‘My First Time’ Kayaking: An Oar to the Shore


(Tommy Barker) Staff writer Taylor Dickinson heads out on the Great Salt Lake for his first time kayaking.

(Tommy Barker) Staff writer Taylor Dickinson heads out on the Great Salt Lake for his first time kayaking.
(Tommy Barker) Staff writer Taylor Dickinson heads out on the Great Salt Lake for his first time kayaking.

I never spent a lot of time in the water. I’m a terrible swimmer.
Yet I found myself traveling to Antelope Island with my two climbing buddies, Tommy and Cortney, to try our hand at kayaking. We’d decided to ditch the vertical of rock climbing for the horizontal of paddling across the Great Salt Lake.
Tommy and Cortney both have a good deal of experience being on the water, but I had never kayaked before. The only conception I had of kayaking was from intense GoPro videos of adrenaline junkies careening down rapids, avoiding rocks and getting drenched in the process. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a sit-on-top kayak, let alone that people spent time paddling around calm lakes or rivers.
But after renting a kayak tandem from the U’s Outdoor Adventures, formerly the Outdoor Recreation Program, we were on our way.
It’s nine in the morning.; the high is predicted to be 102 degrees Fahrenheit, and we have loads of sunblock at the ready. We travel along Antelope Drive, and already I’m reminded of the total beauty of the Great Salt Lake.
Houses abruptly end and are replaced with sprawling salt flats, broken only occasionally by a piece of wood or a rusted car axle. Far in the distance, Antelope Island divides the horizon, separating the calm blue of the lake from the even calmer blue of the sky. In about 15 minutes, we arrive at the island, but I could have happily driven for an hour more.
As soon as we step out of the car, we’re confronted with the less-than-pleasant odor of rotten eggs. It wasn’t exactly what I expected after seeing scores of idyllic photographs of the lake on postcards.
We remove the kayaks from the car and begin our walk to the shoreline on the northwestern side of the island. Despite its salty content, the shore is brimming with life. Thousands of brine flies quietly zoom through the air. The water’s edge is lined with hundreds of birds sunning themselves and socializing.
With a gentle push (and a bit of stepping in mud), we guide the kayaks into the water and hop in. Cortney calls dibs on the rear seat of the tandem, which means she’ll be steering. I was worried there would be some intricate technique to paddling a kayak, but it turned out to be really straightforward.
As soon as Cortney and I establish a solid rhythm, we easily catch up to Tommy, who had paddled ahead to take pictures. And, much to my relief, the rotten egg smell almost immediately disappears as we gain distance from the shore.
We begin our day by skirting Antelope Island along its northern shore. Along the way, the great bird population fully presents itself. Tommy points out the American white albatrosses floating on the lake and the sandpipers scavenging on the shores, eyeing us suspiciously. I had never seen so many birds at once. It was absolutely beautiful. As we paddle on, hundreds of seagulls, miffed at the disturbance, fly overhead, only to resume their place in our wake.
It doesn’t take us long before we decide to head out into more open water. The winds are almost nonexistent, so there’s no worry of encountering large waves, and the great expanse of water is too tantalizing to stay near the shore.
We paddle northwest. After about 15 minutes, both Cortney and I lift our paddles and coast. Tommy floats far behind us. Conversation dies down. The wind follows suit.
I glance down. Brine shrimp stream past in the thick, green clouds of the water. Fremont Island softly looms miles away. My car lay far behind me, and water engulfs my mind. This is such a welcome change of pace for me.
We stay floating for what seems like hours before turning around and heading back to where we had launched the kayaks. It took us no time at all to pack everything up.
On the drive back and in the days since my outing on the Great Salt Lake, I can’t stop thinking about how enjoyable the entire experience was. All of my trips this summer have been about climbing harder, exercising more intensely, piling on the gear and getting to the top. But on the lake, I was reminded that not every excursion needs to be a record-breaking adventure.
I was amazed at how straightforward kayaking can be. All you need is a kayak, a paddle, and a body of water. And it’s all just 45 minutes away from the U. I could get used to this.
But, as with all outdoor escapades, caution should be taken. Kayaking, even on the seemingly benign Great Salt Lake, has its dangers. The man who rented us our kayaks advised us to be careful for high winds. The Great Salt Lake is shallow, only 33 feet at its absolute deepest, and usually no more than 10 feet. Higher wind speeds can cause large, unexpected swells that can tip your boat over, or push you far from the shore, a dangerous situation for those with little technical or physical experience.
As always, check weather forecasts, and if you still need to satisfy your fix for water sports, there are a multitude of reservoirs, such as Causey Reservoir in Weber County, that are much deeper and safer to kayak.
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