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THE GREAT OUTDOORS / GETTING STARTED | EXPERT ADVICE
FOR THE ASKING

Why struggle with leisure time decisions when there are professionals poised to provide suggestions.

June 26, 1996|RICK VANDERKNYFF | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Garages and closets across Southern California are full of them.

Recreational gadgets, that is: the kayak bought but never mastered, the cross-country skis propped up in a cobwebbed corner, the mountain bike that's touched dirt once, just long enough to send the owner over the handlebars and into a perfect one-point landing. Moneyed Americans are great at buying toys, but not always so good at slowing down and learning how to use them. That's a recipe for disappointment. The things that look so effortless, so fun when the experts do them can be frustrating, even dangerous, without a little instruction.

So, let's try an experiment. Ready for the next thrill? Before you plunk down the plastic and deck yourself in all the requisite hardware, seek out someone who knows what they're doing and take a lesson. Not only will you gain a little skill before heading out on your own, you might also save some money down the road.

For one thing, you might find after a lesson that the sport isn't for you after all. It's better to find out now than after a major investment. And if you find you do like the sport, it's likely the instructor can give you a better feel for what equipment you'll need. Buying with education, rather than on impulse, is the way to go.

This little resource guide will give first-timers in some popular outdoor pursuits a place for expert advice. There are entries below also for experienced recreationalists who want to take their pursuit to the next level. This sampling is not comprehensive; the main point is to spark some ideas.

Hiking Lessons?

Even Dave Horine, owner of Pacific Wilderness Institute in Orange, admits the idea might sound a little silly at first. "Even our instructors ask me, 'Why are we offering a hiking class? Isn't it one foot after another?' " Horine says. "It is one foot after another--as long as everything goes right."

The institute offers a three-part hiking skills course that may be taken individually ($48 per session) or as a package ($120). The first session covers everything from equipment to route-finding, along with a bit of natural history. The second covers wilderness navigation, and part three is a survival skills seminar. All take place on the trail.

Horine's goal is to make sure those who take the class can head into the wilderness and come back in one piece: "You want to have fun, you want to make sure it goes smoothly, you don't want to get hurt and you want to come home safely."

Hiking class graduates often move on to the institute's more advanced instruction, in such areas as backpacking, mountaineering, rock climbing, ski touring and ski mountaineering. "We've always been a company that specializes in introducing people to the outdoors," Horine says.

For information on classes, call (714) 998-4596.

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For those already comfortable in the wilderness, clubs are often a great way to share that enthusiasm and to take skills to the next level through structured outings and other activities. For hikers, climbers and backpackers, the Sierra Club in Orange County (part of the larger Angeles Chapter) has a dizzying array of activities every month, from ascents of Sierra peaks to weekly fitness walks in suburban Orange County.

In winter, the club offers its extensive Wilderness Travel Course, a comprehensive introduction to basic mountaineering. For information on the Sierra Club-Orange County Group and its activities, call (714) 997-2220.

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If the skill you're looking to polish is your ability to identify the local flora and fauna, clubs again are a good place to gain expertise. The Sea & Sage Audubon Society not only offers a variety of birding field trips, but it also boasts excellent education programs for all skill levels. For information, call (714) 261-7963.

Audubon's equivalent in the botanical realm is the California Native Plant Society, which likewise has field trips and educational programs. For information, call Celia Kutcher at the Fullerton Arboretum, (714) 773-3579.

Paddle Happy

In 1987 I did the first newspaper story on Joanne Turner, proprietor of Southwind Kayak Center. Then, sea kayaking was still a fledgling sport and Turner and her partner offered lessons on six kayaks they stored at her house.

Now, the sport is big-time, with paddlers a common sight in local waters. Turner owns a store in Irvine and operates rental docks in Newport Beach and Dana Point; kayaks used for lessons, trips and rentals now number about 150.

The sport's growth shows no sign of abating, and there are still plenty of converts to win. "We still figure that 80% of the people who walk in the store have never tried kayaking," she says.

Beginners can try one of three approaches. There's a $60 "First Stroke" class, which covers all the basics in four hours. There are also beginner-only trips to such places as Catalina Island (call for dates and prices). Finally, one can rent a kayak on weekends (some weekdays in summer) and just try it out for $8 to $10 an hour.

Information: (714) 261-0200.

The Long Run

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