Have you been watching people paddling around Seattle all summer and wishing it was you? Late August is the perfect time to get started with paddling in the Puget Sound. You can get great deals on gear and the warm weather accommodates beginners, often holding out into early October.
A few basics are standard. Always wear a PFD. “The very first thing is: you should wear a life jacket at all times,” says Kaj Bune, local paddler and marketing director for Exped. “There’s never a time on a boat when you should go without one.”
Bune, who has been paddling since he was six years old, says it’s a skill sport like mountaineering, and the longer you do it, the better you get. Over time you can increase your challenge along with your skill level. “Try not to progress too quickly,” he says. It’s very much like skiing. You look up at the hard hills you once thought you’d never ski and a few years later as you progress, you ski them. You can’t push too far, you have to have respect and learn the skills. There are plenty of places to learn, that’s what’s great about Seattle.”
Lake Union is one of these places. Bune reports that in Lake Union, you can practice in a controlled environment that will increase your confidence without padding in situations over your skill level. “If you flip your boat on Lake Union, the water is warm and there are plenty of other paddlers around, making it a good, safe place to learn. If you're looking for a little more, you can surf boat wakes and train for ocean waves. It’s also quick and easily accessible,” says Bune.
Bring a paddling buddy, preferably someone more experienced. Know how to get yourself turned upright should you capsize and wear appropriate clothing in cooler weather so that if you do turn over, your body will have some protection against hypothermia.
The water along Alki is also a great place to learn. “You get fantastic city views but also feel like you’re in the wild. It's a totally different perspective. Seeing the city from water level is amazing,” says Bune.
Alki Kayak Tours is a good starting point for beginners. You can rent kayaks and they offer sea kayaking and rescue and recovery classes taught by certified ACA trainers. They also have daily tours guiding people around Puget Sound. “It’s a great place for new paddlers to begin their journey,” says Amanda Lee, Alki Kayak Tours guide. “Since we are part of the Puget Sound, while still protected within Elliot Bay, it will give the beginner a true sea kayaking experience.”
Alki Kayak Tours is also a demo center for local companies, so if you’re in the market to buy your own boat, you can try them out. When you’re finished, Salty’s Seafood Grille is next door, so you can grab a hearty bite to eat post-paddle.
Avoid boat traffic around Alki by staying close to the shore. “Be intimate with the shoreline, that’s where the action is,” says Bune. “You can get into nooks and crannies, which is the whole advantage of kayaks and canoes. You can sneak up on animals and you’re in a place no other boat gets to.”
Bune recommends being prepared, but embracing the joy of paddling. “The stories about people getting into trouble are important to learn from,” he says, “but I’d hate to see anyone miss out over that. Paddling is a glorious thing to do. Be prepared, but enjoy. I think people should go right away and get out on the water. It’s a way to change the perspective on a town you might have lived in your whole life.”