FARMINGTON — Matt Swan sliced his paddle into the water and his kayak glided across the calm, blue surface of the pool at University of Maine at Farmington’s Fitness and Recreation Center.

“Think of it like you’re spreading peanut butter,” he said, giving the advice to three women clinging to each other’s kayaks as they floated across the pool.

Two of the women exchanged a glance, laughing as their kayaks wobbled when they tried to mimic the smooth peanut-butter-spreading stroke of Swan, their 31-year-old whitewater kayaking instructor.

“You feel like you’re going to kiss water in two seconds,” said Kerry Kowalczyk, 24, to her fellow kayaking novice.

The women shared plenty of shaky moments recently during the hour-long class, offered by the college’s Mainely Outdoors program, which promotes outdoor recreational sports.

The program was started last year with the goal of getting more people outside, either by teaching them new sports or organizing recreational events, according to Leigh Breidenbach, director of the outdoor recreation and tourism collaborative at UMF.

The beginning kayakers all agreed it’s better to wobble in a pool than it is to crash in raging rapids.

Kowalczyk, of Farmington, is a certified guide for whitewater rafting and wanted to get into kayaking, which she said is completely different from rafting.

She signed up for the clinic because it let her ease into a new sport, she said.

“It makes a big difference,” she said of starting in the pool.

Amy Ellis, 48, said she always dreamed of learning to kayak but couldn’t seem to get started.

“That’s why I’m here. I’ve always wanted to do this, but I never had a chance to learn how,” Ellis, of Fairfield, said after the class.

The whitewater kayaking clinic has three lessons in the pool and ends with a final session on the Sandy River in Farmington, where the class gets to paddle in a few sections of easy rapids.

Caroline Tolstad signed up for the class to get ready for a trip later this summer to Washington that includes kayaking.

The 23-year-old UMF student from Manchester, N.H., heard about the clinic and was eager to learn a new sport.

“I just wanted to be outside doing something,” she said.

The Mainely Outdoors program is open to students and community members and features different recreational sports targeting all seasons. The activities range from fly fishing to snowshoeing and take place at diverse outdoor recreational sites in western Maine.

The cost for clinics and outdoor adventures vary depending on the number of classes, staff involved and other factors based on the specifics of each activity, Breidenbach said.

The whitewater kayaking clinic costs $50 for all four sessions. Swan is a certified instructor who works for Northern Lights, an outdoor recreation company in Farmington, and teaches some elective recreation courses for UMF.

The program put on a mother’s day kayak and canoe race in May and that cost $10, with mothers and UMF students paying $5.

The Mainely Outdoors program and recreational courses are also tied to a new degree at UMF, where students can study to get jobs in outdoor recreation business administration.

Swan, who is certified to teach several other outdoor sports, said the whitewater kayaking clinic is unique from other classes he’s taught in the past.

Not many programs have access to a pool for beginner lessons, but it can make a big difference by letting people master techniques without getting scared away from the sport, according to Swan.

“It’s really important you learn the fundamentals first,” he said.

David Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]


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