Because I am writing about a paddle manufacturer, it goes without saying I am a kayaker. Granted, a middle-aged paddler and what else comes with that is my personal battle with Coronary Artery Disease. In fact in the past six years I’ve had two heart attacks, the last one just months ago and required emergency double bypass surgery. For those of you unfamiliar with the procedure I will spare you the gory details, but needless to say it is open-heart surgery and requires the cracking open of your sternum allowing the surgeon access to your heart.
To say this procedure is invasive is a gross understatement. For weeks afterwards you are cautioned about lifting, sneezing, lifting your arms too high, and even sitting in the front seat of a car. While I was lying in the hospital bed my mind went to the rapidly approaching thaw that would allow my kayaks back in the water and how I would fair considering what I’d just gone through. But, that was some time off, approximately six weeks until I’d be cleared for ‘activity’.
Once your sternum has healed, you are cleared for activity. Now mind you that is a relative term. My first ‘activity’ was making it to the end of the street and back without becoming completely exhausted. Didn’t work, I was so out of breath and tired from a brief walk that I was really scared about recuperation. But, I persevered and for the next six weeks I walked most every day, rode my bike others and soon, I was up to an average of 3 miles at a time. I had to be, my return to work evaluation was fast approaching and I knew life would have to go back to normal shortly, despite the fact that it was almost cut short.
After visiting my cardiologist and him finding all working well enough, I was cleared to go back to work on May 26th. It was just around the corner. I continued my walking and biking, but gnawing at my insides was the thought of being on the water. Still feeling stitches of pain in my chest, where nerves and muscles were still mending, I thought about how it would affect my paddling. As the last days of recuperation passed by the thought of going back to work without getting in a kayak became more and more unacceptable. So, on the 24th, I decided I was going, no matter what. I would not be as arrogant as to go out on open, powerful water my first trip. I would go to a nearby network of connecting lakes where the worst I could encounter was a little wind chop.
I put my smaller kayak on my kayak-mobile, dressed for the still cool water and headed over to my destination. Not without a little trepidation, however. You paddle with your core, my core had recently undergone serious trauma and I was thinking had it been long enough for me to do it. I got everything together, put my spray skirt on, made sure I remembered drinking water. And, then came the last decision I make......what paddle do I take? Over the years of kayaking, I’ve got a few different paddles. I started thinking about the torque on my core. I thought a moment and reached into the paddle bag and came out with my GearLab Akiak. A Greenland style paddle, made of carbon fibre, shoulderless and the unique feature of replaceable tips! Now, mind you, there was another GEARLAB paddle in the bag, an OYASHIO, again shoulderless, with Nasaqs on each tip. A PVC cover that slipped over the end to protect it from rocks and the like.
AKIAK Tips, AKIAK Paddle and OYASHIO with Nasaq
So, I climbed into my kayak and pushed off into the first lake. The lightness of the carbon fibre construction was instantly appreciated. And, the gentler torque feeling across my chest quickly quelled my fears about my ability to be able to kayak like I did in the past. I could easily slide the paddle through my hands to turn sharply, and forward strokes were effortless. Granted the conditions didn’t hurt, it was fairly calm and I was not challenged by moving water which was the plan that day. But, that didn’t change the fact that this paddle, GearLab carbon fibre Greenland style paddles gave me something I was lacking. Confidence that I had healed, and still continue to at the time of this writing, and the unfettered elation of being back on the water and the knowledge that a full season lied ahead of me and beyond. And, I also thought of other physically challenged kayakers as well. Those with arthritis, shoulder ailments and the like should all try one of these before hanging out the ‘For Sale’ sign on their kayaks.
This by no means is meant to insult or degrade any other paddle type or manufacturer or anyone else’s personal preference. This is to tell the story of how I was helped through a near death experience to getting back on the water and the tool that allowed me to move comfortably forward through the rest of my recuperation and getting my strength back, and enjoying kayaking more than I ever had before, because I almost lost that and everything else.