The Kayak Chronicles
08/04/2017 07:00AM ● Published by Robert Frey
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Locals With A Passion For Paddling
By Shanna P. Dickens
For centuries, Louisiana has beckoned adventurers to explore the area’s unequivocally unique landscape, habitat and culture. There are few better ways to truly understand the region than by traversing it by water. As kayaking continues to grow in popularity, Acadiana has become a sought after destination to paddle through the dense vegetation, wayward wildlife and slow churning waters.
Acadiana residents are taking full advantage of the bounty of kayaking opportunities that are, in many cases, quite literally in their own backyards. The Bayou Teche is the only National Water and Paddle Trail in Louisiana. Paddling enthusiasts are rejoicing in the recent addition of four new floating kayak and canoe docks along the Bayou Teche located in Charenton, Port Barre and St. Martinville. Local shops like the Bayou Teche Experience – Cajun Paddle in Breaux Bridge and Pack & Paddle in Lafayette offer an array of resources no matter what stage of their kayaking journey a customer is on.
We have three stories of kayakers who each hit the water with very different goals, but they all share a love for Acadiana’s water and a passion for paddling.
“I moved from California to Breaux Bridge top open my kayak shop Bayou Teche Experience - Cajun Paddle, because there’s so much beautiful water here to experience. But I didn’t just fall out of the sky and land here. My mother is from Louisiana and my grandmother is from Breaux Bridge. Growing up, I’d visit every summer, so things here are very familiar to me. People enjoy being on the water – it’s something that’s in our DNA.”
What sparked your interest in kayaking?
Since I was young, the outdoors has always been a part of my life. Hiking, cycling and paddling outdoors, that’s my definition of fun.
What were your earliest paddling experiences like?
When you’re smaller, regular sized equipment can be rather large and bulky. However, when you paddle in a group with adults, everything becomes easier and fun. Having fun is the key. As a kid, my favorite was whenever I had the chance to combine paddling and camping. Actually, that is still my favorite.
What is the most difficult part for a beginner?
Paddling is easier than riding a bicycle. The most difficult part could be a fear of water, but with proper safety equipment like personal flotation devices (PFDs), it’s very safe.
What advice would you give to a beginner?
I would say to either go out with some experienced paddlers or take an introductory paddling course like we offer through the United States Canoe Association.
What makes Acadiana perfect for kayaking?
Whether it’s the bayous or the swamps, it’s all flat water, which makes it super easy and fun. You can tailor the amount of time and distance to meet your needs. On larger bayous like the Teche, you can even go to restaurants along the way. Paddling and good food is a perfect combination.
What is your favorite waterway to frequent?
My favorite is paddling on the Bayou Teche, partly because it’s the most famous bayou in Louisiana and partly because it’s in my backyard.
What is on your kayaking bucket list?
I’d like to paddle the whole length of the Mississippi River.
What has been one of your favorite kayaking experiences?
The longest distance I’ve paddled is from Bossier City to Berwick – 410 miles. It’s a races that happens each fall called the 410 de Louisiane, and it ties into the Tour du Teche. Generally, the more time I spend on the water, the more fun I have. And we spend a lot of time on the water in that race.
What physical & mental benefits are associated with kayaking?
Paddling is a wonderful exercise. It’s low impact on your body because the boat is carrying the weight. At the same time, when you’re paddling, you’re properly using your entire body. Additionally, paddling outdoors is a great way to clear the mind, especially in today’s fast, high-tech world.
Magen Smith grew up in Charenton before moving to Loreauville when she was 11 years old. Today, she resides in New Iberia. For the Smith clan, Magen’s husband and their two young daughters, kayaking is a family affair. It’s something for all of them to do together, but they each get something different out of it.
How did your family begin kayaking?
We bought our first kayaks nearly eight years ago. We had just had out first daughter and we were bored from sitting inside with a baby. I wanted to get kayaks to get outdoors more. The sport was just getting started. We went to Pack & Paddle and bought two arm-paddle kayaks. At first, my husband wasn’t interested because kayaks don’t “have motors.” Today, he’s the biggest kayaking fan. He even sold his boats to fish by kayak.
What is the most difficult part for a beginner?
For me, my kayak was too short, and I had trouble keeping it straight. Finding the right kayak can be a challenge, because everyone has different needs. You have to figure out what works for you and your budget. My husband fishes out of his kayak, so he has a ProAngler. I prefer paddling longer distances so I love my foot paddled Hobie.
What’s it like kayaking with your kids?
Kayaking with children is like doing anything with children – fun and exhausting at the same time! We try to keep snacks, and we give them fishing poles so they’ll always have something to do. Our 6 year old sits tandem with me while our 8 year old usually paddles alone or sits on the back of my husband’s kayak and they fish together. It gives them a chance to use their imaginations. When they’re with us, we check the weather forecast extra carefully and we don’t paddle for more than a few hours. We try to keep it fun. They’re good sports.
How big a role does kayak fishing play in your lives?
My husband has travelled to other states to participate in kayak fishing tournaments. The sport is finally growing in popularity, but when he first started, there were very few people doing it. The largest tournament is Ride the Bull, held in Grand Isle. More than 800 kayakers compete to catch red bulls. In 2015, he held first place all day until the last hour of the tournament. In 2014 and 2015, women won the tournament for the biggest redfish. Our 8 year old will be able to join her dad this year and compete in the junior division.
What makes this area perfect for kayaking?
South Louisiana has lots of hidden areas where you can enjoy nature. You can paddle in salt or fresh water. You can paddle through the city via the Vermilion River or enjoy a bit of quiet nature in Lake Martin. My favorite place to paddle is the Bayou Teche.
What has been your favorite kayaking experience?
A few times, some friends and I have paddled from Loreauville to New Iberia on the Bayou Teche at night during a full moon. It’s therapeutic to relax and enjoy the quiet sounds of nature at night with good friends. Also, anytime my husband and I can take the kids out is always fun. It’s a great opportunity to spot wildlife and listen to nature. Chicot State Park is a beautiful place to paddle with the kids.
Carson, Conrad and Peyton Pellerin
The Pellerin brothers, Conrad, Carson and Peyton, prove that sibling rivalry is at its best when rivaling competitors and not one another. The 15 year olds triplets are competitive kayak racers. The Breaux Bridge natives have travelled the country competing in races.
How did you get interested in kayaking?
Carson - My grandfather and dad both raced as kids. When my grandfather, Ray Pellerin, started the Tour Du Teche, it brought back the family interest. My dad asked us to give it a try, and we all really liked it.
How did you become interested in racing?
Conrad - My grandpa bought us each a recreational kayak and we started racing in our backyard.
Peyton - We did one race and we were hooked!
Carson - First, it was just a recreational thing, but we were always very competitive as kids, playing basketball and baseball. The competitive nature drove us to start racing and become faster.
Do you each have different strengths and weaknesses?
Conrad - My strength is my ability to set a good pace for each race depending on the mileage and competition, my strength itself and my technique.
Carson - We all share one main strength, which is the synchronization of all of our paddles. Each of our blades enters the water at the exact same moment, making our speed consistent and smooth. I am not as strong as my two brothers, both being bigger and taller than I am, but I act as the team leader, keeping us all together and focused.
How did you decide to compete together and not against one another?
Peyton - We are faster when we race together.
Where have you traveled to compete?
Conrad - Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia and Florida.
What has been your proudest accomplishment?
Conrad - Getting 3rd place in the national marathon team trials in Sugar Land, Texas.
Carson - Last year, when my brothers and I competed in the Tour Du Teche, 135-mile kayak and canoe race in 20 hours and 58 minutes. We finished 2nd overall and 2nd in class. I was very proud because this race is very long and challenging, but we pushed through it and had a very impressive race.
Has anything scary ever happened?
Carson - Sometimes, in the bayou, an alligator will jump in the water and scare us a little bit.
Peyton - Once, we were swarmed by a bunch of mayflies.
Conrad - We have flipped our kayak many times.
What advice would you give someone interested in racing kayaks?
Peyton - Just keep at it!
Conrad - Learn the basics first, and never give up.
Carson - Start off in a stable comfortable boat and progressively build your stability and strength. Train and practice really hard and stick to a training schedule.