If you live in the Sacramento region and you’re not taking advantage of our lakes and rivers, you’re not doing it right.
Each year, thousands of people flock to the water and pile into inflatable rafts and pool toys to cool off and waste a weekend. But there’s a better way, if you take the time to learn to kayak.
In addition to the most obvious benefit – the ability to paddle away from the hordes who crowd into the most popular stretches of the American River – kayaking offers as much or as little exercise as you choose, and with a little preparation and experience can become a year-round recreational pursuit.
Choosing a boat
First things first: You’ll need a kayak and a paddle. But do this thing right. Get a life jacket, and wear it. You can get one – known by the clunky moniker “personal flotation device” – at virtually any sporting goods store in a wealth of sizes, designs and prices. Sacramento County even offers them for free at various beaches along the American River, where large wooden platforms are stocked with the bright orange floaters.
Then, you’ll need a boat. You can spend thousands of dollars on a kayak, if you’re so inclined, but there is no need to. Area sporting goods shops and big box stores offer packages that include kayaks, paddles, seats and other gear starting at a few hundred dollars. And used boats can be snagged at some kayak rental locations or through classified ads.
There are a couple of options, the sit-upons and the ones that allow you to sit inside. The sit-upons are fine for most people heading out to a river or lake on the weekend and who don’t mind getting wet from the paddling or the waves. They also are a better option if you plan to haul it to the ocean now and then.
These kayaks are ideal for beginners because they are extremely easy to get back onto if you dump yourself into the water. You just climb back aboard.
The sit-inside models are a little trickier, but offer the ability to kayak all year round without worrying about getting too wet or cold. Some models, especially the shorter, smaller ones, are designed for white water and people who have taken lessons and learned how to roll, or flip back upright if they find themselves upside down.
The larger sit-insides – ones that allow you to fall out cleanly if you flip the boat – are ideal for most people looking for rides on moderate waves and rapids. If you do fall out, the easiest way to get back in is to grab the boat and swim it to the nearest shore or shallow water to clamber back inside. And if you do take a tumble, remember to hold onto that paddle or keep it secured to your life vest with a tether. You can’t get very far without a paddle.
There also are inflatable models that are much easier to transport. There are also doubles that will accommodate a friend, but many of those can be fairly heavy, so be sure you check the weight of any boat you plan to buy and ensure you and/or a friend can lift it without trouble.
The best bet in choosing what boat you’ll want – or whether you actually want to buy one – is to rent one first from any of the various shops around the region that offer rentals. The easiest place to rent one and hit the water immediately is at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center at Lake Natoma, which offers various boat rentals and a placid body of water to test out your nautical skills. The center is off Hazel Avenue , and information about hours, prices, directions and rental requirements can be found at www.sacstateaquaticcenter.com.
Once you’re ready, pick out a spot to put in and take off. The best paddling in the Sacramento region is along the American River below the Nimbus Dam. There are about 21 miles of river to explore, and easy access at numerous county parks. There is a $5 vehicle fee and a $3 small boat fee to enter the parks. If you’re going to be a frequent visitor, annual passes run $50.
Most people put in at the Sunrise access point, where the rafting companies rent their inflatables. There is ample parking there and at other spots downriver.
Things to remember: unless you plan to paddle back upriver, you’ll want to try this out with at least one partner and another vehicle. Drop one car downriver where you plan to end your run, and remember to bring the keys for that vehicle with you in a dry bag to keep them safe. Dry bags can be found at most any sporting goods shop. Take a look at the river and the beach where you plan to exit the river so you’ll remember what it looks like when you get there.
After that, it’s simple. Slather on some sunscreen, wear a hat and use some water shoes or even old sneakers. Don’t try this barefoot or with flip flops. The rocks underwater are slick and sharp, and there are plenty of broken bottles and crushed beer cans beneath the surface left behind by people who shouldn’t be on the river.
The river may look exceptionally calm, especially with the low flows during the drought, but there are many sections where you can find some semblance of white water. The San Juan Rapids below the El Manto access point can offer some bumps, so remember to keep paddling when you hit fast water and keep your boat pointed straight ahead to avoid flipping. Depending on conditions and water flows, novices may want to avoid going directly through the San Juans and steer to the shore on the left, then walk by them.
Below that, Ancil Hoffman is another excellent place to start and allows for about 20 minutes of getting used to your kayak before you hit the Arden Rapids. These rapids, just below the bicycle bridge at William B. Pond Recreation Area, used to be somewhat challenging. But salmon protection work in recent years have largely leveled them off and make for a fairly easy run.
Below that rapid, keep mostly to the right bank of the river to avoid some sharp turns, a couple of submerged trees and shallow water, or attack the left side and take the chance on getting wet.
From that spot, the rest of the ride to Watt Avenue, Sacramento State or, eventually, Discovery Park, is relatively slow and easy. A kayak trip from Sunrise to Watt can take several hours, depending on how much effort you plan to put into paddling or if you decide to just drift downstream.
Kayaking is easier than it looks to some people, and the most important thing to remember is to take a life jacket and wear it. After that, it’s as much fun and exercised as you decide to make it.
Call The Bee’s Sam Stanton, (916) 321-1091.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF KAYAKING
Upper-body workout: When kayaking, placing the paddle in the water to execute a good stroke requires using every muscle in the upper body and some lower body muscles as well. This means that in one hour at 3 miles per hour you are going to do about 1,500 paddling strokes, or repetitions of low-impact upper body movements. That kind of workout will help tone up almost every muscle in your body.
Strenghtening core muscles: Kayaking does not demand aggressive arm action or arm strength. An efficient stroke is achieved through coordination between the paddler, paddle, kayak and water. Propelling the kayak comes from the paddler’s core muscles and is achieved through torso rotation; this engages the larger, more powerful, back and abdominal muscles. Furthermore, toning the core muscles helps to alleviate lower back pain often associated with middle age or too much sitting on a chair at work.
Improve bone density and stimulate joints: The rhythmic movements of paddling a kayak help keep the joints fluid while increasing flexibility and balance. Water provides a natural resistance while paddling to help maintain bone density and boost metabolism. Calories burned while kayaking helps with weight loss, which in turn relieves stress on joints.
Mentally stimulating workout: Kayaking offers the chance to enjoy nature and diverse scenery. For those seeking greater adventure, kayaking can be elevated to offer the challenges of expedition travel. Those seeking a mellower experience can glide through secluded lakes while listening to singing birds.
Sources: naturalawakeningsmag.com, Better Health Channel