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Kids learn paddle power
There is probably no better way to explore one of Yuma's most splendid natural treasures than learning how to steer a kayak on the Colorado River, say Yuma Parks and Recreation Department officials.
River paddlers can get into a lot of places other boaters cannot, so a kayak is a lot more intimate experience, said Tom Safranek, one of the city's two Parks and Recreation instructors.
"In a kayak, you're closer to the water, there's no engine noise or fumes and you can pull up a lot closer to wildlife than in a motorboat, which would scare them off. It's just quieter in a kayak and you get to see beavers, a wide variety of waterfowl and various fish."
Safranek, who teaches agriculture classes at Gila Ridge High School in the fall, said the summer kids kayak class intends to teach students 7 to 14 as much as they can in a two-week session about the local environment while having fun.
"We talk about the importance of keeping the waterways clean and not leaving litter around, but the first day of class we made sure to cover water safety and the things you need."
Boaters should always wear a life jacket, Safranek cautioned. It is also a good idea to take a map of the area and a whistle to sound in case an emergency strikes. Other boater essentials include bottled water to stay hydrated in the summer's intense heat, sunscreen, a flashlight for evening excursions and always letting someone on shore know where you are going, he stressed.
For the second class, Safranek started off showing his six students the "power box grip" for their double-bladed paddles. It has boaters clasping the paddle a little wider than shoulder width to grab more of the water. The forward stroke is the main type they will use, and he advised students not reach too far back because this maximizes the amount of power.
"Go from your toe and pull the paddle back to your hip. That way you're ready for the opposing blade to paddle most efficiently," Safranek told students.
Later, students will have relay races then paddle a mile upriver from the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge and proceed to the West Wetlands Park. The kayaks they use are "sit on top" models made of roto-molded polyethylene, a stiffer, more heat-resistant material, and do not have the closed cockpit, which makes them easier for beginners to learn how to navigate, he said.
"In fact, we had one kayak that dragged behind the trailer and dug a hole in it but we were able to patch it back up with a compound so we can keep on using it."
Hailey Contreras, 11, a sixth-grade student at Castle Dome Middle School, was one of the eager boaters glad to actually get out on to the river.
"I've been in boats before but I thought it was cool to learn to paddle a kayak so I can go downriver with my father and brothers. Even though it's my first time learning, I can go pretty fast for a first-time learner."
Hailey also said she appreciated learning all the safety rules, especially the "belly-butt-legs" maneuver that is the proper way to get back into the kayak from the water without tipping over the boat.
She also said she likes the races. The previous day they just competed to see who could get in and out of the kayaks fastest, but now they got to have paddle races.
Sean Thompson, the outdoor recreation program coordinator, stood in the middle of the river like a traffic cone and directed boaters to weave around him as in a slalom course. Hailey said she will be back for the next kayak instruction session beginning in mid-July.
"In my opinion, kids kayak keeps them active," Safranek said. "It's better than sitting home on the couch. They get to learn a new skill they wouldn't normally do and that gets them excited."
William Roller can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6858.