Summer is here and it’s a good time for families and friends – and just solo folks as well – to try kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding out on the water while gliding around sightseeing, taking in nature, breathing fresh air and getting some aerobic exercise.
If you haven’t ever tried it, this is the year when looking for lots of space between you and others. Here in Rhode Island, there’s more than 400 miles of saltwater ocean shoreline and inlets (more shoreline per square mile than any other state) and many miles of freshwater inland rivers, lakes and ponds.
In South County the Atlantic Ocean is part of the region as much as the Narrow River in Narragansett, the Saugatucket River in South Kingstown and the Wood River in Exeter to name just a few. All fine places offering opportunity for old hands and beginners using these watercraft.
Whether it’s a one-seat or tandem kayak or just a stand-up paddleboard, taking any on these waterways will provide a glimpse of nature, sea and inland life in South County and break from some of the more traditional vacation and recreation attractions or a day sitting on the beach.
“I love being active and being outside. There’s the fresh air. On my first time, I truly loved it,” said Melissa Spaziano, describing her first kayak ride many years ago in California and then the rejuvenating feeling when she tried stand-up paddleboarding also known as SUP and sometimes simply as paddleboarding.
She loved both so much that Spaziano, a teacher during the school year, acquired a kayak and paddleboard business — East Coast Paddle Sports. It provides grab-and-go daily and weekly rentals of paddleboards and kayaks. It’s located at Ram Point Marina on the Salt Pond, in South Kingstown, where entering the water from nearby docks or boat ramp is easy and trouble-free.
Another teacher and long-time kayak, canoe and paddleboard enthusiast is Jason Considine, owner of Narrow River Kayaks at 94B Middlebridge Road in Narragansett for more than a decade and who has watched these sports grow.
He still loves going out on one, he said, on a recent hot summer Sunday as kayaks pushed off from the small beach where he rents kayaks and paddleboards to take on the meandering Narrow River.
“For me, to go out and do it, I guess it’s the closest thing to walking on water,” the 49-year-old said, adding, “I would consider myself an avid paddler. I’ve been kayaking since I was 11 or 12 and paddleboarding for the last 12 years.”
That same kayaking bug recently bit Melissa Fren, of North Providence, who came with a friend to Considine’s business to break away from all things COVID-19 and being confined by social distancing. The glistening and rippling river waters provide ample stretches between boaters, paddlers and anyone else.
“It’s a nice activity to connect with nature and I think that’s what a lot of people want to do with this COVID thing around. They just want to get out,” she said.
The Outdoor Foundation reports that in terms of specifc paddlesports, recreational kayaking continues to grow in popularity and seems to be replacing many Americans’ desires to canoe.
Stand up paddling, on the other hand, doesn’t have nearly as high a participation rate as recreational kayaking, but its popularity has soared in recent years, gaining 1.5 million participants since 2013, the foundation said.
At 53 percent, males make up a slightly larger percentage of paddlers than females, it determined through reviews about participants.
These national figures reflect locally with Spaziano noting last year she did nearly 400 kayak rentals and 276 paddleboard rentals. Considine said he does about 65 percent rentals in kayaks, 25 percent in paddleboards and the least amount in canoes.
The Active Times online magazine, which covers outdoor and endurance sports, travel and adventure, reported on several of the following health benefits from kayaking and paddleboarding. Other health experts gave similar recommendations.
Kayaking can be a great way to exercise your abdominal muscles. In order to glide over the water, paddling takes a lot of core strength and movement. Paddling on both sides of the boat means twisting, which targets muscles that might normally be overlooked.
Both kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding offers a fantastic upper body workout. Whether you’re out in the ocean fighting a current or making your way across a calm lake, the resistance of the water provides an effective strength workout for your back, arms, shoulders and chest, among other areas.
Though kayak paddling is mainly associated with upper body strength, the legs are an integral part. Steering and guiding the kayak is dependent on your core and legs, and your rotating core needs help from those stronger leg muscles.
It’s great strength work, but another added benefit is the aerobic exercise with paddleboards or kayaks. Pick up the pace and elevate your heart rate to see cardio benefits without an elliptical or treadmill. According to several sources, you can burn 400 to 500 calories in an hour of kayaking.
