When you decide to get on the river – in a kayak, canoe or paddle board, in summer or winter – you may have one goal, such as physical exercise or relaxation. But being open to various outcomes actually leads to a more fulfilling experience, says a Baylor University outdoor adventure expert.
Cody Schrank, assistant director of outdoor adventure at Baylor, offers four tips to making the most of your time on the water.
Schrank is an American Canoe Association kayak instructor and swift water rescue instructor. He also spends his days helping operate Baylor's Pullin Family Marina, located on the banks of the Brazos River across from the main Baylor campus. The marina provides students, faculty, staff and their families with kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards and sunfish sailboats that join other recreational craft on the city waterway throughout the year.
1. Be open to outcomes.
Many people head out on the water seeking specific outcomes, from physical fitness to relaxation to connections with companions or God and nature.
Be ready for whatever the experience throws at you, or doesn't. You will likely gain more than you planned."
Kayaking and canoeing on rivers and lakes provides people an opportunity to get away from daily routines and explore surroundings not often seen up close.
"You get a different perspective on the water, the nearby buildings or people walking and enjoying the river from that vantage point. You might see some boaters or a crew team out on the water. You're used to seeing things from the road while driving, but on the water, it's a lot slower paced, and you have time to think and relax and enjoy the beauty of God's creation."
As some seek relaxation, others might want a physical challenge, but Schrank says even those on the water for a workout should remain receptive to additional outcomes.
"If you go out there with a friend in a two-person kayak, you're working on teamwork, whether you want to or not. Have a conversation, or not. Some paddle the whole time, or they'll find a cove and sit and relax," he said.
2. Know before you go! Check the weather, water conditions and accessibility.
Water enthusiasts, from beginners to experts, always should have a float plan, letting family and friends know where they are going and when then plan to return, Schrank said. Another must-do before getting on the water is checking weather and water conditions. Using weather apps that show lightning and rain are the most helpful.
"If there's lightning within 30 miles, we really don't want people on the water, because it takes you longer to get off the water and increases the possibility of trouble," Schrank said.
Schrank also suggests checking the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Water Watch website to check real-time streamflow conditions for U.S. lakes and rivers. For example, the Brazos River through Waco usually flows between 300 and 1,000 cubic feet per second, but when it rises to 5,000 to 10,000, then it's actually moving like a river and might not make for a safe experience on the water.
Water activities also are year round, even when it's cold. Before heading out, water sports enthusiasts should check the combination of water temperature plus air temperature. If it is is less than 120 degrees, they should prepare with a plan and extra clothing, like a neoprene top or full wetsuit, Schrank said.
Regardless of the weather, always wear appropriate clothing and sun protection and bring water for hydration, Schrank said.
3. Match your ability and skill to your rowing/paddling destination. Start out on calm water.
Schrank suggests that beginners start out on calm or flat water, paddling out and back with a friend.
"When you rent a kayak or canoe, staff will show you how to hold your paddle and how to fit your life jacket. Also, a kayak will be much easier than a canoe," he said. "If you fall out of a kayak, it's possible to get back in. If you fall out of your canoe, it's possible but it's harder to be back in. Start in a kayak and with a friend who knows a little bit about it in a double kayak, that way you can be a co-pilot instead of having to be THE pilot."
Depending on fitness level, stand-up paddleboards also can be fun, Schrank said.
"They are a little more challenging and slower, but they don't fill up with water, so if you fall off, you just have to crawl back on," he said.
4. Always wear a life jacket. Choose a style and cut that you will actually wear on the water.
The American Canoe Association recommends having a properly fitted life jacket on when you are out in the water, although Schrank sees a life jacket as a must do, eliminating a majority of risk if a safety issue arises.
"Always wear a life jacket. There are so many to choose from now that don't feel as restrictive and not as hot," he said. "Life jackets have about a 15 to 22 pound minimum buoyancy rating, which means they're really designed to keep your head out of the water. If it's cold, a life jacket with a full front and full back will keep you warmer. But if it's hot, you might choose something a little bit different, so you get more wind and water on your body to keep you cooler."