Although he’s paddled in waters around the world from the Grand Canyon to New Zealand, Whidbey Island Kayaking instructor Travis Kulcsar loves returning to Whidbey.
For him, the mountains to the East and West are best seen from the lowest point possible: sea level. Getting that experience only hinges on knowing how to safely maneuver in the water, and he’s eager to show young paddlers how it’s done at Whidbey Island Kayaking’s version of summer camp.
“Being on the water heals mind, body and spirit more than anything else,” Kulcsar said. “With the camp, we want to give kids that experience. We just need them to get safety down first, and then we can hit the water.”
Whidbey Island Kayaking and South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District are hosting kayak camp from 2 to 4:30 p.m. on Monday to Friday next week. The camp, which is geared towards teenagers aged 12 to 17, is in its seventh year of showing entry level paddlers the ropes of kayak safety. Yet it’s not all about safety, wet exits and self rescue; paddling trips in Saratoga Passage and kayak games are peppered in once the basics are covered, Kulcsar said.
There is still room in the camp, although space is limited. Attendance costs $130 per person, and gear is supplied by Whidbey Island Kayaking. No previous kayaking experience or certification is required to join, and entry-level paddlers are encouraged to join.
To start things off in a more mellow setting, the camp starts in Goss Lake’s still waters, a favorite summer swimming hole on Whidbey. Kulcsar says it’s an ideal place for beginning kayakers to dip their feet, or in this case their paddle.
“We start off in Goss Lake since it’s a more controlled environment,” Kulcsar said. “If someone during their first time has to deal with all the variables that come with the sea, it could lead to people not wanting to try kayaking again. We want to reach a level of comfort first.”
To nail down the basics, Kulcsar will walk his paddling pupils through self and assisted rescue, maneuverability, basic paddle strokes and proper gear needed when trekking on the water. Depending on how quickly they pick up those skills, Kulcsar will transition to water sports and games. He mentioned water sports such as kayak soccer, kayak flying disc and more.
On the final day of camp, the kids will get a taste of sea kayaking as they hit the waters of Saratoga Passage. In past years, Kulcsar has taken young paddlers from the Langley Marina to Sandy Point, and is open to taking them on a trip up Saratoga Passage, depending on conditions.
It’s a flavor of what Kulcsar and Whidbey Island Kayaking owner Krista Loercher sees as one of the best places to paddle.
“We live in what I think is one of the premier kayaking destinations in the world: Whidbey, and in fact the entire Puget Sound,” Loercher said. “For example, when people think of trails they think of hiking, but we’re lucky enough to have numerous water trails. We’re very, very lucky.”