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THE GREAT OUTDOORS / GETTING ACTIVE BY SEA

It's Trendy to Find Serenity on the Water

Kayaking: The sports provides peace and quiet, not to mention a new perspective on familiar surroundings.

June 26, 1996|DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Whether it's the free publicity from ESPN's Extreme Games or it's simply another sport that allows people to become one with the water, it's clear that kayaking is becoming trendy.

"Kayaking has grown 10-fold in the last two years," said Damon House, a kayaking instructor at the Newport Aquatic Center. "It's suddenly in the realm of roller-blading and fad sports like that."

What's the attraction? Why has a sport that paddled in obscurity for so long suddenly become an option for a Saturday or Sunday afternoon?

"I think it's a low-impact sport," said House, who only took up the sport three years ago but is already a member of the U.S. Canoeing and Kayaking national team. "You can do it until you're 60 or 70. There's a guy named Ernie that comes down here every morning about 6. He paddles a Chinook [kayak] into the harbor for an hour."

House, 22, says if you've never experienced kayaking around Newport Harbor, you are missing out.

"I like paddling early in the morning or at dusk," said House, who took up kayaking three years ago in Buchanan, Mich., on the St. Joseph River. "The serenity is amazing. If people like water, it's the most amazing feeling to be out there by yourself. Most people have never seen Newport Harbor from that perspective, but for me, that's the only perspective I know. When I try driving around it, I get lost."

Those interesting in getting a first-hand perspective on kayaking can take classes and clinics from House and other instructors at the Newport Aquatic Center every Sunday. Beginners classes are $80 for four lessons and are available in the morning and afternoon.

Clinics are available at the aquatic center from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sundays. The cost is $15. The clinic will teach the basic paddling techniques and water safety.

The first class will teach the fundamentals of kayaking and the jargon of the sport. The second class teaches paddling technique and the different strokes. Most students will start with a plastic sit-on-top boat. From there, they will graduate to a faster, more responsive boat that takes more skill to paddle.

The highest level of kayaking takes place in a 16- to 20-foot surf-ski boat. Surf-ski kayaks are the quickest and are used by Australian lifeguards. House said he once paddled a surf-ski to Catalina Island in about 5 1/2 hours.

House, who missed making the Olympic kayaking team, said each kayaker has his or her reasons for taking up the sport.

"I do it for the workout," he said. "But many people do it for all the sight-seeing. You can go places in a kayak that you can't go in a motor boat."

One of those places is the back bay of Newport. A company called Paddle Power gives tours of Upper Newport Bay, a protected estuary with a variety of wildlife. For $40, you can get a three-hour tour of the back bay led by a volunteer naturalist from the Fish and Game Department. The tour includes explanations of the different types of grass, birds and water.

Paddle Power also offers kayaking classes from $40 to $195. Most classes will turn beginners into intermediates in two or three lessons.

"After that, it's learning the balance and fine-tuning the technique," House said. "The balance looks easier than it actually is. It's kind of like riding a bike. It's kind of frustrating at first, but it's just like anything else. When you get the hang of it, it can be addictive."

House said beginners start out in the bay. Intermediates graduate to the harbor where the water is rougher, and experts venture out into the ocean where the waves and currents can turn a peaceful day into an adventure.

Once classes end, those interested in buying a kayak can do so for between $300 and $4,000, depending on the quality of kayak. A fiberglass paddle will run about $100.

If you're interested in renting equipment, memberships can be purchased at the Newport Aquatic Center for $325 a year for an individual and $435 for a family. A membership includes boat use, weights, use of ergometer for rowing and full locker room privileges.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Skirting the Shores

Somewhere between the exposed-to-the-elements surfer and the well-protected yachter, lies the psyche of the kayaker. The boat's design allows intimate access to shallow inlets as well as the seaworthiness to face open oceand. The first kayaks were skin-covered boats designed by Eskimos and Aleuts of the arctic. Today, kayaks are used to navigate Orange County's waters in growing numbers.

Differing Designs

Kayaks come in one-person (K1) and two-person (K2) models. Different boats are designed for all types of waters.

WHITEWATER

Often shorter, it has the most rocker--or curve--in its hull, allowing easy, quick turns around rocks, but offering little stability on a straight path.

FLATWATER/RACING

These have the least amount of rocker. They travel a straight course with minimal effort and greatest speed, but are the most difficult to turn.

SEA/OCEAN TOURING

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