddler sits on the floor with the legs and hips below the deck level. It has what looks to be a seat belt, but it doesn’t have one of those “spray skirts” which create a water tight seal around the waist, which I think is just as well.

Kayaking is the most popular of the “paddle sports” and is distinguished from canoeing by where the paddler sits and the use of the two-bladed paddle. According to the Outdoors Foundation, in 2012 there were 10.2 million kayakers, 9.8 million canoers and 1.5 million stand-up paddlers in America. The number of kayakers has grown by 32 percent over the past three years.

Recreational kayaking — where you paddle around lakes and calm waters — is the most popular type, followed by sea and whitewater kayaking. It is most prevalent in the Atlantic and far Western states. Indiana is in a five-state Midwest region containing about 13 percent of all U.S. kayakers.

Kayakers typically get out on the water one to three times per year and 10 percent are less than 17 years of age. A majority of survey respondents gave the following reasons for kayaking: exercise, adventure, to be with family and friends, to get away from it all and to enjoy the beauties of nature.

 Our granddaughter showed some interest in the sport after the whole family was in Florida for a wedding in April and one of her uncles rented some sea kayaks. We also saw a number of stand-up paddlers along the inland waterways .

One of the conditions we had to agree to was to store the new kayak at our house. We took it with us to our daughter’s home in the Cincinnati area, so our granddaughter could actually see it on her birthday.

Everyone was amazed that we were able to cram it inside our little car by folding down the car back seats, which open to the trunk. Perhaps the best thing about the new kayak is it’s bright orange color. This, however, has resulted in a drawn-out controversy as to what name would be most appropriate.

My wife Diane and I suggested naming it the “S.S. Minnow” after the boat in “Gilligan’s Island.” We discussed this while walking up a hill in the waterpark, where we were celebrating her birthday.

Breathing heavily, we sang the entire theme song, including our favorite part, “If it were not for the courage of the fearless crew, the Minnow would be lost.” The grandchildren were not impressed. As often occurs these days, they simply looked at us like we were Martians.

The other proposed names for the kayak included: “The Eye of Sauron” from The Lord of the Rings and “Nemo.” This Nemo was the orange-and-white clownfish from the Disney movie “Finding Nemo,” not Captain Nemo from Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” After some rather intense lobbying, our granddaughter wisely chose Nemo.

Diane and I have done some canoeing in the past, but never considered kayaking, Perhaps our resistance is because we did most of our paddling in Florida. Even sitting up on a seat up in a canoe, you still get a little too close to the omnipresent water snakes and, of course, alligators.

Once we saw folks kayaking in The Great Okefenokee Swamp and I remember thinking that they were riding awfully low in the water — well within chomping distance. My concerns were reinforced when we saw an enormous alligator sunning itself on the kayak takeout ramp. I could only imagine it picking its teeth with one of those twin-bladed oars.

Never-the-less, kayaking is a very safe sport. According to Dr. David Fiore, from the University of Nevada, injury rates for even the most dangerous form of kayaking (whitewater) is only around four injuries per 1,000 kayaking days. Aside from blisters, shoulder and wrist maladies are the most common complaints. Fortunately, our granddaughter’s new kayak is designed for recreational use. I didn’t see any data regarding reptile-related injuries.

Paddle sports can be hazardous in other ways. Years ago, another couple invited Diane and me to go canoeing. At the launch site, while we were still checking for alligators, the other couple shot off like a cannon with perfectly synchronized strokes. We didn’t realize they were ringers preparing for this day their whole lives.

We followed like a creaky jalopy. Paddling furiously trying to catch up, we lacked any coordination. I remember over-paddling on my side, causing several embarrassing circles and crashes into the bank. They laughed.

Being someone who values competence, Diane was frustrated by our lack of control. Since it seemed to her that the problem was emanating from the back of the canoe, she communicated as much. In such highly stressful situations, there is a tendency for people to turn on each other.

The other couple toyed with us, slowing down enough for us to catch up, but then darting ahead, sort of the way our smart-aleck cat used to do whenever we went for a walk. I suppose we should have been less worried about the alligators and more concerned about the sharks in the other canoe.

— Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D., lives in Georgetown and is the CEO of LifeSpring the local community mental health center in Jeffersonville. He can be reached at Checkout his Welcome to Planet-Terry blog and podcast at