Another good reason to skip the treadmill in favor of paddling is that the sport is low-impact. Unlike running which takes a toll on knees and ankles, paddling is less demanding on joints and tissues. Good news for those recovering from injury.
Stress relief might be the most commonly cited benefit of paddling and it’s not hard to imagine. But research published in the Journal of Leisurability suggests that there may be mental and emotional benefits to paddling beyond stress relief.
The study focused on individuals who had experienced brain injury and then could not participate in all outdoor activity. They were put in a 12-week kayaking program and reported that the activity provided emotional benefits.
How to Get Started
Many outfitters in South County offer kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals by the day and week. With COIVD-19 cleaning requirements, a quick check is needed to determine if an outfitter does hourly rentals.
Outfitters also provide the necessary equipment. They can be found with a quick online search and are located throughout South County.
Both Considine from Narrow River and Spaziano from East Coast agreed on the following when packing your own kayak for a trip:
• Life jacket – necessary for all people and in all conditions.
• Coast Guard approved whistle without a pea - A whistle with a pea doesn’t sound when it’s wet.
• Bilge pump, if necessary, for some kayaks
• Extra paddle – just in case something happens to the only one you have.
• Dry bags for a cell phone, another other electronics and a dry change of clothes; double bag your electronics
When renting a kayak, they said, outfitters should provide the basic necessities, such as the life jacket and the paddle. Sometimes they will provide a bottle of water to take along. Prevention of dehydration and sunburn is also important, kayaking experts said.
Those kayaking should drink plenty of water before going and while paddling. This would mean drinking sips of water every 20 minutes, experts said.
Also, heavy amounts of caffeine and any alcohol should be avoided. These can also affect individuals’ stamina while on the water and exercising by paddling.
Those on the water should try not to go during the hottest part of the day to avoid sun stroke and heat exhaustion. A cell phone should be brought along in case a health or other safety emergency develops.
While in the sun, paddlers should seek out shaded areas for both paddling and resting. This will help reduce the chances of any heat-related illnesses while paddling during hot and humid weather.
Paddleboarders should take similar precautions, although carrying water and having a cell phone may not be feasible. In those instances, they should remain in a visible area to obtain help if needed or to be able to quickly paddle to shore.
Another necessary item for both activities in which hours are spent in the sun is sunscreen or sunblock.
Slip. Slap. Slop. Yes, that’s the routine for sun bathers, those boating and biking and anyone else having fun in the sun. They need to protect themselves from deadly skin cancer, according to dermatologists.
Dr. Vincent Criscione of South County Dermatology — and other dermatologists as well — said remembering this simple directive can help to prevent this disease and that’s important because no one can predict the kind of cancer they could get.
“Slip on a shirt, slap on a hat and slop on the sunscreen,” he said, adding that this recommendation is more familiar to millennials than their baby boomer parents raised when oil was preferred over sunblock for getting the required summer tan. High-tech sun protective clothing was the material for science fiction stories.
Criscione’s recommendations for sun protection are:
Put on sunblock rated SPF 50 or higher 30 mins before going into the sun and every two hours afterwards. Use thick amounts to cover all exposed skin.
Use wide-brim hats that cover the ears and neck, and give the face more protection. Baseball caps don’t offer this extensive cover.
Use sun protective clothing such as tee shirts, long sleeve shirts and sun protective pants when practical in periods of long exposure to direct sunlight.
Wear sunglasses that give prolonged and wrap-around protection to the ultra violet rays.
Places for Kayaking and Paddleboarding
As interest in kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding continue to rise in recent years, more places have been identified for their attraction and sightseeing when trying out both of these watercrafts.
South County Life culled through scores of places to go reported by different organizations. Presented here are some of the more popular ones for both the beginner and experienced paddler.
The Saugatucket River- Running right off of Point Judith Pond in South Kingstown, it provides a relaxing and calm waterway for either kayakers or stand-up paddleboarders getting either some experience on the water or looking just for some uninterrupted moments away from crowds of people and other boats and boards.
