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Back to School

by dustin sturges

Kayaking. I know what that is. It's a bunch of idiots, stoned out of their gourds, floating down a stretch of white water that was never meant to be run, in what is probably the most unstable boat ever made. OK, I'm surrounded by idiots. I just want to be able to do what they do in a kayak. I'm well aware that there are relatively painless ways of learning how to do just about any outdoor sport.

While I used to laugh at the group of friends who came to town with that one incompetent member, I was the one that got him equipped and set him loose on the slopes to figure it out for himself. I just can't bring myself to take a real lesson. Consequently, I recently found myself injured and quite often wet. Once again I've enrolled in the "Keep-Up" school. The "Keep-Up" school is the most widely franchised school in the country. The "Keep-Up" school is the one where the instructor doesn't waste time going over the unimportant basics of the sport. He just does his thing and tells you to, "Keep up!"

There are keep up schools in every sport in every town. I have been taking sporadic classes in the "Keep-Up" school of kayaking for seven years. I'm a slow learner. I took my first class while I was still in high school. At that time, my friends had recently taken up the sport after graduating from the "Idiots on Parade" school of rock climbing with me. One of them had extra gear, so he put me in the boat, strapped the skirt down (the skirt goes over the cockpit to keep the water out), handed me the paddle, kicked me in the river and yelled, "Lean down stream!"

I yelled back "What!?" and promptly tipped over. I eventually figured out that one has to pull the skirt before one is able to exit the boat. Soon I was happily bobbing down the river, sans boat and paddle, bouncing off of whatever rocks came my way. After much ado, I retrieved all my gear and got back in the boat. I swam (had to get out of the boat) ten times that day, but ended up coming away from it with just a black eye, and some scrapes and bruises.

I called it quits for a while. I figured that floating down a river in a plastic banana with a death grip on my butt, and whose natural position is with me under water was a stupid sport. Unfortunately, I am sometimes not a smart man. I found myself a year later, half drunk, almost in the dark, flailing desperately-trying to roll the boat back up at the put-in of the alpine section of the Snake River. Some time after dark, my instructor ("Lean down stream!") concluded that I was hopeless and gave up.

I showed up back at the put-in the next morning. I was equipped with a full wet suit, dry top, (I still can't figure out why I needed to put a dry top over a wet suit), five layers of fleece, booties and a ski hat under my helmet. The day was a scorcher, but the river was ice cold and I planned on doing a lot of swimming. I ran the entire thing and didn't tip over once. I think I lost ten pounds that day sweating into that wet suit.

Since then, I've run quite a few rivers and gotten pretty stable in the boat ,which is good because I still don't have a roll. I've had some roll sessions and can roll in a pool, but once I tip in the river it's all over.

After a recent trip to the Clark's Fork River in Montana, I decided that I had probably ought to learn how to roll so I did not die trying to keep up. All of my former instructors are now sponsored by kayak companies that fly them all over the world to shoot movies of them doing incredibly dumb things in their boats. As they run bigger and bigger things just for a nice relaxing day, keeping up starts to become dangerous. So, I'm back in school. I found a nice little classroom on "The Mighty Weebe" and I'm there quite often.

Should you care to join me, I'll be the guy floating down the river with a boat in one hand, a paddle in the other, and many beers in my pocket. It is conceivable that some day I'll graduate, but probably no time soon.