Kayaking is a workout in a natural setting

The first time Mary Lynn Duchac hit the water in a kayak last summer, she’d hoped for rain so she could put off her maiden voyage.

“My kids invited me to go with them because they’re both big kayakers, and I was, like, really excited that they’d even asked me to go,” she told the AJC. “In all honesty, the day before — I had to take off a day of work to go — I was like, ‘Please, let it rain tomorrow!’ Because I really didn’t think I could do it.”

As it turned out, the 72-year-old Suwannee resident had nothing to worry about.

“I just got on that kayak, and I just took off, and I fell in love,” she said.

Paddling at Tugaloo State Park in Lavonia, Georgia.

Credit: Photos contributed by Georgia state parks and historic sites

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Credit: Photos contributed by Georgia state parks and historic sites

Regular paddling

What began as an afternoon on the water turned into regular visits to Lake Lanier with the Lanier Canoe & Kayaking Club. She and a group of six other kayakers participated weekly last summer on Mondays — her day off from her full-time hairdressing job. Duchac had to put the pursuit on hold this summer because the group began meeting on a new day, but she’s looking for chances to get back out on the water for the views and the social opportunities.

“It’s just so beautiful and so relaxing,” she said. “And then, when I joined the club, all the people that were in the club were just so nice, so you just looked forward every Monday to go out and join them, and then we’d do a picnic lunch after.”

Security and a workout

The sit-on-top kayaks she used with the club made her feel secure, she said.

“I’ve heard some people say that they tip easier,” she said. “(But) I felt more comfortable in the sit-on-top … I like to get ahead of everybody, and then I just put the paddle over the boat, and I just let it float.”

Duchac said the paddling gives her a good core and arm workout, which she really noticed on a windy day.

“It’s really hard when you’re paddling into the wind, but even the girl that runs the club was like, ‘I can’t believe how strong you are.’ And I couldn’t believe it because I was just paddling along,” she said. “It was tough, but I did it. It’s been a really good, fun sport for me.”

Paddling at Stephen C. Foster State Park in the Okefenokee Swamp in Fargo, Georgia.

Credit: Photos contributed by Georgia state parks and historic sites

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Credit: Photos contributed by Georgia state parks and historic sites

Get into paddling

Georgia’s state parks provide numerous and varied outlets for would-be kayakers with the Park Paddlers Club. Most parks rent sit-on-top kayaks, according to Kim Hatcher, public affairs coordinator for the state parks and historic sites division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

The stable nature of the vessels makes the activity good for beginners, Hatcher said.

“It’s almost difficult to capsize them,” she said. “You could also have the option in most of those locations for signing up for a ranger-led trip, and then, you’ll be with lots of other people, as well, and get some tips.”

And sit-on-top kayaks aren’t one-size-fits-all — shorter boats are easier to turn, but longer ones may go faster. The vessels, she said, are stable enough for paddlers to bring binoculars to birdwatch or to paddle quietly along waterway edges and look for frogs.

Park Paddlers Club participants must buy a membership, Hatcher said. They get a T-shirt, and they can download a checklist of parks. Once they paddle 12 locations, they can notify the program and receive a certificate of completion.

Like Duchac, she’s found that natural beauty is a draw for the activity.

“We often go south because I like the lily pads and the cypress trees and the Spanish moss and how the black water reflects the clouds in the sky — it’s so pretty,” she said. “And it’s easy paddling, and the wildlife watching is great.”


Kim’s picks

Kim Hatcher, public affairs coordinator for the state parks and historic sites division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, recommends certain state parks for paddling, whether participants are looking to plan a day trip or camp or stay in a park yurt. Here are her picks with notes. Check the Park Paddlers website, gastateparks.org/ParkPaddlersClub, and click on each park to see which ones rent kayaks.

Stephen C. Foster has the Okefenokee swamp; you can paddle with the alligators and birds.

Fort McAllister has a tidal creek but not a strong tide.

George L. Smith has cypress trees; you can maneuver between them.

Fort Mountain has a small, 17-acre lake with a trail that goes around the lake.

James H. “Sloppy” Floyd is near Rome. There are two small lakes; it’s lesser known, not crowded.

Red Top Mountain on Lake Allatoona. A big, busy lake, so stay close to the coves but have fun watching boats.

Moccasin Creek on Lake Burton in Northeast Georgia. The state park with lots of beautiful homes to look at on the lake.

Fort Yargo in Winder. It’s easy to get to and there’s a 260-acre lake. Enjoy a swimming beach, hiking trails and yurts.

High Falls has yurts on the lake. It’s right off I-575 between Atlanta and Macon.

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