Up the creek WITH a paddle

with Simon Newman

Looking for something new to do this summer? Ever thought of kayaking? Me neither until last year when I decided to take the plunge, jumping in as I did at the deep end and going with the flow, if you get my drift. Any watery metaphors I’ve missed?

Now, first of all let me make it clear I’m not talking about the white knuckle end of the spectrum. More a gentle walk in the park, only on water – though not actually walking on water, obviously, that’s a completely different skill-set.

The whole thing started when I realised that although I like the whole beach vibe and swimming in the sea, I don’t really enjoy the lying around bit. And I’d increasingly noticed people taking off on water-borne diversions in all sorts of contraptions that looked fun. Kite-surfing is the king of cool, no question, but kayaking looked the easiest to be honest, so I started out by hiring one at Argeles’ north beach. I quickly got the bug.

From there I bought an inflatable type thinking the ease of transport (a large sports holdall) would outweigh any limitations. Wrong. Inflatable kayaks, as I soon found out, are simply not rigid or heavy enough to glide properly (too little momentum and too much drag) so they come to a halt almost as soon as you stop paddling, placing greater demand on the engine – that’s you.

As luck would have it mine sprang a leak and on taking it back the retailer pronounced it unrepairable (and discontinued) so I was duly given a credit voucher in refund. A result or what? And full marks Decathlon. This time I went for a solid kayak which at under three metres long and weighing around 18 kgs sits easily on the roof rack of a small car.

I chose a surf kayak – very stable and easy to remount in the (rare) event of a capsize. Initially I confined myself to the lakes at St Jean Pla de Corts and Villeneuve de la Raho, both safe places to practice and get your sea legs (lake legs?) Then it was off to Le Racou beach where fortunately the prevailing wind is onshore so you work hardest going out – but the return leg is a breeze and you get to take in the beauty of the Cote Vermeille framed by Les Albères. In the distance, the odd coastal train clatters gently by bound for the Spanish border at Cerbere/Port Bou. On a clear blue day, it really doesn’t get much better than this.

A kayak has zero moving parts to fail, there are no mooring fees and fuel costs are limited to an extra Weetabix breakfast. Kayaks can winter in the garage, or in the garden, and in summer I leave mine on the beach at Le Racou secured (gratis) to a post alongside sundry canoes and dinghies, though space is at a premium during August so I really should be keeping this quiet.

Despite doubts as to whether I was up to it (age and assorted body parts not what they used to be – or ever were) kayaking turned out to be much easier and more enjoyable than I imagined. It’s also good exercise without needing to be super fit to start with – and all this at minimal cost. In fact I’d go as far as to say the bang-for-your-buck factor is hard to beat.

Do’s and dont’s

You don’t need to be a great swimmer, but a confident one, yes
Take some tuition – an hour’s lesson gives the essentials, 25 Euros
Always wear a life jacket and sun protection
Rigid kayaks start at 250 Euros new, much less used – try les petites annonces

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