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Learning to kayak, including how to roll (and right) it.

In a kayak, almost any body of water is fair game. You can paddle along a quiet lake to bird-watch, roll along with the ocean's tides and currents, shoot the rapids of a roiling river, or surf the crests of crashing waves.

But you must go prepared. Classes taught throughout California can teach you how to kayak on any kind of water. They teach how to paddle, read water currents, rescue others, and roll (tip upside-down in your kayak, then right yourself again; this is important in these fairly unstable boats). Most classes cover techniques for whitewater or sea.

Whitewater lessons usually cost the most because they last several days (you camp along the river or stay in nearby hotels for part or all of the time). Prices range from $135 to $275 for a two-day course, $340 to $650 for five days; cost covers instruction, lodging, kayaking gear, and meals. Most classes are offered spring through early fall.

Sea kayaking is usually taught in segments; prices include gear. An introductory class ($35 to $50 for about a halfday) can get you paddling on calm water. You'll need several intermediate lessons and ones on specific techniques (rolling, surf-zone paddling, paddle-bracing, and dee p-water rescue) before you'll be ready to venture out on potentially rough water. Full-day classes cost about $60; a fivelesson series costs $175 to $225. Classes are usually offered year-round.

If you plan to continue on your own, kayaking isn't exactly inexpensive. Kayaks cost $700 to $1,600 to buy; $10 an hour, $40 a day to rent (and usually only if you've learned from that company).

Choosing a good course

We asked experts for a few hints about choosing classes, and came up with the following suggestions:

Make sure you get plenty of hands-on instruction, and that you try techniques on the water. Students should practice paddling in a swimming pool or on flat, calm water before trying anything really adventurous.

Classes should include rolling. For whitewater, the technique should be taught on a calm section of the river. Most companies teaching sea kayaking offer classes just on rolling, in either a pool or on a calm, protected stretch of water.

Rescue techniques (bow to rescue others, as well as yourself if you're paddling alone) should be covered in both calm water and in rough, open water.

Finding lessons near you

Friendsof the River offers referrals for whitewater kayaking lessons throughout California; call (415) 771-0400. The American Red Cross can refer you to Red Cross certified instructors in your area, and offers its own lessons in some regions. For kayaking information in Southern California, call (213) 739-5282; in northern California, (415) 533-2321.

You can also check for class listings in Sea Kayaker and Canoe magazines, available in outdoor equipment shops. For a free copy of a monthly newsletter on sea kayaking in Southern California, write to California Kayak Friends, 14252 Culver Dr., Suite 199, Irvine 92714, or call (714) 559-5076, The newsletter lists day classes and extended outings from Ventura to San Diego.

Bay Area Sea Kayakers offers a similar publication for northern California, listing trips from the Oregon border to Monterey. For a copy, write to BASK, 630 Colorado Ave., Palo Alto, Calif. 94306; or call (415) 333-1630.

Four University of California campuses (Berkeley, Davis, San Francisco, and Santa Barbara) offer instruction for both beginners and guides; all are open to nonstudents. These classes are often less expensive than other kayaking courses; call the recreation department at each school for registration information.

Many shops that sell kayaks offer beginners' lessons; check the yellow pages under Boating.
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Date:Aug 1, 1988
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