Kayak race a rare pleasureAs my sister and I got ready to put our kayak in the water before the start of the Two Harbors Kayak Festival races, I was overcome by what a strange and unlikely gathering it is.
By: Sonja Peterson, Lake County News Chronicle
As my sister and I got ready to put our kayak in the water before the start of the Two Harbors Kayak Festival races, I was overcome by what a strange and unlikely gathering it is.
It hadn’t been easy to collect so many kayakers in one spot. They’d all had to load kayaks on top of cars, securing them with straps and prayers. They’d had to make pilgrimages from southern Minnesota and states across the Midwest, getting up early for the drive, or sleeping here the night before in a tent pitched in a soggy field.
Now, one by one, they slid kayaks into the water, gingerly, delicately, as if pushing beached whales back into the sea.
Sea kayaking races are rare events. Few but our own Ellen Anderson would have had the guts and the drive to organize one on Lake Superior, with its unpredictable temper and destructive power. Go down to the lake after a storm and you’ll see boulders that the waves tossed from one side of the beach to the other as the lake tested out its muscle. And you can take your kayak out when the lake looks smooth as glass, but if the wind decides to shift you'll still end up fighting your way back to shore through choppy waves.
The water in Burlington Bay was calm last Saturday, but we were warned at the pre-race meeting that there were some "swells out around the point." We let our kayak drift towards the starting line, Kira steering us from the back. We waited, not quite still, our dripping paddles poised over the water.
The bullhorn went off to start the race and suddenly the water was churning as the entire pack of kayakers dug their paddles into it at the same time. A jolt of adrenaline went through my chest and I felt swallowed up by this herd of kayakers, drawn by a strange, sudden madness out to the lake.
The racers spread out quickly as we crossed the bay and rounded the point. Here were the swells, each one a little bigger than the last, and some of them tufted with white spray. We'd climb up a wave until our balance tipped us forward. The front of the boat where I sat would freefall, slapping its belly against the water as the next wave broke over the bow and across the front of my chest.
At first, Kira had to shout encouragement at me to keep me from freezing up. The important thing is to never stop paddling—that keeps you stable. Soon I got used to it, feeling lucky to be in a big, sturdy tandem boat. Now and then we managed to ride a wave, to balance on the crest of it as it rolled forward.
Quite a few of kayakers capsized in the race this year, but they all took it well. Kayakers were always quick to offer help to a paddler who ended up bobbing in the water next to his or her kayak.
Kira and I paddled through the next bay, made the turnaround for the five-mile race and fought our way back around the point. Burlington Bay was as calm as it had been when we'd left. The frenzy was over as kayakers crossed the finish line and drifted towards shore.
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