Ninigret Pond, Charlestown- Many birds, such as swans and herons, can be found along this flat and calm watercourse near the ocean. It is the state’s largest saltwater pond that makes for both an easy and fun day whether paddling.
Greenwich Cove, East Greenwich- Follow along the shore through Goddard Park for a beautiful sunset or sunrise paddle or trip on a kayak. It also is the home of many small marinas and waterfront dining establishments to pull up for a bite to eat.
Narrow River, Narragansett- Park along the west side of Route 1 and enjoy launching from there to see varied sights whether the tidal inlet and marshes or fox and deer. It provides an eclectic opportunity for any seasoned or beginner in paddleboarding or kayaking. The only warning is that going up river is better than going down closer to the ocean where the current is stronger and the paddle back harder.
Point Judith Pond/Salt Pond, Wakefield- Its calm waters frequently allow beginners in kayaking and paddleboarding a chance to learn how to navigate without much interference from many boats. There are always people around to lend a hand or assistance and it is sheltered from strong tides and winds.
Napatree Point Conservation Area, Westerly- Splendid isolation characterizes this beach. Beautiful and unspoiled, this sandy spit separates Watch Hill’s Little Narragansett Bay from the ocean. Its conservation area is a haven for nature lovers with its breath-taking ocean views. Kayak along the shore of Napatree and enjoy views of one of the state’s most unspoiled beaches, though sea kayaking should be done carefully by beginners and with a companion.
Narragansett Town Beach, Narragansett- This is for stand-up paddleboard riders. You will mix in with the surfers, but it will give you a chance to handle small waves and learn about navigating the board around others. Be careful not to disrupt the surfers.
Conanicut Island, Jamestown- It is the second-largest island in Narragansett Bay in the state of Rhode Island. Paddle along the East Passage to see many sights including Fort Wetherill State Park. It provides views of many scenic surroundings.
Upper Wood River Arcadia Management Area, Exeter- The Upper Wood River offers the most impressive natural experience of any river in R.I. For almost four miles, paddlers can enjoy the serenity of being surrounded by woods and forest before any houses come into view. This section snakes through many wetland areas, winding continuously to keep paddlers on their toes.
Block Island- On this tiny island, just a short ferry ride away, is its Great Salt Pond. This body of water can offer lots of fun for the family along with a boat ride to get there as well as some challenging ocean water for those more experienced and wanting to venture beyond the pond.
In addition, various outfitters, such as Spaziano’s East Coast Paddle Sports and Considine’s Narrow River Kayaks offer sunset and full moon tours for groups or by arrangement. With many coronavirus restrictions and social distancing, those interested in these and other tours with any outfitter should call to discuss options when planning the excursion.
In addition, COVID-19 restrictions have put some limits on the number of boats and boards outfitters may be renting. They need to follow all state and federal guidelines for sanitizing equipment after its return.
Enthusiastic staff are ready to help, such as Ian McMahan, 15, of Narragansett, at Narrow River Kayaks. While assisting two renters recently to get in their boats, he showed them how to paddle. His shop also offers lessons, but on this day the kayak renters just wanted a quick trip.
They followed his instructions in the shallow water, asked a few questions, and then shoved off as he said, “It’s probably a lot easier for them to figure out on the water than me explain it. It’s pretty simple once you tell them how to paddle and turn a kayak,” he said.
“It’s easier to learn by yourself than have someone tell you,” young McMahan said. ”It’s not rocket science. Once they’re on the water, they’ll figure it out pretty quickly.”
He said that he loves his job and the best part is meeting people, working with them, and “I get to show them this beautiful place,” he said.
That timeless attraction of water luring people of all ages to its edge appeals to Cassidy Cole, 15, who is a stand-up paddleboard enthusiast. She goes out on Point Judith Pond often with groups of friends.
Although she has kayaked for years, the stand-up paddleboarding brings more of a thrill, including doing yoga on it. “It’s a lot more challenging and you have to balance both yourself and the board on the water,” she said doing certain yoga positions.
“I really like it,” she said. “It’s kind of different because you never think of standing on water.”