Soaking up the experience

Columbians learn and enjoy the fine art of kayaking
Sunday, January 11, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:18 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A lack of swimsuits did not deter Seora and Pyeora Seok and Sally Cha of Columbia during the Sixth Annual Kayak Festival at Hickman Pool on Saturday — the girls jumped in with their clothes on.

They were among the more than three dozen children and adults who got a feel for kayaking and canoeing under the watchful eye of local experts.

The annual festival is cosponsored by the MU Canoeing and Kayaking Club, or MUCK; the Columbia Area River Paddlers, or CARP; and the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department, which has no cute acronym.

Steve Witzig, licensed white-water kayak instructor and president of MUCK, said it is good for people to seek out kayaking instruction before trying to learn it themselves. Witzig said the basics people need to learn are paddle stroking, maneuvering and body positioning. Then they can take on something more challenging, such as rolling over in their kayak or canoe. Witzig said it is important to practice rolling so that it can be done safely in white water.

Witzig said he enjoys teaching what he loves to do. “It’s really rewarding to see people’s expressions when they’ve picked something up for the first time,” he said.

The festival drew the young and old. Avid canoeist Melinda Hemmelgarn wanted to learn how to better maneuver with a kayak. Columbia Boy Scout Troop No. 68 participated as part of the Scouts’ “aquanaut” badge.

Thomas Zhou, all of 6 years old, looked like a natural during his first kayaking experience. His 2-year-old sister got into a kayak as well and was drawn carefully around the edge of the pool by her father, Mingyi Zhou. Gregory Kirchhofer raced his 3-year-old daughter, Katie, down the pool in a two-seated kayak.

Columbia engineer Ron Brooks tried to roll over in his kayak. “It’s tough; I never realized how tough it is to turn over,” Brooks said.

“It takes practice,” Witzig told him. “Don’t give up.”

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