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archFinding, Starting, & Enjoying A Sit-on-top Friendly Kayak Club, Off-Season & On

Photo: Anapuhi Arch, North Molokai. Club: Hui Wa'a Kaukah, Honolulu, Hawaii - On a club trip, Sit-on-top Kayaker, Doug Tanaka caught this rare glimps of shoreline accessible only by kayak.

Here are some insights and tips to help you in your pursuit of the joys and benefits of a sit-on-top friendly kayak club in your community.


Why Join A Kayak Club?

Some benefits of Kayak Club Membership:

Safety, paddling with a support network; fellowship of other kayakers; learning and instruction opportunities; participation in leadership & skill building; becoming part of the local kayak community and supporting the sport.

What Do Kayak Clubs Do? Some or all of the following: Trips, Monthly meetings, Excursions, Lessons, Lectures, Slide Shows, Guest Speakers, Volunteer for spotting swimmers in a race; Clean up fleet for local lakes/rivers.


Finding A Sit-on-top Friendly Club

First, try our database of kayak clubs.

Here is the link: TopKayaker.Net's Kayak Club Directory

Contacting your local kayak shop will yield some results. Perhaps they only know of a whitewater club or a surfing club... and then all sit-insides! Don't let this discourage you. Drop in on those meetings and ask around. Chances are there is a group paddling together in waters you hope to explore that are familiar with sit-on-tops or willing to have you along.

The newest trend for group kayaking is the Internet's Meetup.com explained below.


Internet Meet-Up Groups

Perhaps the newest trend in getting together with like-minded paddlers is the Internet's Meetup.com. So far our experience paddling with these folks has reminded us of the best club kayaking we've ever done. It is an instant assembly of paddlers of all walks of life, no fuss, no muss. Some of these groups post their trips for Meetup members only but all usually have a lovely introduction advising you of what types of waters they want to focus their trips on; what age or gender groups, if specifically oriented this way as a club; what types of boats they welcome; sea kayaking, white water, surf kayaking...you name it! The best thing is you can search for a group by zip code. Take a look and let us know on our forum what you think. We appreciate any feedback.


Fitting-In With A Sit-in Club

So what if the only clubs around are Sit-IN?

As more and more beginners find their way into paddlesports, we have found most kayak clubs to be readily accepting of all paddlecraft. Only a few completely exclude sit-on-top kayaks either because the waterways they paddle in are governed by "no body contact" laws, or because they assume that SOT paddlers are unskilled; but most are beginning to see the light and revise their policies.

If you encounter resistance from club members toward your chosen craft, the sit-on-top kayak, state your case that performance depends on hull shape and not the deck configuration. Remember, their main concern is capsizing and being able to rescue themselves or each other, if this should happen. For this reason most of their members have taken Eskimo and Self Rescue classes or are required to.

Sit-on-top Kayaks ease of use have not required much training of the novice paddler. This has led them to be thought of as tourist "play" boats and they are only recently gaining respect as sea worthy touring, surfing and whitewater kayaks. We've heard many a story of unprepared sit-on-top paddlers showing up for a club paddle that has been rated as challenging, with no clue as to how to handle their kayak in such conditions. This puts a big burden on the clubs trip leader. It has consequently given us all a "bad rap."

If you need to increase your paddling skills...and who doesn't!...see Tom's article How to Stay On Top In A Sit-Down-In World. Pay attention to the club's trip ratings. Prove yourself by demonstrating the ease of reentry if necessary. Be prepared with appropriate paddling attire and equipment. Offer a "rescue" practice session such as described in the following article:

Paddling In Mixed Fleets: How To Rescue A Swamped Sit-inside Kayaker

Some additional excellent examples of a traditional sit-in club making the transition to extending membership to sit-on-tops are in our directory of Sit-on-top Friendly Kayak Clubs and two of these are shared below:

RICKA - Rhode Island Canoe/Kayak Association http://www.ricka.org/
"A sit on top of 15' or longer is welcome on our sea kayak trips. What is more important is attention to our trip levels before joining the paddle. Also, all kayakers should know and have practiced rescues recently. These two items are most important. Absolute beginners should be encouraged to attend classes at local kayak shops before joining us on RICKA paddles. All participants are responsible for there own safety."

Valley Wide Kayak Club Hemet, CA - "The Valley Wide Kayak Club has grown from two people in Aug. '99 to 121 paddlers as of June '01 and is very supportive of sit on top kayaks, although most members have touring enclosed kayaks, to date, approximately 20 have sit on tops. Effective Sept 15, 2001, Lake Hemet will open for kayaking. Our club will administer the safety training program and all who wish to kayak on Lake Hemet can either join are club or take the safety training required by Lake Hemet. We are hopeful that they will allow sit on top kayaks, but due to water-contact issues, the details still have to be worked out."


