Enjoying the Journey

Local paddlers relish treasured waterways

By Colin Anderson | Photo Courtesy of Coeur d’Alene Canoe and Kayak

Article by Coeur d’Alene Living Local.

Outdoor recreation is booming. After being stuck at home for long stretches, people are finding the beauty, excitement and serenity of nature again. Boat and RV dealers remain low on stock as do bike shops and those who carry canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. Campgrounds are full, and even some of the previously isolated backpacking locations are seeing more and more new visitors.

Boat traffic has also dramatically increased. Not only are there simply more motorized craft on the water, but specialized wake surf boats are churning up even larger waves on already busy waterways. For those looking to enjoy the local lakes and rivers by way of paddle, this can create a frustrating—and in some cases dangerous—situation. “Our club is here to instruct new paddlers on how to be more efficient, comfortable and secure out on the water,” explained Coeur d’Alene Canoe and Kayak Club President Dwight McCain.

Founded in 2005, the club emphasizes safety and skill development amongst members, with a focus on helping those new to kayaking go from novice to skilled paddler.

“Our group is special in one way—there is always someone to help you, whether you are new or a member for a while,” added longtime member JerrySue Limandri, who is also the club’s secretary. “Paddling technique is important; we do not just ‘go out and have fun.’ We stay in a group setting and watch everyone to be sure they are safe.”

Dwight recalls being talked into joining the club by his then girlfriend who was an avid paddler. While she was into kayaks, Dwight preferred to paddle more stable canoes. Still, she talked him into taking a sea kayaking trip around Vancouver Island. “After that trip I thought I’d never get in a kayak again,” he laughed. Shortly after they joined the club, the relationship ended. “She moved on, and I kept the kayak. I still have it,” he smiled.

Not feeling comfortable on open water was Dwight’s introduction to kayaking and something he and the other experienced members of the club focus on in their classes and training sessions with new members.

The club hosts annual “Skills Days” in which instructors show proper paddling techniques, such as focusing on utilizing core muscles instead of just pumping with your arms. Once new paddlers have the maneuvering skills needed, instruction shifts to getting yourself out of danger. Paddlers learn self-rescue skills in the event their kayak is swamped or tipped over by wind or wave. They also go through team rescue drills in case someone comes into trouble during a group paddle. “Our goal is to teach people to paddle safely and learn how to use their boats and paddles effectively and correctly. There is always someone to help with the newbies and still keep the group together,” said JerrySue.

While there is a lot of instruction done within the club, that isn’t to say it’s all instruction and no fun to be had! From spring through early fall, the club hosts a Thursday night paddle where anyone can show up and join the group. Locations include various bays around Lake Coeur d’Alene, Hayden Lake, Twin Lakes, Spirit Lake, Bayview, and the Pend Oreille and Spokane rivers. While there are a few other paddle clubs in the region where the focus is more on exercise, adventure and whitewater, the Coeur d’Alene Canoe and Kayak Club’s focus remains on enjoying the journey at a more leisurely pace. They also primarily paddle on flat water or stretches of river with smaller rapids.

The meet-up locations are all available on the group’s website and also coordinated through Meetup.com. Participants gather sometimes up to an hour before launch to hang out, introduce themselves to new participants, and to assess the skills of those who might be paddling with the group for the first time. The group then launches together at 6pm and paddles a designated route that usually takes about 90 minutes. The paddle is a go at your own pace, and the group is always keeping an eye on the bank as well. “We also educate the paddlers about the area, history and wildlife, along with waterfowl that we might encounter,” said JerrySue. Back at the launch point, members help each other get out of the water and get their boats back and secured to their vehicles.

Evenings are much more peaceful times on the local waterways, and Dwight especially likes going out just after a storm has blown through. As the club’s photographer, he often finds the most wildlife activity during this time. “We’ve come across moose, muskrats and beavers, a lot of deer around Wolf Lodge Bay, and the wetlands are just full of wildlife.” Boaters cruise by these areas at speed, and most never see or experience all the bits of nature that these waterways contain.

With a rush on outdoor gear, Dwight and JerrySue are seeing another potential problem for new paddlers: buying something that doesn’t properly fit. Some retailers would previously let you test out kayaks in the water before purchase. With inventory going so fast, some shoppers are simply grabbing whatever is available, which might lead to buyer’s remorse. “We do not offer opinions as to what they purchase, however, we do help instruct them on which boats are effective for what they plan to do. Whether they want to just tool around inside the bays, or rather take a two- to four-hour tour,” added JerrySue.

When choosing the kayak, Dwight recommends, at a minimum, sitting in it for a while to make sure it’s comfortable. If you plan on fishing out of the kayak, a sit-on top model is probably your best bet. If you plan on packing gear and camping on islands, a larger boat with a cockpit and storage will better fit your needs. “If you can, go shopping with someone who knows what they are doing,” he added.

You’ll find members of the Coeur d’Alene Canoe and Kayak Club at some of the summer’s most popular events. They provide assistance to swimmers in local triathlons including Ironman as well as the 2.5-mile open-water swim from Arrow Point on Lake Coeur d’Alene. “I’ve pulled a competitor out who was having a heart issue and surely would have drowned,” said Dwight.

Once someone becomes a member, they also have access to paddles on the weekend as well as overnight trips both near and far. A few members recently did a camping trip on Kalispell Island on Priest Lake. Other longer trips or bigger adventures are arranged when there is interest.

This is a club that welcomes those at any skill level and is eager to share knowledge with those who want to make paddling a bigger part of their lives. “I joined after only being on the water twice. I took a lesson from Kayak Coeur d’Alene and everything else I have learned and perfected, hopefully, from many club members who were and are much more experienced than I am,” said JerrySue.

If you are interested in learning more, visit CdACanoeKayakClub.com.