On Piney Run Lake, kids test the waters to learn kayaking


Although their skinny legs barely reached the foot pedals, and the paddles stretched taller than the paddlers themselves, nothing could stop five young kayakers as they took to the water recently, navigating around blooming lily pad patches and concentrating on the perfect stroke.

"I'm going to drop my oar," one small voice shouted.

"It's a paddle. Not an oar," said patient Piney Run kayak instructor Jess Hall, for the third time. "Not. An. Oar."

"And don't worry," she said. "Paddles float."

Hall was teaching an afternoon session of kayak lessons for children ages 8 to 11 at the Piney Run Park in Eldersburg.

One of Piney Run Park's summer programming highlights, the courses for children, adults and families teach a basic set of skills for kayaking in flat water.

After completing the course, new kayakers are invited to use their skills on park-sponsored trips to local rivers and in the lake.

The goal was for the five elementary pupils to leave the lake knowing how to control a boat with a paddle, by moving forward, backward and turning right and left.

After they grasped those skills, Hall showed each pupil how to flip his or her kayak right-side up while in the water, in the unfortunate event of a tipped boat.

But for this crew, the flipping and tipping was way more fun than it might be for an experienced kayaker on an afternoon trip.

Hall, a rising senior at the University of Maryland, College Park, who has taught kayak lessons for three years, said she is surprised at how quickly even the youngest pupils catch on.

"We put them in a kayak, give them the paddle, and in an hour, they're fine," Hall said.

As pupils paddled furiously from one side of the lake and back, racing each other and playing follow the leader, moms and younger siblings watched from the shore, exchanging tips on where to buy bargain kayak gear and marveling over their kids' burgeoning kayaking skills.

Stephanie Hamel, of Woodbine, signed up her children, Jeb, 8, and Anna, 9, with hopes that some formal instruction would help develop them into independent kayakers.

"It's hard to go kayaking as a family if they don't know how to do it," she said.

When the Hamel family - two parents, Jeb and Anna, and 5-year-old Seth - takes a kayaking trip, it can get a little difficult to decide who gets to boat with whom.

When at least one child is comfortable and skilled enough to be in a boat without an adult, family trips will be more manageable, Hamel said.

All the spectators agreed that the best part of Piney Run's program is that their kids will learn the proper technique early.

"It makes you feel good to know that she knows how to do it safely," said Mary Prunty of Sykesville, whose daughter, Molly, 9, took the course.

Kayaking's popularity has taken off in recent years, said park naturalist Erica Starr, who doubled as a lifeguard during the children's class.

Piney Run has offered kayak classes for 10 years, and many classes and scheduled trips fill up quickly. The park also rents 16 one- and two-person kayaks for use on the lake by the hour.

"A lot of people are more likely to get out there and try it in a lesson, in a controlled environment where they can get comfortable with the skills," Starr said. "And then, they can decide if they want to pursue kayaking on their own."

Many do, she said.

"It's a great way to get closer to nature," Starr said. "You can see animals and places that you can't get to by foot."

Hall, who has been kayaking for three years, said she enjoys the sport because it can be done in a group or individually, and it also tricks her into exercise.

"You're looking at nature on a lake, and it seems like so little effort," she said, "but it's actually a great workout."

Paddling 101

Kayak Programs

For Kids, ages 8-11

$20 for two-hour course

Aug. 12, 10 a.m.-noon and 1-3 p.m.

For Family, one adult and one child, ages 8-11

$25 for pair for two-hour course

Aug. 13, 10 a.m.-noon.

For Adults, ages 12 and up

$30 for four-hour course

Aug. 26, 10 a.m-2 p.m.; Aug. 13, 1-5 p.m.; Sept 9, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Trips and Paddles

Aug. 10, 6 to 8 p.m. Family Kayak Paddle

Aug. 16, day-long Kayak River Trip, destination TBA

Aug. 17, 6 to 8 p.m. End of Summer Paddle

Aug. 23, 4-5 p.m. Kids 'n Kayak Paddle

Sept. 10, day-long Kayak River Trip, destination TBA

Sept. 27, 4-5 p.m. Kids 'n Kayak Paddle

Oct. 3, 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Adult Wildlife Area Paddle

Oct. 10-12, Wye Island Kayak Adventure trip

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