Starting A Sit-on-top Friendly Kayak Club

Getting Started. This is the easy part. The idea is to get as many kayakers in a room together as possible talking about the sport. Among these you will find all the talent you need to form a responsible leadership board. Kayakers are ...Everybody! Even accountants, lawyers, teachers, and retired military with safety or Navy skills. All will have interesting input to share. Here are some ideas on how to attract them:

Invite some kayakers to a slide or Power Point presentation of your latest kayak trip, or that of a guest speaker. This can be advertised possibly at your local kayak shop. Ask them if you can put up a poster announcing the event. The best way to get the support of a local kayak shop is to invite someone who works there who is knowledgeable on a kayak instruction subject to be a guest speaker or demonstrator.

Hawaii's Hui Wa'a Kaukahi Kayak Club started with a small ad in the local newspaper announcing a slide show and guest speaker. Over 200 people showed up at the library that night. A group of those present continued a monthly meeting schedule that eventuated into a formal club. The rest is magnificent Kayak Club history.

For nonprofit groups, like a kayak club, a classroom at a local church, school, or library can be scheduled, sometimes without a fee. If a fee is required, that's one thing club dues are for.

Sonny Norris started Central Florida Paddlemasters paddling club with a simple approach and follow through. He got a list of local kayakers (18 of them) from a local kayak shop. From that list he sent out an invitation to come to a meeting to see if there was an interest in organizing a club. At the meeting they decided to do a trip a month. No officers were appointed and after six years they are still just a bunch of good friends (over 200 members at present) meeting once a month to enjoy each others company and their waterways. They came up with the following rules:

Everyone provides their own equipment.
Everyone paddles at their own risk.
No meetings - More fun to discuss things on the river than in a meeting hall.
No alcohol or drugs allowed

But it never hurts to be organized about it, especially when dealing with large memberships. The next section will explain how.


Getting Organized: Selecting A Leadership Board - Why It's Important

As stated above, once you get a group of people who kayak together agreeing on a club, your resources for leadership are ripe and ready. Kayakers come from all walks of life with a variety of useful skills. Start with nominations or with a volunteer session. It is important to keep it friendly, generous, and to rotate positions every year or two to avoid conflicts of interest. Here are some board member suggestions:

President: Every ship needs a captain. Presidents call meetings and pole other board members for input on decision making for the club. They are actively participating in the club trips and meetings and know what's going on in the club. Meeting with the rest of the board regularly is recommended. They set a pace, but also represent the concerns and interest of the club members to the outside community. For example, when a hearing is announced by the local authorities about submitting a proposal to the legislature requiring kayaks to be be fitted with Radar reflecting poles - (This really happened!) - your president, as well as other members of the board and club, should be there to voice the safety and practicality issues. Another common example are Jet Ski legislation concerns. If they pose a hazard in your paddling area, your voice should be heard when decisions are being made regarding zoning, launching & landing sites, etc. Presidents should have a cool-head and not hesitate to appreciate other board members, valuing their talents to keep presidents informed and supporting them regarding all club efforts.

Treasurer: A trustworthy sole with accounting skills to manage the clubs dues and purchases. It is recommended that if the club have a checking account at least two signatures be required. (your bank will let you know what documentation or procedure is required to bank in the club's name)

Secretary: This could be the Newsletter editor and or Webmaster. The secretary helps the president get out announcements; keeps track of membership records; make sure dues are collected on time; maintains the newsletter mailing list & phone numbers.

Newsletter Editor: Coordinates with all the board members, especially the President. Should have webmaster or publishing skills but seek help from the board with editing material submitted by members for accuracy and relevance. If your club communications will be primarily online, a "listserv" may be a good thing. This is an email account set up to handle round-robin communications by email. Also see these great examples of on-line club news & calendars:

Alaska's Knik Canoers & Kayakers
The Florida Sea Kayaking Association
Hawaii's Hui Wa'a Kaukahi

Equipment Chair: Maintains and stores any gear purchased for use by the club. This should include VHF Radios, GPS, donated kayaks, PFDs, maps, books, etc. Keeps board informed of available gear and may hold "swap" meets or used gear "sales" for members. Also responsible for keeping usable used gear in top shape and clearing out obsolete gear.

