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Experienced Bellingham kayakers give advice

A group of sea kayakers exploring Bellingham, Wash. Christine McCormick, the lead paddle instructor for the Bellingham Bay Community Boating Center, said it is a good idea for newcomers to go with an experienced mentor on their first kayaking adventure. // Photo courtesy of Ben Crandall

Making waves at Western is something students do in many ways — including by taking up sea kayaking. 

There are a lot of factors to consider before going out on your first sea kayaking adventure. Here are some do’s and don'ts from Bellingham kayakers to ensure a good time.

“It helps you develop a respect-based relationship with the natural world as well as with yourself,” said Christine McCormick, lead paddle instructor for the Bellingham Bay Community Boating Center.

Ben Crandall, Associated Students Outdoor Center excursions co-coordinator, said that being prepared is crucial to having a good kayaking experience and that it’s always a good idea to tell someone where you’re going. 

“Make sure you do your research on tides and currents and plan where you are going to go,” Crandall said. 

Another good way to stay prepared for a sea kayaking excursion is to be realistic about your expectations. 

“Be honest with yourself and honor your own comfort levels when it comes to spending time on the water,” McCormick said. 

Weather is an important factor in sea kayaking, said Aidan Ritchie, a Bellingham local and intermediate kayaker. Choosing the wrong conditions could make for a bad day out.

“I would recommend going out on a calm day so you're not fighting the wind and waves as much,” Ritchie said.

It’s also a good idea to go with an experienced mentor to show you the ropes, McCormick said. 

“Generally a good rule is do not go out by yourself unless you are confident you know how to do a self-rescue,” McCormick said. “Do not go out if your mentor doesn't know how to perform rescues.”  

The Western Associate Students Outdoor Center has lots of kayaking programs, including the Outdoor Wellness Extravaganza event on May 23. It is a partnership with the Counseling Center where students can try out kayaking and check out what Lakewood, Western’s boating center on Lake Whatcom, has to offer. 

Another piece of advice if you’ve never sea kayaked before is to try kayaking in a smaller body of water first. 

“For those who may be nervous about ocean exploration, pools and lakes provide some safety insulation for practicing and exploring sea kayaks for the first time,” McCormick said. 

There are lots of lakes and small ponds in and around the Bellingham such as Lake Padden or Lake Whatcom area to practice kayaking in. 

“Kayaking in Lake Whatcom is a great way to get some experience before heading out to the sea,” Crandall said. 

Ritchie has experience boating on lakes as well as in salt water. 

“I feel super lucky to have always lived so close to the Puget Sound or freshwater lakes, this makes it easy for me to throw a boat in the water and tool around,” Ritchie said. 

Ritchie said that it’s a good idea to plan for shorter trips at first. 

“Distances that seem short to walk to will be pretty tiring when you're actually paddling in the water,” Ritchie said. 

Last, but not least, Crandall said to enjoy yourself, as sea kayaking has a lot to offer and is a great way to enjoy your surroundings. 

“Feelings of trust, commitment, self-reliance and wondrous exploration are what keep me coming back to this sport, and why you should try it too,” McCormick said.

Talus Lantz is a sports reporter for The Front and a second-year environmental journalism major at Western. His work focuses on recreational sports and local environmental issues. He enjoys mountain biking and skiing in his free time. You can reach him at

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