Not Dying in Antarctica Step 1: Learn to Kayak

I've never properly learned to kayak... didn't even realize there were multiple types of kayaks that require multiple types of skill and safety knowledge. Apparently, you can't just get in any ol' kayak you want and go off on your own.

Which brings me to my first practice session, Introduction to Sea Kayaking class. I learned the basics of traditional sea kayaking (these are sit-in kayaks that have a spray skirt overtop) including wet exits, how to get back in if you fall out and how to rescue someone else if they fall out. Simple enough here in California. Maddening to think about doing in Antarctica.

Some lessons:

  1. Voluntarily flipping yourself upside down into the water while strapped to a kayak is terrifying.
  2. After a few times, it's pretty easy. More practice means more confidence.
  3. Kayaks are heavy. In the assisted rescue scenario, it's tough to flip these guys over and make sure they're not full of water. All with a freaked out person in the water (and most likely, you freaking out as well).
  4. Developing upper body strength is a must. I'm very sore.
  5. Managing gear is a awkward! I can already see how hard it will be to manage my huge camera and underwater bag. I used an underwater case for my iPhone during class and it definitely took some getting used to. More practice required!
  6. Paddling is straight forward. Torso rotation is critical to proper form, speed and efficiency.
  7. I had naive ambitions to go from intro class to advanced class pretty quickly. Turns out, this is a bad idea. My instructor told me I could probably "get by" in the upper level, but really, I need to be clocking more hours covering the basics, getting used to wet exits and getting back in the boat, and developing strength and confidence to paddle in scarier waters.

In sum, I'm sticking to the basics over the new few months. I'll go out and practice, flip myself over a few hundred more times, work on dealing with my camera(s) in context and generally hope that none of those rescues will actually be needed in the icy Antarctic waters.

Kayak basics class at Sea Trek in Sausalito, CA. 

Kayak basics class at Sea Trek in Sausalito, CA.