I Know What You Did Last Winter... You Kayaked!

Instructor and friend of turtles  Lee Reiser in action at Riverbank state park. 

Instructor and friend of turtles  Lee Reiser in action at Riverbank state park. 

This winter, six Inwood Canoe Club Turtles kayaked and raced and rolled and rescued and taught newbies all within the heated confines of a pool.

Aptly referred to as pool kayaking, the program has been led by the gruffly determined Lee Reiser for the past six years. He’s a man on a mission.

“I want you guys to be safe. Pay attention. Know what to do and how to help others,” Lee would shout across the water’s surface. For him, it’s about his rules #1 and #2: be safe, and have fun. As to why he donates his time to helm the free course, he bluntly explains, “People are dying out there.”

“It’s a dangerous sport. You have to wear the proper PFD (personal flotation device) and cold weather clothing, regardless of your experience level. I’ve been on the water my entire life, but that doesn’t mean I can take safety for granted. Not for a single moment. If I teach you, you will pass it on. Risks can be reduced, lives saved.” With his characteristic growl, he adds, “You better do your part.”

Fending off the bitter winter wind howling over Riverbank State Park, practically every Saturday afternoon [24 sessions in total] from November through March, a few hearty souls would pull 15 white-water kayaks from the icy grip of outdoor racks and pass them to volunteers lined up inside the park’s pool area. On average, we were there from 2pm to 6pm, with the last two hours spent helping students, followed by storing the equipment. That left us at least one hour to work on our skills.

“Do you know what a wet exit is?” Lee asked each of us that first day. I’m sure that we all had our own definitions of what that could mean, but no one said a thing. “Know how to exit the boat when it’s capsized, otherwise you’re not staying.” Yikes. One by one we flipped over, then stilled ourselves upside-down with breath held. Our knees, braced against the interior of the cockpit, held us in place. Our water-resistant spray skirts, cinched around the coaming (opening of the boat) around our waists, prevented an influx of water. Under Lee’s watchful gaze, we leaned forward, pulled the front of our skirts toward the bow and up, brought our legs close and pushed ourselves out of the boat to the surface.

From there and throughout the duration of the program we learned self-rescues, including the paddle float and cowboy. We also rescued each other with magically named techniques including the t-rescue, Eskimo bow and paddle rescues, Hand of God, scoop rescue, leghook and sling assist. And, we did a ton of rolls. Some gracefully rolled their kayaks over, under and up with barely a drop of water in their hair. Then there were others (like me with flowing Medusa hair) who specialized in “almost-rolls,” which resulted in more rescue practice by our comrades.

Ultimately we gained remarkable skills that will enrich our paddling experience. We are also now better equipped to guide kayak newcomers safely during Inwood Canoe Club’s Open House on Sundays.

In a conversation at the end of the program, Lee shared kudos, “This year’s participants showed a lot of promise, especially those from Inwood Canoe Club.” Of course, that doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. Many of us will be taking extra lessons at Lake Sebago and cornering amazing Turtle instructors such as Julie McCoy -- all in preparation to do better and have even more fun next winter.