Beginning Sea Kayak Clinic
May 20-21, 2000
by Steve Cramer

I ended up with 6 paddlers enrolled, some GCA, some Atlanta Kayakers, and one furriner from west of Tallapoosa. They included John Rebers, Lonnie McBride, Marcia Jenkins, Belita Gordon, Don Shirk, and Cheryl Thompson. Work prevented my getting an early start on the trip down to Charleston on Friday, so we didn't meet up until Saturday morning on the bank of Shem Creek. Everyone was in a plastic sea kayak except Don, who was paddling a gorgeous Chesapeake 17 he had built himself, and Cheryl, in an Ocean Kayak Frenzy (that's the name of her boat, not her emotional state). After a brief stop at Coastal Expeditions to pick up Belita's new graphite paddle, we headed down the creek into Charleston Harbor. The weather was clear, but windy.

We paddled across to Crab Bank and were greeted by the usual 2,462 nesting pelicans. Hoping to use the island as a wind shield, we paddled close to the eastern shore, but the wind still blew us around a good bit as we practiced strokes. Not to mention being downwind of 2,462 pelicans isn't the sweetest place to be. Don was kind enough to flip and then demonstrated a paddlefloat-assisted self-rescue.

As the day went on, we alternated practicing strokes and rescues. The wind was annoying, as it kept blowing us into a group of moored boats and we had to keep paddling back to the island. John and Lonnie both have sea kayak rolls, but practiced all the self-rescues anyway, since rolls are never 100%, as I demonstrated by blowing two in a row and coming up on the third. Later, we were visited by a pod of dolphins, who swam up into our group. They didn't stay long, though.

After lunch on the island, practice continued. I had promised the class a trip up the harbor to visit the USS Yorktown, but the 10-20 knot winds coming across the harbor would have been on our beam and I knew some of the boats would weathercock, plus Cheryl's little sit-on-top would have had a hard time, so I regretfully nixed the trip. Maybe next time. Instead, we moved back into Shem Creek to get out of the wind. It didn't help much, and we had incoming tide now as well, so we had to keep shifting around.

We were off the water about 4:30, so time for a shower, a beer, and a nap before the obligatory seafood dinner at The Wreck.

Sunday was overcast and still windy. Arriving at the beach on Sullivan's Island, some of the students were a little apprehensive about the look of the sea. Distinctly bumpy and dark. By the time we were ready to put on, though, things had brightened and it was inviting.

We spent the morning learning how to deal with breaking waves, first head on (the easy way) and then abeam (the interesting way). The surf was not big, but it doesn't take a big wave to flip you. Seas past the beach break, where we spent some time, were 1-2 feet, high for that area. I tried paddling the Frenzy, which is far too stable for its own good. Punching through even 2 foot waves is dramatic. I surfed back in and purposely broached into the soup to test it out. I was very frustrated when I couldn't get it to edge into the wave by lifting my onshore knee. Then I realized my knee wasn't pushing against anything. Duh.

After lunch, we punched through the surf and paddled about 300 yards out to a sandbar were the falling tide was causing some breaking waves. I was the last off the beach and looked out with some concern to see the group heading to an area where two wave fronts were crossing at right angles. I quickly rounded them up into an area where all the waves broke the same direction. We played there for over an hour, with some people surfing (notably John and Lonnie) and others just working back and forth through the waves.

A couple of swims punctuated the fun, but as the water was only 1-3 feet deep, no one actually swam, just stood up. Lonnie did his first combat sea kayak roll, which impressed everyone, including him, although he insisted it was a fluke. Most everybody (except John) ran out of steam about 3:00, so we called it a day. Actually, we called it two very good days.