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Six Reasons You Should Attend A Kayak Pool Session This Winter

a group of people riding on the back of a boat

Here’s Why You Should Paddle in a Pool This Winter

And some tips on keeping your paddling skills fresh through the winter!

It’s not easy to learn and practice kayaking skills when air and water temps are frigid. That’s why many kayakers head to their local pool in the wintertime. Kayak pool sessions allow paddlers to get together during the coldest months of the year to test out their gear, develop new skills and keep old ones fresh.

What’s a Kayak Pool Session?

Some outfitters, like Portland Paddle, offer classes taught by certified instructors in pools that are focused on specific skills, like rolling or rescues. There are also “open pool sessions” for kayakers that are less structured than formal classes, and offer a chance for paddlers to practice in warm waters on their own and with other participants. These open pool sessions are often run by social paddling clubs. This winter Portland Paddle will be offering two days of pool classes on January 7th and March 3rd. Each day we’ll have a session of  Intro to Sea Kayak Rescues and Sea Kayak Rolling. We’ll also be co-sponsoring three open pool sessions run by the Southern Maine Sea Kayak Network.

Here are six reasons why these pool sessions are a great opportunity for all paddlers — whether you are brand new to kayaking,  a lifelong “just around the pond” kayaker, or a seasoned open ocean paddler!

#1 Expand your skill set

The first and most obvious answer is to grow your kayaking skills and knowledge! For those new to sea kayaking a pool session provides the chance to try out different kayaks, get to know the gear, and develop fundamental skills. For those with more experience, pool sessions give the opportunity to learn and practice critical emergency skills like partner rescues, self rescues, and kayak rolls.

#2 Avoid injury and stay in shape

One of the most common causes of injuries in paddlers are sprains and pulled muscles in the early season caused by going “too hard” after a winter onshore. And there’s nothing worse in the warming months of spring than having your start to the paddling season delayed by injury.  An occasional pool session can help you stay limber, strong, and mobile so that you don’t have to “start from scratch” in the spring.

The calm, warm waters of a pool also give you opportunities to address another common kayaker injury: Overuse! Overuse injuries occur when there are imbalances in which muscles and tendons we are engaging regularly (such as by only paddling in one direction all the time), or when we are engaged in improper technique (such as paddling slouched, or over gripping on our paddle shaft). By taking the time to focus on proper technique (twist with your core, drive with your legs) and challenge our existing skill sets (try only paddling backwards, and doing deep brace recoveries) we can use the pool to work different muscles and tendons than we usually do, and correct those injury prone postures before they do us in!

#3 Meet Others

One of the best things about paddling is the community! Meet any paddler anywhere in the world and you immediately have something to talk about. And it’s always best to have paddling buddies — especially if you plan to head into higher-risk waters.

Pool sessions bring together all sorts of paddlers in your local area and give you the chance to swap tips on where to paddle, how to paddle and what gear to paddle with. While paddling alone has its joys, paddling with others can add an extra level of safety and camaraderie, and the time to find your ideal paddle partners is definitely before butts are in boats! Plus you never know when someone might drop an invite on that big trip to the Grand Canyon or Greenland 😉

#4 Try Out New Gear

Whether brought by an outfitter for formal classes, or being used by community members for their own practice, you are sure to see some boat, paddle, or other piece of equipment you’ve never tried before! It could be a slick looking expedition boat, a rescue stirrup, a “greenland stick”, or who knows what else, but if you ask nicely chances are folks will let you give it a whirl. While anybody can find joy in trying out something new, this is especially handy for entrants into sea kayaking, as it gives the chance to explore what feels comfortable and fits right before committing to an expensive piece of gear which could be with you for years!

#5 Get Feedback From an ACA-Certified Instructor

You can learn a lot from Youtube videos, but there’s no replacement for a certified instructor. All instructors at Portland Paddle, and at most paddlesport outfitters, are certified by the American Canoe Association. The certification process is quite rigorous, and involves extensive training not just in technical paddling skills but also in how to teach effectively. When you take a class with an ACA-certified instructor you know you are working with someone who knows how to effectively do what their teaching — and they know how to effectively teach it.

You’re sure to learn faster with a skilled instructor and develop better technique. Your instructor will closely observe you and offer feedback that’s tailored to your abilities and background. And the calm, warm waters of the pool provide an excellent teaching platform, without wind, waves, or cold distracting you from what your instructor is teaching.

#6 Have fun!

Finally, paddling a kayak around a pool and capsizing yourself without fear of being cold is just plain fun! Learning and challenging yourself is always a joy, but so is just being silly! If you attend a pool session this winter make sure to take some time to mess around. Seal launch from the side of the pool, try to stand in your kayak, then jump out on purpose, play games like kayak dodgeball or kayak polo, and otherwise enjoy the novel experience of being able to go paddling inside! (Consider wearing a helmet before getting too goofy if the pool is small or crowded).

Bonus: other ways to stay ready for paddling this winter!

  1. Yoga (or any form of stretching): This is one of the best ways to make sure you remain limber enough to get in and out of your boat with ease! It keeps your core strong to promote good form while paddling as well. And just as paddling backwards works out the opposite muscles from paddling forward, preventing overuse injuries, yoga (and calisthenics) work our muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints in different ways than paddling. That helps to prevent injuries, and (counter intuitively) also makes our paddling muscles stronger through changing the muscle growth signals our body sends itself.
  2. “Cardio”: Cardio doesn’t have to involve countless hours on the treadmill or exercise bike! Go for a walk around your neighborhood, skate at a local pond, take a quiet nordic ski in the woods, or hike up a local hill! Anything that uses your heart and lung muscles similarly to how paddling does will be great to keep you feeling good next spring! But if you are a cardio fiend, try hopping on a “kayak erg” at a local gym this winter. Similar to the Ergs used by rowers and ski racers, kayak ergs are a cardio machine which allow you to get an intense workout and simulate the technique of paddling.
  3. Classroom Sessions: Sea kayaking requires lots of skills and knowledge that you can learn without getting anywhere near a boat. Gaining a deep understanding of weather, waves, tides, currents, and fog is essential! Winter is a great time to focus on learning in these areas, and there are many opportunities to do so in a classroom setting. Check out our Ocean Skills Series and our Weather for Sea Kayakers workshops, for starters! Also keep an eye out for workshops hosted by organizations like the Maine Island Trail Association and the Southern Maine Sea Kayak Network. Another piece of the paddling experience are the things we see on the water, such as birds, fish, trees, historic features, and landmarks. If you look around your area you can always find talks from local environmental and historical preservation groups to help expand your knowledge, which will deepen your experience next time you are out on the water! Local land trusts and historical societies, and local chapters of national organizations such as the Sierra Club or the Audubon Society are just a few of the places you can look to get started!
  4. Go paddling!: This might sound crazy to some, but put on your drysuit or winter wetsuit and go paddling! One of the major advantages of sea kayaking compared to paddling on rivers and lakes is that the ocean doesn’t freeze! And with adequate safety gear such as dry suits, poggies, and spray skirts, you can stay warm and dry throughout your paddling experience. If you’ve never paddled in the winter before, many outfitters are happy to give you some tips, and may even have an occasional off season paddle you can join! Want to go paddling with P2 this winter? Check out our New Year’s Day Sunrise Paddle.