I had a pretty cool opportunity last month. I went kayaking for the first time with some of my fellow classmates, and what better place to do it than on a tour through the beautiful Chicago River? Prior to coming to ICO, I had worked in a sports store; I had sold plenty of kayaks to people. However, I never actually manned one myself. I was very curious to see what the experience would be like. How would I fare navigating through treacherous waters, and who knows what horrors lied beneath the surface? *cue dramatic music*
Well, actually, I did not encounter any nautical beasts or biblical-sized waves. As a matter of fact, we had nice weather that day and everyone made it back in one piece. Moreover, everyone seemed to have a really good time.
So, what if you’re like me and have never been kayaking before? There were certain things that surprised me when out on the water- both pleasant and not-so-pleasant. I’ll give you the low down on a couple things I wish I had taken into consideration more before embarking on my aquatic excursion.
1. You’re going to get wet
Listen, I know you’re reading and thinking, “Well, duh, dude. What did you expect?” They warned us of this, too, before the day of the tour, but I underestimated the extent. Luckily, our tour guides provided us with bags and cases for our phones/wallets/other belongings so none of my stuff got wet. However, in terms of how much water got on me personally, the top half of my body stayed relatively dry. The lower half of my legs and shoes got soaked. This brings me to my next point.
2. Dress appropriately
If you have water shoes or some kind of work boots, definitively opt for those over tennis shoes. Also, depending on the weather conditions and what time of year it is, there are some items that could vary in their necessity like sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, and wetsuits for the colder months. Also, make sure you got a life jacket! Investing in some kayaking gloves might be a good move, as I ended up with a blister on one of my hands. It wasn’t exactly the most comfortable thing for the next few days.
3. It’s physically demanding
This is something else you probably already could have deduced, but experiencing it first-hand was something different. Our tour was 6 miles, so there was quite a bit of rowing involved. I was exhausted by the end of the trip. However, if you choose to rent a kayak to explore on your own, then you’re obviously in control of how much distance you cover. I’m also not the most in-shape person, so take this for what you will.
4. It’s not as hard as it looks
I admit I was a little apprehensive going into this. I thought for sure I was going to be flipped over in my kayak or get run over by some huge tour boat, but it’s truly not that bad. It took a little bit of adjusting at the beginning to get the hang of it, but other than that, the technique wasn’t that difficult. Our tour guides were pretty good at showing us what to do. However, if you’re planning on going out solo without any prior experience, I’d suggest reading up a little online first or taking someone with you who has some kayaking know-how.
5. Stick to the right
As I mentioned, there are other, much bigger boats you’re going to be sharing the river with. As you can imagine, kayaks have a lot more maneuverability. It’s on you to get out of the way if you see a large boat passing through. If you stick to the right side, you should be fine. Never paddle out in the middle unless you’re going to cross over (and there are no other boats coming, of course.)
6. Take some other provisions
Personally, I didn’t really get hungry, but everyone is different. Some people on our tour brought snacks and water. Consider that as an option, especially if it’s going to be a hot day and you plan on being out there for a while.
7. Take it all in
While rowing through downtown Chicago, you’re going to see a lot of cool views. Luckily, I had my phone with me so I got some nice shots of the city. It was kind of weird because when I pictured my first time kayaking, I thought it would have been out in the middle of a lake in the woods somewhere. However, something about having that mindset while also being in a big city was a welcome juxtaposition. It was really nice at some points to just stop paddling and absorb my surroundings. There were some quieter stretches on the river that were a little farther from all the hustle and bustle. It was great to just relax and let my kayak keep me leisurely afloat while I forgot about all my responsibilities for a few hours.
Ready to sign up? There are many places around Chicago you can hit up for kayak rentals. The place our group went was called Kayak Chicago. They have several locations, but the one we went to was a relatively short ride on the Red Line from Sox-35th to North/Clybourn. From all the places I researched, it looks like about $30/hour is what you’re looking at price-wise for renting a kayak. However, if you take a buddy and do a tandem kayak, you can split that. There are also a lot of great deals through Groupon if you bring the whole squad with you.
So, yes, I would positively recommend kayaking through Chicago if you ever get the chance. I found it to be a great stress reliever, got to see amazing sites, and burned quite a bit of calories, to boot. Who knows? If you give it a whack, you might even find a new hobby.