SK Team Paddler Christine Burris
Ten Thousand Success Stories!
It may be hard to imagine, but not all kayakers are in optimal physical condition and even less have a properly fitted boat. At least they don’t start out that way.
When I started kayaking I was fortunate to paddle a boat that fit my frame. I was also strong enough to self rescue in a Romany with its low back deck. Soon after I began to notice that many of my friends were not so fortunate. Although I had caught on to the traditional self rescue, hopped on the back deck for a cowboy and within a few months even had an inconsistent roll, others had significant issues inhibiting their success. The most frequent was the investment in an oversized boat which at the time of purchase felt stable and safe but when attempting to reenter was too far out of the water to seal launch onto. Other problems included either lack of upper body strength or having the physique of tinker bell, neither of which fall into the “athletic” category. Occasionally I would also run into a paddler with an ocean cockpit where the restrictive nature of the coming inhibited success.
The traditional school of thought was cut and dry: “If they won’t buy a different boat, they can’t paddle alone”. The argument was: “If they admit they can’t self rescue, surely they won’t put themselves in harm’s way”.
I challenge any reader to look a new boat owner in the eye and tell them they cannot paddle their kayak without an escort.
Traditional solution number two was the stirrup rescue. After watching entanglement issues and broken paddles it appeared that although a stirrup could work for some it was not necessarily the answer for all.
Since I was not comfortable with teaching a stirrup rescue, I encouraged new kayakers to keep trying the seal launch with the hope that as they continued to paddle they would either trade into a more appropriate boat or develop the upper body strength to launch onto their back decks. While continuing to confront students with these problems, I concocted a new method adapted from the heel hook assisted rescue. Although for each paddler and each boat it needed a bit of adjustment, the process consistently worked. It worked for everyone, even those with an insufficient strength to weight ratio. Happy as a lark I was all about teaching this to my students – and anyone else willing to listen. Over time, Bob Burnett guilted me into to sharing this solution with the greater kayaking community, so I wrote an article for Sea Kayaker Magazine.
After a few months the article was published with a grand assortment of unflattering step by step photos. Friends like Brian Hollander called from across the country to congratulate me on showcasing my large behind, and as time went by I began to wonder if the article was such a good idea. So I sent a note to Paul from SK to see if they had gotten any feedback. Low and behold this gal from California had sent a letter of thanks which they forwarded to me. And so began my friendship with Kathi Morrison. Kathi had suffered from the self rescue struggle and her husband Chris came across my article in Sea Kayaker. Chris wrote notes on the step by step and read them to Kathi as she completed her first ever unassisted rescue! Wow. If that article could help one person it would be worth all the unflattering photos. Kathi was the one. On her second attempt she had her husband film her, and they posted her triumph to YouTube. It was a great feeling to know people were using the information. Kathi and I became friends on face book and she told me of the many people she had shared the method with. Last summer her video reached over 10,000 views and that same week we had a chance to meet in person to celebrate. Very few people would have been successful with this method trying to follow my awkward photographs when compared to the smooth execution of her video. As we sat over dinner and shared stories of individuals who were ready to give up paddle sports until they were given the opportunity to learn a new way, I realized that Kathi had become a role model for the masses of real people who want to enjoy this activity. She is a regular person not a super athlete and although she struggled she kept trying until she found an answer. By not giving up she opened the door for others. Obviously although there have now been almost twelve thousand views, still only a percentage of those viewers became successful using this method. Even if it was only a thousand, even if she only helped one, Kathi is a great example of how the sea kayaking community pays it forward. Since mastering a self rescue Kathi and Chris have gone on to earn their BCU three star award, traveled to Greenland with Helen Wilson and Mark Tozer, and continue to obtain instruction from some of the best coaches up and down the West Coast.
Here is a link to Kathi Morrison’s Heel Hook self rescue video: