Kayakers on Hoopers Island

Kayakers with the Chesapeake Paddlers Association enjoy a group outing to Hoopers Island. 

Have you ever wanted to kayak on the Chesapeake Bay, but didn’t know how or where to start? Here’s your chance. On March 10, the Chesapeake Paddlers Association is offering a one-day introduction to sea kayaking at a retreat center on the West River south of Annapolis. 

To the uninitiated, that term “sea kayaking” may sound daunting, evoking images of plowing through ocean swells, far from land. Nothing so daring, at least to start, said Rick Leader, the course’s organizer. Rather, this course is designed for beginners and occasional recreational paddlers who are interested in “taking a step up.”

“When we’re talking about sea kayaking, we’re talking about moving to a boat and a level of experience that enable you to handle a little water,” Leader explained. This means taking paddling excursions around the Bay that can last hours, if not days, to see the estuary up close from the water as only a kayaker (or shorebird) can.

For a $30 fee, those taking this course can get a soup-to-nuts primer on “everything you need to get into sea kayaking,” Leader said. Participants will be able to see, touch and hear about the various brands and types of boats suitable for open-water paddling. A wide array of gear will be on display as well, from items that are essential, such as life jackets, to clothing and gadgets that are just handy to have.

There won’t be any sales pitches or anything to buy – just plenty of show and tell.

From a dozen trained instructors, attendees will get pointers on paddling technique and on how to be safe on, and in, the water. They’ll also hear short pitches from association members on their favorite places to paddle and some of the group trips that take place each year. There’ll even be tips on those mundane aspects of kayaking that often get glossed over but matter so much when out on the water for any length of time — “where are you going to eat, and where the heck can you pee?” Leader explained.

The class is not only intended to introduce people to the sport of kayaking, but also to bring fresh energy into the Chesapeake Paddlers Association. It formed about 30 years ago in the Annapolis area, an offshoot of a North American kayakers association, according to Ralph Heimlich, another longtime active member and former leader of the organization. It now boasts more than 600 members, he said. Most are in Maryland and Virginia, with several dozen in other Bay watershed states and a smattering as far away as California, Florida and Maine.

Like many in the association, Leader has a day job but paddling is his passion. He’s executive director of the Scenic Rivers Land Trust, which works with landowners, community organizations and government officials to preserve scenic and natural areas in Maryland’s Anne Arundel County. But after work, the Easton resident gets on the water as much as he can. He said he started kayaking seriously about 15 years ago, and the Chesapeake Paddlers Association has become an important part of his life.

“I have been very pleased in finding a tribe of people interested in kayaking and getting out on the water,” he said. 

Membership in the paddling association is not required to take the introductory course. But participants will learn about the benefits of joining, at a cost of $10 in annual dues. Members enjoy discounts at several kayaking stores and outfitters, for one thing. Plus, there’s a newsletter published 10 times a year, with association news, profiles of members and information about upcoming events, many of them organized by the club’s various “piracies.” Those are groups of members in particular areas who get together after work on weekdays during the summer to paddle for a few hours. Trips are often capped by a picnic dinner or eating out afterward. 

“Paddling with a piracy is a good way to break up the work week, keep your paddling skills fresh, paddle with friends and socialize,” Heimlich explained. 

The association offers other classes, training and workshops through the year, some on open water, others in swimming pools, for paddlers to refine stroking techniques and learn how to navigate as well as rescue themselves or someone else if they capsize. 

The group also organizes many trips throughout the year, including some for more advanced paddlers and some that last multiple days. For more about the group, go to cpakayaker.com.

But for those who’ve just had a taste of kayaking so far, and think they might want something more, the introductory course is tailor-made, Leader said.

“We’re trying to introduce people to what’s available, but also to get them comfortable going five or six miles (on the water),” he explained. “There are hundreds of opportunities for kayak trips around the Chesapeake Bay, most of them free.”

The class runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 10, at the West River Center, 5100 Chalk Point Road, West River, MD 20778. The $30 fee includes a light breakfast and lunch. 

Class size is limited to 60, and preregistration is required by March 5.

For information about the class and to sign up, go to: cpa_sk101_2018.eventbee.com. Questions? Contact Rick Leader at rleader@goeaston.net or 410-310-6541.

Tim Wheeler is the Bay Journal's associate editor and senior writer, based in Maryland. You can reach him at 410-409-3469 or twheeler@bayjournal.com.

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