By Abe Draper
Photos by Abe Draper and Shanna Head with Central Mississippi Paddling Mafia
But water is not only necessary to life on Earth and important for transportation and trade, it also has the capacity to calm and heal. Whether we are fortunate enough to live with a view of the natural beauty a body of water affords or we live close enough to a river, lake, stream or beach to make it a favorite get-away spot, most or us find a day spent on or near the water relaxing and rejuvenating. There is a soothing quality to the way the light reflects on the surface at different times of day and a peace to be found in the sound of lapping waves, splashing streams or breaking surf.
In our 24-hour-a-day, technology-driven world, true relaxation and contentment are hard to fit into a busy schedule. We often have to plan weeks or months in advance just to take a short break and slow down for a couple of days. It’s not that we don’t know better or that we don’t want to place more emphasis on our physical and mental wellbeing – but when, how and at what cost?
Like many other 30-somethings, I often let exercise and eating right fall to the bottom of my priorities. Working long hours and raising young children seems to offer a million excuses to put off taking care of myself. But one day it caught up with me. While playing with my daughter, I bent over to pick her up and when I tried to stand I heard a loud “POP!” My back locked up and I collapsed on the floor in the most intense pain I’ve ever experienced. After an excruciating ride to the ER, and numerous scans and x-rays, I learned that I had a severely herniated disc in my lower back resulting in a torn spinal ligament. After a couple of days in the hospital and a week of lying around at home, I was prescribed a strict regimen of physical therapy to aid my recovery.
My physical therapist was extremely knowledgeable did an excellent job of explaining my injury and my recovery plan in a way that made lots of sense to me. The majority of the exercises she prescribed were based on strengthening my core to offer support to the muscles in my back. Our hope was to prevent a repeat of the original injury and avoid surgery.
Along with a plethora of daily exercises for me to do at home, the therapist also recommended kayaking or rowing as a good core-building routine. I had been in kayaks and canoes in the past on vacations or summer camps as a kid, but I had never considered paddling as an option for fitness and strength training. As soon as I was able, I headed to the local sporting goods store and asked an employee to help me get outfitted with a decent beginner kayak and paddle. It’s important to find a rig that is comfortable, and that offers proper support for your back. Next step was to research local waters and put-ins.
Mississippi is home to a wealth of beautiful natural and man-made waters. Her rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and bayous are abundant, with many free and open to the public. I was amazed to find just how kayak-friendly our area is. There are more than a dozen great places to launch just a 5-10 minute drive from my home. This is true for a large portion of the state. Many parks even provide kayak-specific launching docks and piers that offer easy and safe access to the water.
As I started taking my kayak out more and more often, I found that along with the health and fitness benefits I was experiencing, being on the water had the effect of calming and restoring me mentally. It’s a feeling that often stays with me for hours or even days after a nice outing.
Paddling, like any exercise, is exponentially easier when you’re enjoying yourself. On a beautiful morning, it’s nothing for me to paddle for well over an hour without even noticing how much effort I’m actually expending. As I became more confident in my abilities, I began searching out new areas to explore. In just one corner of the Ross Barnett Reservoir near Jackson I found six different public ramps and launches, each offering different scenery and experiences, depending on the time of day.
If you enjoy wildlife, there is no better way to view it than on the water. You’ll find a wide variety of species of birds, fish, turtles, frogs, and even the occasional alligator. In more remote areas it’s not uncommon to see all types of woodland creatures heading down to the banks to have a drink. The silence and maneuverability of operating a kayak offers photographers an excellent means to approach wildlife. Being on the water also grants some entirely different perspectives on the surrounding landscape and natural features.
Mississippi’s waters are teaming with an abundance of sport fish. A kayak rigged for fishing gives anglers a unique experience. As smaller, light-weight crafts, without propellers to get tangled, kayaks are capable of reaching prime fishing grounds. Just be sure you have a state issued fishing license! Our state agencies work tirelessly to maintain and protect Mississippi’s waterways, so current and future residents can enjoy them.
Looking to get to know some fellow-paddlers in your area? In almost every community in the state, you can find groups of kayak enthusiasts. Many of these groups have dedicated pages on social media where they share tips and tricks, divulge their favorite paddling spots, and even sell or trade gear. Most of these are very welcoming of new members who are interested in sharing the knowledge and experience of others.
Another bonus…kayaking is a surprisingly affordable activity to enjoy. Kayaks are available in price ranges to fit almost any budget. And, with few parts to go wrong, there is very little maintenance and upkeep. Of course there are any number of accessories and add-ons to upgrade your rig, if you’re interested. Storage bags, coolers, fishing and camping gear, hunting, and even sailing components can be added, making your setup a truly custom experience. And, the versatility and availability makes kayaking one of the fastest growing recreational activities in the world. Mississippi is no different and affords residents and guests some incredible outdoor experiences.
If you are looking for a hobby that gets you outdoors and offers plenty of sunshine and exercise, kayaking might just be your thing. Be sure to follow state and local laws. And do your research on safely handling and maneuvering your boat before you go out on the water. Above all else, have fun and be sure to leave nature the way you found it.