Healthy Obsession: Kayaking

Skokie resident Nancy Vedder, an ACA certified kayaking instructor and program manager for Northwest Passage, shares why her thrill ride of a sport relieves stress.

How did you take up kayaking?
I began working at The Northwest Passage in 1995. While at the Skokie Lagoons, I fell in love with the sport instantly. The tranquility of kayaking was an immediate draw; the feel of the connection with the kayak and the water, exploring areas of the Lagoons, the diverse wildlife, and the sense of being away from civilization.

How do you get started? Are there age restrictions?
Kayaking can truly be a lifelong sport. Take lessons to learn the basic strokes and safety practices. With a double kayak, you can paddle with young children, all of course wearing PFDs (personal flotation devices).

We run kayak camps in the summer for kids ages 10 and up and it’s amazing to see how many of them instinctively take to the sport. Additionally, some of my favorite paddlers are in their seventies and eighties.

What do you love most about the sport?
I love the sense of connection with the body, the kayak and the water. There’s always more to learn, different waters to paddle in, and new environments to experience. The kayaking community is awesome! Kayak enthusiasts are extremely friendly and supportive.

What are the mind/body benefits?
When I’m paddling, I can be in my own little world or be very sociable, depending on the situation and my mood. It can be extremely peaceful or adrenaline rushing.

Kayaking is an awesome workout. Many think of it as good exercise for the arms but if you’re using proper paddling technique, it’s a full core workout as well. As you rotate the torso, you strengthen the abs and back muscles and when you push against the foot pegs, you work your legs.

Insider Tips

  • It’s extremely important to dress for conditions, especially water temperature. Synthetic layers and a wetsuit/drysuit are vital for paddling in colder areas.
  • If buying your own equipment, be aware that different types of kayaks are good for different types of water—big difference between inland calmer waterways and Lake Michigan.
  • Lake Michigan is notorious for changing conditions in a very short period of time. Be aware of your skill level, equipment level and conditions.