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Kayaking: The basics

June 15, 2012
By ADELLE WHITEFOOT - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - For someone who wants start kayaking, the first decision that needs to be made is where they will use it the most: Lake Superior or inland lakes and rivers.

Generally, people will either only go out on inland lakes and rivers or they want to go out on Lake Superior and that's really going to dictate the kind of boat someone uses, said Bryant Kerrigan, sales associate from Down Wind Sports.

"What you would call a recreational kayak would be good for inland lakes or rivers," Kerrigan said. "It's kind of wide and has a big cockpit and one sealed compartment in the back that's called a bulkhead."

Article Photos

Examples of kayaks available for purchase from Down Wind Sports in Marquette. (Journal photos by Adfelle Whitefoot)

Recreational kayaks are very stable from side to side but are a little slower, he said.

"If you want to do anything in Lake Superior, we recommend having a boat that has the double bulkheads," Kerrigan said.

The reason for having two bulkheads is if the kayak was to capsize it would float above the water because most of the boat would still be empty, Kerrigan said.

"This way you could flip it over and climb right in, you could pump the water out from the inside and continue on your way," he said.

According to Kerrigan, if someone were to be out on Lake Superior with a recreational kayak and a wave crashed over the boat, water would get into the kayak easily with the big open cockpit.

"It only has one sealed compartment so it would float vertically and there would be no way of getting in, so you'd have to be able to swim to shore," he said.

Sea kayaks are really long and narrow, so they can travel straighter and faster then a recreational kayak, Kerrigan said.

"You could go out as long as you want," he said. "People do huge adventures, like up to Alaska, in some of these sea kayaks."

According to Kerrigan, to get started with kayaking there are three main things that a person needs: a boat, a paddle and a life jacket. At Down Wind Sports, paddles start out at about $130 and life jackets start out at about $90, as well as the spray skirt.

The price of a kayak depends on the length, material it's made out of and whether it's a recreational or sea kayak. The smallest recreational kayak that Down Wind Sports has in stock is 12 feet long and costs about $750. The least expensive sea kayak they have is 13.5 feet long and costs about $1,170.

"For all the sea kayaks, we are going to be able to fit the people correctly. They all have foot pegs on the inside and that's really important for back bracing," Kerrigan said. "Some of the cheaper kayaks at like Gander Mountain or Dunham's may not have them."

When it comes to fitting people for sea kayaks, the taller and bigger the person is bigger the kayak they need, Kerrigan said.

"You're not just controlling with your paddles, you actually want to be kind of connected to the boat, especially in the sea kayaks," Kerrigan said. "It's much more of a precise fit so you can control it better."

It's possible for beginners to start out right away on Lake Superior if they are really interested in becoming a sea kayaker, Kerrigan said.

"There are kayaking courses that you can take. There are even some offered locally," Kerrigan said.

Kerrigan said if someone buys their first kayak from Down Wind Sports they will set them up with a spray skirt and with a lesson on kayaking with Sam Crowley at the Marquette YMCA.

"It doesn't matter if the waves pick up and the rain is coming down, you're going to be prepared and are going to be able to get back to safety," Kerrigan said.

Adelle Whitefoot can be reached at 906-228-2500. Her email address is



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