Tales from the Cabin
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To Motor or to Paddle?

The answer is probably in your DNA

By Mark R. Johnson
Published: March 1, 2006
Photo by dreamstime.com
Are you a PWC-riding or kayak-paddling kind of guy or gal?  
Just be honest and answer the question without reading into it. It’s okay; this isn’t some kind of political correctness test. You won’t be branded a motorhead or granola-muncher. This is about a preference in watercraft and how you enjoy your time on the water.
It seems many people fall into one camp or the other. I had the question answered for me a few summers ago.
The kid’s view. I was sitting on the dock with my then-10-year-old son C.J. when his Uncle Mike invited him out for a ride on the Sea-Doo. Without uttering a word, C.J. zipped up his life jacket and jumped on the back of the PWC. As they puttered away from the dock, out of the no-wake zone and toward the middle of the lake Mike asked, “Wild or mild?”
No sooner did the “W-” leave C.J.’s lips than Mike took off in tight circles like a whirling dervish. Not speedy like a stallion, but roughshod like a bronco. Above the whir of the PWC engine, the air was filled with mutual cajoling – “Is that all you’ve got old man?” and “Hang on, if you can!” – and raucous laughter.
From what I could see, the object seemed to be for Uncle Mike to dump his rider in the lake. In the end, though, both of them fell off as the Sea-Doo tipped too far to one side. Since the engine was now quiet – it automatically cut out when the driver left his seat – the guffaws of uncle and nephew seemed to rise in volume over the water.
My turn. Later that day, my son asked me to take him out on the Sea-Doo. As we motored away from the dock my son implored me to “Drive wild like Uncle Mike!” But our voyage didn’t go quite as planned.
In short, not long into our ride my 10-year-old son grew bored with my conservative driving and somehow managed to get me thrown off. Just me. I looked up from the water and he was still seated – looking down at me with a mix of amusement and mock disgust. I guess my heart just wasn’t into wild.
Truth be told, I feel the same way when I drive a PWC as a I do when I snowmobile. When I’m on a snowmobile buzzing along a frozen lake or down a trail, it’s kind of exhilarating, it’s kind of fun, but the whole time these thoughts nag at me from the nether reaches of my cranium: The engine’s having all the fun; I’d rather be getting a workout myself on my cross-country skis.
And I’d rather kayak than drive a PWC for the same reason.
In the kayak, I can hold my own. I can propel with power or glide gracefully. I’ve had no formal training so there’s certainly plenty I can improve, like my stroke efficiency. But I can climb into the cockpit, circumnavigate a 350-acre lake, work up a sweat and even collect a few “nice kayak!” compliments along the way.
My red plastic touring kayak is no gorgeous, handmade dazzler of rich wood or shiny fiberglass, but it is a kayak, and kayaks with their sleek lines are naturally beautiful.
What is it I love about kayaking? Besides the workout, I covet the quiet solitude and the opportunity to see some sights. Often at the cabin there are huge, boisterous family gatherings. I do enjoy these get-togethers to a point – the point when I need to take a quiet paddle around the lake to collect my thoughts.
It’s not that I’m alone with my thoughts. My kayak takes me over spawning beds where I can spy on smallmouth bass, next to shoreline forests where I can surprise an occasional deer, fox or bear, and beneath the sky where a bald eagle circles.
It’s not all about nature, though, as a kayak atop the water is a great vantage point from which to check out one neighbor’s new near-shore storage building or another’s classic wooden boat. Come to think of it, does he still have the old Chris-Craft? I could call him, but I think I’ll just paddle by this spring to find out.
And while I’m gone, maybe Mike will take C.J. out for a spin on the Sea-Doo.

A college roommate once accused now-Cabin Life editor Mark R. Johnson of liking to do everything the hard way. Perhaps that explains Mark’s fondness for paddling over motoring.

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