Between the Lines: Say ‘yes’ to kayaking

By David Lias

It was so tempting.

“You really should get out there, so you can have a first-hand experience,” said Jessica Peterson, vice president of the South Dakota Canoe and Kayak Association, at the conclusion of our interview Saturday morning.

Her plea for me to get “out there” meant boarding a kayak and maneuvering it around in the DakotaDome pool, just as a dozen other people had done that morning during a training session sponsored by the association.

“I can almost guarantee that you won’t get wet,” she added, as her gentle pleading continued. She even offered to let me use her kayak and her paddle, which includes drip guards that help keep the water away.

For a moment I pictured myself boldly maneuvering my way across the pool – so brave, in fact, that in my mind I still had my camera around my neck so I could snap photos of kayak training session participants from a unique perspective.

But, mastering a kayak seemed a lot like learning to ride a bike. To me, at least. Soon childhood flashbacks of my “bike learning” experiences entered my mind. Let’s just say I was not a quick learner with my Schwinn, and I was pretty confident I would end up gloriously tipping a kayak, without even trying.

So, I politely declined Jessica’s offer.

While leaving the DakotaDome for my next task of the day, I was struck with Jessica’s passion for the sport.  She talked about how her first experience in a kayak was on a small lake. “Within about two minutes, I wanted to go bigger, farther – all of that stuff,” she said.

I grew up on farm. Near a small lake. And all of us – my folks, my brothers – remained landlubbers.

Oh, we’d walk to the lake with fishing poles to try our luck. But, there was never an interest in navigating on the water. My folks never went boat shopping. Boating was the last thing on their minds. And even though my brothers and I took swimming lessons during our youth, that experience for me was a lot like learning to ride a bike. Except for one thing. After failing numerous times on a bike, I did eventually master it. I never did master swimming well enough to feel safe in the water.

There was a time, however, so long ago. At least 25 years ago. Maybe more. My youngest brother, Steve, was still on our family farm, and he was “boat sitting” for friend who had left his small rowboat at the lake.

We had finished all of the chores on that perfect June evening when he told me to climb into his pickup. Soon, we were heading to the lake, and before I knew it, the two of us were in that small rowboat, cruising on the water.

This was one of those perfect, early summer South Dakota evenings. The sun was slowly sliding toward the horizon, casting a golden hue over everything.

There was no wind. The water was like glass, and I was seeing and hearing things from a perspective I had never experienced before – even though I had spent a good portion of my life on the shores of that lake.

We startled a coot, which did its crazy dance across the water to get away from us rather than simply take flight. We watched as a muskrat, which had been in the reeds near our boat’s path, simply chose to quietly swim past us.

Gnats and mosquitoes buzzed near the water’s surface, and now and again, a small splash could be heard, followed by a ripple – the sure sign of a fish breaking through to bite on a bug.

My brothers and I continue to share unique times together, but Jessica reminded me of just how wondrous my experience on the lake with Steve had been.

So, if you are offered a chance to go kayaking, don’t be like me.

Say yes.

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