Paddling passion catches on

So you want to join the hordes of kayakers who have helped Bellingham earn Outside magazine’s title as the best paddling town in the United States.

You’re not alone in your desire. Nationwide, the number of people kayaking has jumped by 23 percent in one year, according to the Outdoor Industry Foundation’s 2005 survey of outdoor recreation.

Dawn Groves, president of the Whatcom Association of Kayak Enthusiasts, is among them. The Bellingham resident and her husband Dan Barrett have sea kayaked for about five years. She says part of the appeal is the “relationship to the water.”

“There’s something emotionally and spiritually nurturing about being out on the water and about paddling yourself, doing it yourself,” she says.

There are other perks.

“There are places you can get to only by kayak and they’re so beautiful they take your breath away,” Groves says.

Here’s what to do if you want to dip your paddle into this trend.


Sure the scenery from a kayak is gorgeous but being on the water can be dangerous. Start by taking classes that will teach you how to be safe.

“You need foundation skills, how to get in and out of a boat, how to wear a spray skirt,” Groves says. Those skills include how to get out of a boat if it turns over, which is known as a “wet exit.” And, of course, how to use a paddle.

Places to learn those skills include a series of classes taught through Whatcom Parks & Recreation by Elakah Expeditions.

Participants can select between classes on Tuesdays or Thursdays:

June 19 and 21: Introduction to kayaking, paddling skills and technique

June 26 and 28: Bracing, rescues and wet exits

July 3 and 5: Tides, currents, navigation and expedition preparation

The classes repeat in the same order on July 10, 12, 17, 19, 24 and 26.

“The reason it’s repeated is they can come back and practice and hone their skills,” explains Mike Passo, owner of Elakah, who began sea kayaking about 10 years ago.

Classes run 5 to 9 p.m. and cost $70 per session. Participants meet at Fairhaven Boatworks, 501 Harris Ave., near the Bellingham Cruise Terminal.

The sessions are just a few of the offerings through the county, which include guided kayaking day trips.

“That’s a great way to get introduced to it. That’s how my husband and I got introduced to it,” Groves says of such trips.

Details: 733-2900 and www.co.whatcom.wa.us/parks. Click on “2007 Summer Guide.” Or Elakah Expeditions at 734-7270 and www.elakah.com.


If those classes don’t work for you, contact outfitters such as Elakah or Moondance Sea Kayak Adventures directly and tell them you want to learn basic skills.

Sharmon Hill, owner and primary guide for Moondance, began sea kayaking in 1982 — back when there were just a few manufacturers of kayaks and fewer places to learn how to play in a kayak.

“It was just kind of do-it-yourself,” she says. “People are lucky these days; they have lots of other choices.”Hill says those new to sea kayaking should start by signing up for a half-day group tour.

Upcoming half-day tours include:

• 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. June 9 on Chuckanut Bay

• 1 to 4 p.m. June 16 on Chuckanut Bay

• 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 15 on Lake CampbellHalf-day trips cost $55 per person.If you want to take up sea kayaking after that, then take Hill’s basic skills class, which is held on Lake Padden and would include a wet exit and paddling techniques. Those sessions cost $60 each.Details: 738-7664 and www.moondancekayak.com.


Whatcom Association of Kayak Enthusiasts is a kayaking group that focuses on providing training for kayakers with some skills. But it does offer a session for those new to sea kayaking in the form of its third annual WAKE Kayak Symposium.

This event is for WAKE members and runs 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on June 23 at Lake Padden.

Sessions cover beginner and intermediate topics that include boat fundamentals, paddling strokes, safety, rescue and directional control. All classes are in the water at various locations around the lake.Registration begins 9 a.m. and classes begin at 9:30 a.m.

Details: Dawn Groves at dawn@wakekayak.org and www.wakekayak.com.