Kayaking in southwest Ohio is growing in popularity

Ask area kayakers why their sport gets more popular every season and they have no trouble answering.

“If you paddle a kayak, you keep on kayaking. It’s that simple,” says Rhett Rohrer, who owns and operates River’s Edge Outfitters on Ohio 42 north of Waynesville.

“Kayaking is an individual sport that you do with others,” adds Bernie Farley, an owner of Whitewater Kayaking, a retail operation on the Mad River, on Valley Street in Dayton. “If you want a high-energy day, you can have it. If you want a slow- motion day, make it that.”

Kayaking is one of two “paddle sports.” It differs from canoeing by the sitting position of the (usually) single paddler who uses a two-bladed paddle. Most kayaks have closed decks, although sit-on-top kayaks are growing in popularity.

Kayaks weigh about 40-50 pounds, half of what a canoe does, so they’re easier to get to the water — and easier to control once you’re paddling away. Don’t be surprised to see kids and senior citizens enjoying this paddle sport. Less impact on the body makes it a great form of exercise, and steering is considered easier than in a canoe.

More reasons to try kayaking?

“Females especially prefer it over being in the front of the canoe. In a kayak, you’re more independent,” Rorher says.

Rosemary and Dan Haemmerle have kayaks at their Indian Lake house.

“Kayaking is wonderful because you can drift into quiet channels or streams and enjoy the birds, swans or eagles instead of staring at a television,” Rosemary says. She adds that it helps keep her arms in shape as well.

Kayak country!

While you have to travel to kayak in whitewater rapids or the ocean, the good news — the great news, really — is that you live in a terrific place for recreational kayaking.

Southwestern Ohio is where the Great Miami River flows, originating upstream from Indian Lake and traveling southwest to the Ohio River.

“The Great Miami, Stillwater and Mad rivers are some of the many under-used natural assets of the region,” says Andrew Schlegel, owner of Great Miami Outfitters in downtown Miamisburg. “These are wonderful places to kayak.”

According to the Miami Conservancy District’s website, the Great Miami, Stillwater and Mad rivers were named as Water Trails by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in the summer of 2010. These three rivers make up the new Great Miami River Watershed Water Trail, the largest water trail system in Ohio, offering 265 miles of waterway accessible to recreational boaters, fishermen and wildlife watchers.

Maps of each of the three rivers are available at www.miamiconservancy.org and at many retailers and park district offices.

Area lakes offer places to kayak as well, some with marinas renting kayaks. Beginners and even seasoned kayakers seek out lakes with no motorized boats, to avoid choppy water, such as Eastwood Lake (on odd-numbered dates boats have to be at idle speed) or Kiser Lake, where motors are never allowed. A quick check of a lake’s website will give you this important info.

Every local park that allows paddling is listed on www.metroparks.org, Five Rivers MetroParks’ website.

“From Eastwood Metro Park on the Mad River down to Riverscape MetroPark is our most paddled stretch,” says Amy Dingle, outdoor recreational coordinator for Five River Metro Parks.

Getting started

“Ninety-nine percent of the people who try kayaking can do it,” says Rohrer.

Few people buy a kayak before trying the sport; many people never purchase one but always rely on area rentals.

“I still rent because it fits with my life,” says Maggie Varga of Dayton, a University of Dayton grad who has often gotten her friends involved in the recreational sport.

Renting is appealing. For instance, River’s Edge Outfitters offer kayak trips leaving every hour, lasting two, four or six hours. Each trip is $28, no matter how long.

“We drive you and your kayak upstream and you float your way back to your car,” Rohrer says.

There’s free paddling on the first Friday of the month at Riverscape Metro Park in downtown Dayton. Every Saturday, kayaks are available for cheap rental for short periods of time, if you wish.

“While we offer longer trips, our quarter-mile trip from our location to RiverScape is a great way to try out kayaking,” says Farley of Whitewater Kayaking. “Plus we have a lot of demo days where people just come and try a kayak for the first time, right here on the river.”

“Kayaking is very easy to learn but there’s a lot of value in getting educated before you start,” says Dingle. She says “Try Kayaking,” a free program, is just one of the kayaking programs offered by Five Rivers MetroParks.

Many levels of kayaking classes are offered at Whitewater Kayaking and at Great Miami Outfitters.

“Many Saturdays, we have a Saturday Morning Float for people curious about trying kayaking,” says Schlegel of Great Miami Outfitters. “We also have a $5 Kayak Demo Night throughout the season and a Kayak 101 class. Our website has all the details.”

Beginners’ lessons for kayakers are offered daily at Morgan’s Outdoor Adventures in Ft. Ancient on the Little Miami River. If you choose to rent for the day, it’s $25 for a single seater, $40 for a double.

Some outfitters have kid-size kayaks for rental for kids 60 pounds or bigger.

You don’t need special gloves, shoes or other equipment except for a life jacket. Most kayak rental places include a lightweight life jacket great for paddling movement.

Because kayak purchase prices start as low as $250, as people fall in love with the sport, they can easily justify owning their own.

“You see things in nature, going down one of our beautiful rivers, that you don’t see any other way,” says Varga. “Kayaking is a great sport and an interesting way to exercise. It’s ideal for team building, too.”

“You have no idea of how fun it is until you try it,” Schlegell adds.