Trying something new is always exciting. Standing there on the dock, anticipation brimming to the edges, we couldn’t wait. Kayaks seem to be everywhere lately. The streams of Western New York are awash in a rainbow of brightly colored boats with paddles twisting in the air, sending smiles against the sun. We never wondered if we should give it a try, the question was always: When?
Our chance came on a Tuesday Night Paddle with Paths, Peaks & Paddles in Tonawanda. The threat of a thunderstorm loomed in our minds, but the skies were clear. After a brief instruction in the parking lot to get us fitted for our boat and comfortable with the paddle, we were ready to go. Getting in was easier than we thought.
Easy, because our guide for the evening, Christine Baer, held the kayak steady and guided us through the process of getting in. As co-owner of the business, Christine wants her customers to feel safe and sent home with happy memories. Her manner is sharp and focused, showing you the proper way to paddle, offering encouragement along the way and instruction when needed.
We found out later that everyone on the trip that evening was either a guide or an instructor, but it never felt that way. There were never any curt corrections on our paddling form, or a sense of newbie hazing from the pros. Everyone there made us feel like we were a part of the camaraderie and respect that seems to follow this collection of kayaks drifting along Ellicott Creek.
As we glided under the surface of the suburbs, we got a chance to speak with Oren Barris, who started the business in 1991 with his partner Norm. Oren’s compliment to Christine is unmistakable. Quick-witted and laid back, he jokes and pokes at you while offering words of wisdom. Oren told us that the great part about paddling is that you decide the amount of effort that goes into the paddle. You can work hard and push yourself, or you can ease along and enjoy the ride.
Either way, kayaking requires a lot of finesse and a little bit of patience.
It’s in this sense of extremes that we have to make our suggestion to anyone considering getting into the sport. The way we see it, there are two ways to go. You’re either going to be a die-hard participant, or someone who makes it out a couple of times a year.
So how do you know which type of paddler you’ll be?
Christine and Oren suggest trying it out first, then consider taking a lesson or two if you plan on kayaking often. What you want to avoid is developing bad habits that will be harder to break down the road.
The die-hards should invest their money. According to Christine, there is no such thing as a beginner kayak. Skip the $250 special, and get a kayak that will give you the best advantage on the water. If you don’t see yourself getting out enough to make it worth the big buy, then stick to renting.
At Paths, Peaks & Paddles, kayaks rent for $45 a day, 7 days a week. Tuesday and Thursday evening paddles are $25-$30 for two hours out with a group. If you go with a friend, renting a two-person kayak will cut your cost in half. They also have special event paddles and kayak instruction classes throughout the year, staying on the water as long as the weather allows.
Beginners and first-timers are welcome at any time for any event. Paths, Peaks & Paddles pride themselves on being open, personalized, and able to cater to the needs of every skill level.
Christine was adamant that, “Everybody can do it.” Children around six years old should be able to kayak alone, while younger children and people with disabilities are able to opt for a tandem kayak that seats two for a little extra help. Their location right next to the calm waters of Ellicott Creek makes it the perfect spot for a first outing.
That’s the kind of accessibility that drives the business. Christine told us later, “For me, it’s very rewarding to see a family go on a trip, and then they come back and I get to hear the stories, and have those little kids tell me all about it. It’s just wonderful.”
Be prepared to leave your phone and wallet behind, grab some water, and always remember to look up every now and then. A common habit of first-time paddlers is to get locked into the tunnel-vision of concentration trying to control the boat. Had Christine not reminded me, I may have missed the view. Most of all relax, have fun, and enjoy the ride.
Somewhere around the UB North Campus we turned a corner and started to head back. A storm started to casually blow in and disrupt our otherwise quiet evening. A mad dash back to our departure point ensued, and there was a mild struggle on our part to keep up. Christine remained unflappable in spite of our inexperience, while Oren with a grin and hearty laugh suggested we hurry.
We can happily report that everyone made it safely to shore with only a mild soaking from the downpour that followed. No one left until everyone was off of the water. As a team we grabbed the kayaks, two to a boat, and raced for shelter. All in all, a fun night complete with equal parts of adventure and leisure, and something new that we’re sure to remember.