By Kevin Wright
Daily Sports Writer
There’s nothing more exciting than maneuvering through rapids, going off a 10-foot waterfall and then winding up in the North Campus Recreational Building pool.
That is the kayak club’s situation every year as the harsh temperatures of the rivers during the winter force them to practice their trick moves and techniques inside. Every Wednesday night, a few members sprinkle into the NCRB pool and enjoy the 70-degree water temperature and controlled environment.
Even though club members are confined to the pool during the winter, their desire to kayak such rivers as the White Nile in Egypt and numerous others worldwide keeps them coming back to the tranquil waters of the NCRB to stay sharp until the spring and summer roll around again.
During the fall and spring, the kayak club goes on various river trips in different states. It has over 200 members, including 30 Michigan students, some alumni and a large number of Michigan residents. Anytime a few members organize a trip, they send out an e-mail.Anyone else interested only needs to reply in the affirmative for the club to travel.
As graduate student and club member Brian Toth found out on his first kayak trip, anything can happen on trips.
“My dad and I kayaked the whole Huron River, and, on the third day, we flipped over and we had to rescue my dad’s stuff,” Toth said. “It was really fun.”
As individuals, the club members can also participate in competitions like the Ohio Pile Falls. There, kayakers maneuver through whitewater rapids and then perform tricks off a 20-foot waterfall. Other whitewater tournaments use a “hole” — a whirlpool in the river. Then the participants try to stay in it as long as possible while performing a variety of tricks, such as cartwheels and back-deck and offside rolls. In these tournaments, different age and boat categories separate participants.
“Competitions are a small thing here right now,” senior Jack Conroy said. “It takes about 10 years before you get the professional level. It’s an issue that many of us face. Do we want to become kayak bums living out of the back of a van? We go to the University of Michigan, and we have to consider that.”
While the club is funded by the University, the members still pay most of the expenses for trips. As for competitions, the University pays for any of the entrance fees or tournament expenses, but the members who compete pay for travel and food.
In order to attract students, the club brings kayaks out to Festifall and, usually receives a great deal of interest. But as the year goes on, interest falters, mainly because of the location of the club’s meeting at the NCRB. Also, many new members leave the club after learning the basic safety standards and techniques.
For first-time kayakers, the club members show them how to get into the kayak and “wet exit” from the kayak when it is flipped over and they are under water. New members also learn the basic paddle strokes — the forward and backward stroke. After that, the new members can learn different tricks and rolls for use in either competitions or a river.
In the spring, the club takes many of the new members and at least 12 experienced club kayakers to the Huron River. If the new members make it through the trip and are still interested, the club takes them to Pennsylvania to paddle more difficult rivers.
“I enjoy taking the new folks from the pool and going to the river,” club member Jim Malinowski said. “After an hour into the paddle, they realize that the skills they developed in the pool actually work. It’s nice to see them grow in their sport and achievement.”
With the dangerous nature of the kayaking, the club members always value safety as their No. 1 priority. Before paddling, Conroy tries to scout any river that is new to him in order to determine the location of the rapids and waterfalls. In addition, he never kayaks whitewater rapids without a helmet. Also, Malinowski always kayaks with a group in case he ever needs help.
Many times, a person who knows the river will go ahead of the group and then, at a particularly tricky spot, wait for the group to go through to make sure no one has any trouble.
While aware of the health risks of kayaking, club members still enjoy the serenity of nature and the adrenaline rush of navigating rapids and waterfalls.
“Kayaking keeps you in shape,” Toth said. “I love water and being in the pool. It’s a good thing to do instead of playing on your computer. On the rivers, you can see things that you’ve never seen before because it’s a totally different perspective. It’s so much better than being in a car. You can sneak up on deer and stuff like that.”