“Water Games” August 13, 2020
Remember those schoolyard games when you were in elementary school and junior high—keep-away, kickball, tag? They were fun. You looked forward to recess or after-school sessions. You were probably not aware that those games were an insidious plot by your parents and teachers to fill your lungs with fresh air, build muscles, and develop coordination, discipline, and respect for the rules while doing your all-out best. And afterward you were still friends with everybody no matter who won. Made you into the adult-sized monster you are today.
Well, our Water Games session was subtly designed to do all that, too. We set up some float markers on the Skokie Lagoons and then pretended that we were paddling a tricky current down a narrow stream. Actually, with the present low-water situation, most of our favorite rivers require a cautious, skillful selection of the best, sometimes only, course downriver. The only possible course may be a channel just as wide as your boat, just deep enough to float it, and twisty. Or you may be quickly approaching an obstacle such as a rock or sandbar. This requires moving the bow of your boat quickly, accurately, and decisively, in contrast to our usual practice of steering by moving the stern with a rudder stroke or a sweeping stroke out to the side, the favorite of kayakers. We practiced reaching forward while under way, planting the paddle blade close to the bow at an angle that pulled the bow left or right. This maneuver usually requires an immediate correction that will bring the bow back on course. Other skill-builders included tying a balloon to the stern of each boat and each us trying to break or dislodge the other boats’ balloons with the bow of our boat. Finally, the old follow-the-leader procession—keep the bow of your boat as close as possible to the stern of the boat in front of you—proved that we are all fine paddlers. Let’s do it again another day.