34 New Things: Go Kayaking

Each birthday, I make a list of new things I want to try. Some are easy, some are difficult, some are so, so boring. You can read about past adventures here.

photo 1: deeply unimpressed teenager // photo 2: securing my fancy handbag to the top of the kayak because I don’t have time to run back to the car

Despite growing up on a lake, I have never:
1. Waterskiied
2. Used a jetski
3. Paddled a kayak

We were a canoe family. A fishing boat family. A paddle-out-to-the-island-and-pick-wild-raspberries family. We were not really into speed boats or, apparently, plastic single-person kayaks. And Minnesota is threatening to revoke my citizenship unless I learn a few new ways to navigate our 10,000+ lakes, so I thought it was high time to get on that business.

So last week, my ever-intrepid friend Meredith met me at 9am to rent floating plastic things.
 She rented a paddleboard and I grabbed a kayak.  (As an aside, I’m fairly convinced that paddleboarding is The Actual Worst.  I imagine it to be both difficult and boring. Right?  I don’t think I’m alone in this.)
In these situations I am always at a loss as to what to do with my purse.  The rental company didn’t have any lockers, wouldn’t let me leave my purse in the office, and didn’t have any plastic bags that I could tuck it into, inside the wet, sandy body of the kayak. So I obviously had to strap my much beloved, saved-up-for-this-for-quite-awhile Melie Bianco handbag to the top of my kayak while a deeply unimpressed 17-year-old boy looked on.
In summary: we were off to an EXCELLENT start. 


The 17-year-old gave me 45 second introduction to kayaking and then I began paddling very, very poorly around Lake Calhoun.  My left arm is laughably weaker than my right – so much so that if you’d been watching my progress from the shore you’d probably have thought I was drunk.  
But I caught up with Meredith and we made our way under two bridges (yes, I bumped into the side of one and, yes, we bumped into each other a few times) but eventually things smoothed out and we enjoyed an hour of gossip, trip planning, and very slow paddling around the calm lake. It was really lovely to catch up with my friend while doing something active and just-a-little-challenging, rather than meeting up for an over-priced happy hour or nachos.
We very slowly (and crookedly) made our way back to the beach to return our rentals and I tried Meredith’s paddleboard and confirmed that, nope, I wasn’t into it.  I unstrapped my fancy purse from the top of my kayak and gave myself a mental high five for not falling in or ruining the most expensive accessory I own.
Have you ever kayaked?  And, really, what’s the deal with paddleboarding?


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  1. Allison Lizer

    Kayaking is my all-time favorite activity! I don't get to do it very often but I think it's a great mix. You're out on the water, feel like you're flying across it, and occasionally get a little wet when shifting your paddle to the other side…

    You go faster than a canoe too and it's a little more easily maneuverable.

    I'm glad you got to go!

    I've never done paddleboarding though… I thought about trying it but your statement kind of confirms my fears about it. Do you just stand on a board the whole time?

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yeah, you just stand on the board and try not to fall off :/

    • KristyK

      You can sit or kneel on it too. It is an excellent core work out. 🙂

  2. Sarah M

    The only time paddleboarding looked neat to me was when I saw a girl with her dog on a paddleboard, and then I thought, "oh look, cute! A dog with a life-jacket!"…and that was the end of that. I love kayaking, though. We don't own them, yet, but we did just get our first canoe a few months ago and have used it a lot. We have friends who let us borrow their kayaks. It's practically a requirement for living up here in Washington.
    Sarah M

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      I would totally, totally paddleboard if I could have a dog in a life jacket with me! 😉

  3. The Dame Intl

    I cant wait to paddleboard! I've only ever seen people do it on the ocean and as someone who surfs, def. something I want to try.

    Also want to kayak as I saw people do it in Byron Bay once and dolphins came to swim with them XD

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Ahhhhh! I think every kayaking experience should come with dolphins!

  4. Christy@SweetandSavoring

    I love kayaking, though I didn't try it for a long time, either. I was probably 25 the first time I did it. Thanks for reminding me to get out on some nearby lakes more often 🙂

  5. Meandering Design

    We were a canoe and row-boat type of family. Hearing you managed to kayak without tipping over inspires me to try it sometime. I live in Chicago and sometimes the river is kind of gross!

    • tarantella

      Hehe, there's so many neat Chicago river kayaking excursions but this is my concern too. Like…we know but we don't know what's in there, beyond tons of green dye from years past and some people the mob knocked off and some three headed fish. I only want the one head. But I just kayaked here in the burbs and found it more stable than canoeing so I might just go do one of those city kayak things. Good luck if you do try

  6. iris

    I took my little brother, when he was ~16 on a kayakking lesson weekend trip once awhile back. And he hated it. One would think that a weekend kayakking without any adults would be an enjoyable thing for a high schooler…but, no.

    Since then I've done goofy things like kayak in Seattle and such. With my waterproof camera 😉

  7. EleanorJune

    Congrats on trying new things! This summer I'm allowing myself to be a beginner at a lot of things- running a sex and love advice booth at my local farmer's market, taking sailing lessons, becoming a home owner, AND learning ukelele! GROWTH is so good for the spirit ain't it?

  8. Librarian Tells All

    Kayaking is such a happy way to spend a lazy summer day… Just make sure you get a kayak with a cupholder! 🙂

  9. April in Autumn

    You should add paddleboarding to your list next year! I haven't done it either, but I really want to try. We go kayaking a lot in the harbor, but growing up we mostly canoed.