Trip Coordinator: Maintains and Coordinates a calendar of planned club trips - but ideas for trips should be submitted by all club members and approved by the entire board. Should be smart about seasonal conditions, difficulty ratings, annual opportunities for marathon assistance, fishing tournaments, etc. and be open to suggestions. Schedules and confirms Trip LEADERS for each of the planned trips. Works with trip leaders to schedule meetings for trip planning sessions and preparation meetings for overnight paddles. For instance, if you are going for a weeks wilderness paddle, those signed up for the trip should get together to go over maps and travel strategies; equipment lists; kayak packing procedures, etc. The TRIP COORDINATOR sets up the meeting; the TRIP LEADER conducts it. See "Group Paddling Techniques" article on this site.

Trip Leaders: This may change with each trip. Trip leaders should be responsible, not easily distracted. They choose a "Lead" & "Sweep" paddler for their trip; know who's going and who's not; should be familiar with members limitations and strengths. See "Group Paddling Techniques" article on this site.

Community Liaison: This could be a separate position or covered by the President or other board members. Schedules speakers from the community for off-season or monthly meetings regarding environmental concerns affecting club members; legal issues; fish & game issues; swimmer safety spotting for marathons, etc.

Safety & Kayak Instructor: In charge of coordinating annual safety clinics for the club. Holds on-water rescue practice sessions; invites local Outfitter's instructors to donate their time to share techniques for everything from kayak sailing to surfing. For a good subject for Kayak Club Rescue Practice for a mixed fleet go to Tom's article: HOW TO RESCUE A SWAMMPED SIT-IN-SIDE KAYAKER


Insurance? Dues?

This is relatively painless to do, once you get a procedure down. The ACA or American Canoe Association has an insurance program available to kayak clubs in the U.S., sit-on as well as sit-in. As long as your club adheres to certain common sense rules, the worries of being liable for injury & accident can be avoided. For more information go to: The America Canoe Association Website or email them at aca@acanet.org.

Some clubs include the ACA insurance fee as part of their annual membership dues. Dues are also used primarily for the club newsletter, website, or, more importantly, safety equipment such as VHF or Weather Radios. In some areas, dues are used to purchase permits for overnight paddle trips, camping sites, refreshments for meetings, OH, and let's not forget the all popular "club T-shirt" etc.


Ideas for Meetings Off Season & On

Every off-the-water Kayak Club meeting we've ever gone to has been rewarding. Hearing about the month's previous paddles from those who attended, planning future paddles, getting clued in on do's and don'ts when organizing your group, getting to know your paddlemates when you get together for drinks later, celebrating birthdays, holding votes for leadership needs, sharing photos or slide shows of individual trips...etc. Lots to do in the off season and here are some more ideas:

Environmental groups are always looking for an audience. Subjects like water quality can encourage teaming up with them for a volunteer "clean the stream" day. This type of activity is not only beneficial for enjoying the waters with fellow club members, but can give you practice in valuable stroke techniques...like the "draw" stroke; backwards stroke, etc.

Other subjects should include: "Your Local Wildlife - Observing Without Endangering;" The fish and game department in your area could hold a "Kayak Fishing & Hunting Regulations Discussion;" The Dept. of Land & Natural Resources could come in to explain past and upcoming "Legislation on Overuse & Sharing of Recreational Areas."

Kayak Shops:

As mentioned, your local kayak shop can be an excellent resource for club meetings. If they are not "sit-on-top" friendly, you could be giving them a reason to "get friendly" when they see your interest in the sport and your membership numbers. They will no doubt begin to carry the gear and kayaks of your choice in hopes of making a sale....but be careful not to become too aligned with one shop. This can only limit your club's options for growth. Some shops are even willing to offer a small discount to club members.

The best way to get the support of a local kayak shop is to invite someone who works there who is knowledgeable on a kayak instruction subject to be a guest speaker or demonstrator. Possible subjects might be "Safety Gear Every Kayaker Should Have," "Different Types of Kayaks," "Kayak Safety Clinic," "Packing A Sit-on-top Kayak" "Joe's Fiji Kayak Adventure" etc.


Resources:

To both International & United States Kayak Clubs:

Please visit TopKayaker.Net's Kayak Club Directory We are always updating an international directory of kayak clubs and hope you will take a few minutes to help us verify your club's information. We understand that for a variety of reasons some clubs either prefer an all sit-on-top fleet, a mixed fleet, or not to include these boats on their trips at all. We hope to assist every club in attracting the membership that will best promote safety and fun in their group paddling adventures.

Our goal is to provide accurate information for the growing number of kayakers choosing the relatively new design of the open-cockpit, self-bailing kayak. If your club has a website you have an option for a link. Your club website may link to our site as well. There is no charge for a club listing. It is free! See current club listings.

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