Kelly Patrick, co-owner of the Salish Sea Kayak School, was born and raised in Idaho, but always hoped to someday live near water.
“There isn’t a lot of water in Idaho,” she laughs. “It’s usually dry or frozen.”
Patrick moved to Bellingham several years ago and took his first kayaking lesson within six months of landing in Whatcom County.
“I immediately fell in love with it,” she says. “And I decided that not only did I want to enjoy the sport for my own enjoyment, but also to help others explore this area and learn to love the sport as much as I did.”
Ted Wang had been a sea kayaking instructor for years before Patrick started paddling. The couple met and quickly taught the sport together.
When Patrick and Wang opened their Salish Sea Kayaking School in Bellingham last fall, their goal was to improve the experience of kayaking students in the area.
They did just that.
Due to the leadership changes at their former employer, the couple’s teaching experience – something Patrick and Wang had long been passionate about – began to deteriorate.
“We wanted to limit the number of students in a class so that not only did they get the most out of it, but the class was safer for everyone involved,” says Patrick.
Wang and Patrick are both certified American Canoe Association instructors, and the guidelines of this organization require that any class of more than four students have two instructors. By the time the couple left their previous positions, they were teaching eleven classes, often in rough waters.
“It had just gotten to the point where it wasn’t safe anymore and it wasn’t fun,” says Patrick.
The couple also wanted to have direct control over the equipment in which they boarded their students, for greater safety.
“And we wanted the flexibility of being able to develop our own curriculum and teach wherever we wanted,” she says.
Now, completely in charge of their own school, Patrick and Wang decide everything.
“If a student wants to learn how to deal with eddies and currents, we can take them to the Deception Pass,” says Patrick. “If we have a student who is going to paddle ski in the sea for the first time, we can teach him basic skills at Bellingham Bay. “
Patrick and Wang’s ultimate goal with the Salish Sea Kayak School is to empower people to take ownership of the sport.
The primary education season, depending on the weather, begins around the end of April and runs from September to mid-October.
Patrick and Wang paddle year round and are happy to teach all winter as well.
“Having said that, we are not able to provide drysuits for our students, so a student who wants to go out in the winter should have their own equipment because it is so cold.”
The Salish Sea Kayaking School provides wetsuits for all students – in fact, they provide just about everything needed to learn the sport, from boats and paddles to life jackets and spray skirts. A list of additional things students should bring to class is detailed on the Salish Sea Kayak School. website.
The school offers several possibilities for kayaking lessons. One is a series of 10 hour courses that take place over three weeks.
“It brings you back to square one,” says Patrick. “This is what a kayak looks like, this is where you sit – the basics. Students will complete the course being able to save themselves if they overtake, rescue their paddling partners, maneuver the boat and be prepared not to pass.
Patrick and Wang are adding a class for people who don’t have time for the 10 hour class or just want to dive in and see if they like the sport. “This will be a three to four hour course that gets them through the basics in one day,” says Patrick, “basically get on a boat and see if they want to take the next course.”
The couple teach frequently in Bellingham Bay, Padden Lake, and Whatcom Lake, but are flexible in other locations; they taught at Bowman Bay in Skagit County and are willing to go as far north as Birch Bay, among others.
“Some people have phobias about salt water, so we can teach in the lakes,” says Patrick. “If the conditions are unfavorable, we may be able to move to another location. “
They are able to customize both the schedule and the course content to meet the needs of the students. “Our goal is to maximize accessibility and convenience for our students,” explains Patrick.
With Ski to Sea just around the corner, the Salish Sea Kayak School offers a refresher course for people who paddle a kayak and who may not have been in a boat since this year’s race. last.
They also offer a basic skills course for Sea To Ski participants – people who may have been invited to be part of a team but have never done a kayak.
“It happens a lot,” says Patrick, laughing.
Patrick and Wang have both been lifeguards for Ski to Sea and have seen many novice boaters pass by – often in rough waters and submerged in cold water.
“It should be such an exciting and fun event, but by the time they get to the end, they’re tired and miserable and cold,” Patrick says. “It would be just great to see people enjoying it – and a crash course will help them do that.”
Patrick and Wang love to teach and kayak – so of course it’s rewarding to do both – and to do it with their own business.
One of the most satisfying parts of the job for Patrick is watching newbies discovering that they can kayaking – even if they think they can’t.
“I can’t tell you how many students I’ve had them say, without even thinking about it, ‘I can’t do this,’” said Patrick. “Watching them overcome that – whether it’s a fear or finding out that they have a skill or physical strength – it’s very rewarding. “
The Salish Sea Kayak School offers discounts on kayaking lessons to Ski to Sea participants throughout the month leading up to the race. Find out more about the Ski to Sea Refresher and Basic Skills courses here, and email [email protected] or call 888.858.8411 for more information.
Salish Sea Kayaking School