  10. Caitlyn

    Haha, I found your post very funny. I desperately want to try paddle boarding, I have no idea why, but it looks so fun to me! However, no one I know will try it with me – and I just don't understand the hesitation, but I guess they're not alone in their disdain 🙂

  11. Metamorphocity

    I would be so much more inclined to try paddleboarding only because I have a crazy fear of fliping my kayak and getting my legs trapped inside it and drowning horribly!

    • Metamorphocity

      (I'm very glad that didn't happen to you)

  12. Katie Lee

    I have been wanting to try paddleboarding for soooo long. I have no idea why it appeals to me.

    Also, if you can line it up I can teach you to waterski. I have been doing it since I was a child and have taught many people to ski. Unfortunately I don't have a boat or skis…so there's that.

  13. Alison Chino

    I so LOVE the picture of your purse strapped onto the kayak! 🙂

    I LOVE paddleboarding. I've done it a couple times with my family. We just rented a couple of boards and headed to a fishing lake so we each took turns on the boards while everyone else got tangled up in fishing gear, napped in the sun, and wandered around the lake.

    Yay for new experiences!

  14. Alicia Johnston

    I was just going to email you about a kayaking architecture tour of Chicago! I'm glad you got to check kayaking off your list in your home state. The last time I kayaked, my teacher put me in a boat made for large children (e.g. up to 95 pounds. Not I!) Apparently the weight imbalance makes it difficult to do anything but paddle in tight circles. I still had a blast learning rescue rolls, but next time I'm ready for the big kid boat.

    Alicia / Jaybird

  15. Michelle...

    I love kayaking!
    There are some many cool places to go for a paddle in the South Island (I'm super spoilt!)…..this year alone, I've paddled lakes, harbour and river.

    My best experience to date was a month ago….depths of winter (with snow on the ground), super still day so the lake was like a millpond. The only sound was the splash of our paddles hitting the water. Man, it was so blissful

    • Ash

      South Island as in New Zealand's South Island? If so, I am really really jealous. My absolute favourite kayaking experience was there, on a kettle lake by Franz Josef glacier.

      I also don't understand the appeal of paddleboarding. It's like some bizarre surfing/kayaking hybrid to me… but I would just rather actually kayak… or actually surf.

  16. Brittany

    Kayaking is THE BEST. I love it! I got to try paddleboarding last spring. It was fun (not as boring as you would expect), but I never quite got the hang of steering it.

    We were going down a river that came to a fork, and my instructor was very clear that we needed to take the RIGHT fork. My paddleboard had other ideas. Luckily, the forks reconnected, and the only hazard was a LOT of trees…all of which I became well-acquainted with. The instructor was very kind and encouraging, but even he eventually decided to resort to towing me out with his kayak.

    It was a bit humbling, but it was definitely an adventure!

  17. eileen ragan | leaner by the lake

    YES! We have a set of kayaks at our lake house and this weekend it is first up on my list to go for a late afternoon/dusk trip down a little lagoon that leads in what we like to call "secret lake". Glad you got to try out the experience!

    eileen ragan | leaner by the lake

  18. Campfire Chic

    Awesome! I just went sea kayaking for the first time in Washington…living withing 50 miles of the Pacific Ocean my whole life, you'd think I would be more of a water-baby. Go figure.

    Here's the question: Is this something you'd do again?

    SUP or Stand-Up Paddleboarding is a thing because it takes a lot of core strength to stay on top…it looks pretty…and you can do fun things like yoga on your board! I got a 45 second lessons for this one (much like yours) and cannot wait to get back on a board. So cool.

  19. Rachael

    Good for you! I kayak every summer at the camp I volunteer with; it's one of my favorite activities <3

  20. Anonymous

    Paddle boarding is essentially kayaking, but better and more comfortable. You have the freedom to move around and shift positions as much as you want – standing, kneeling, sitting, taking breaks lying down, etc. It is The Actual Best.

  21. tarantella

    I find it awesome that you posted this recently. I'm actually going kayaking for a day trip down the Fox River in WI/IL with some friends tomorrow. I'd gotten injured a few years back and not been able to go on a scheduled kayak trip I'd really wanted to go on, so I'm super psyched to make up for it! I haven't kayaked since I was like, 10…but I was surprised to find myself much more stable and confident in a kayak than a canoe (because I've canoed more recently and frequently). I don't know about you but I've got the bug for it a little bit now. 🙂 It can be so serene, and get you to some really beautiful places. By the way…sealline dry bags. They're fantastic and not expensive. And keep stuff dry.

  22. Jessica

    I have never been kayaking, but I am glad that you had fun! 🙂

  23. Genevieve

    OMG, I have to tell you, Paddleboarding is actually the BEST, not worst. I LOVE it.

    I also grew up in a canoe family (with kayaking thrown in as well), but I tried paddleboarding last summer on Lake Michigan. It is a little bit challenging to balance at first, but not THAT challenging. And this was a day with low-moderate waves. Here is what is fun about it: the perspective is very different from either canoeing or kayaking. Instead of being right down on (/in??) the water, you are 5 feet above. It's like walking (gliding) on water. If the water is still or clear enough, you can see down into it much easier than from a canoe or kayak. Also, You have to move kind of slowly and carefully and mindfully, so it's calming and almost yoga-esque, mentally. The BEST I tell you.

  24. Laura

    Sounds like you had fun your first time kayaking! I have to agree with some of the other comments on paddleboarding, having done both. Kayaking limits your motion and can get uncomfortable while you can move freely around on a paddleboard: sitting, standing, kneeling, etc. You can see around you much better and I find it easier on your arms and shoulders while giving a more full body workout. I like it SOO much better than kayaking and don't care if I never kayak on flatwater again!

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