Even when you're in top physical shape from hiking, weightlifting and downhill skiing, kayaking can be too much to handle.
That's the lesson Erik Stimpfle of Juneau learned last Friday when he rented a kayak. When he paddled out of the shelter of Lena Point, ocean swells took charge and pushed him sideways. Soon the swells dumped him into the cold ocean waters.
``It was a near-death experience,'' Stimpfle, 28, said today. ``I was in the water and getting cold and didn't know if anybody would get me out.''
Stimpfle had been kayaking only once before, on a guided half-day trip, ``But I wanted to try it by myself.'' He was doing fine in the shelter of land, but once in the open ocean, ``the current or the wind kept pushing the boat sideways,'' he said.
When the kayak tipped, he lost the inflation device that was supposed to assist him in climbing back aboard. ``I watched my paddle drift out to sea as I held onto the side of the boat. Every time I got my body on top of the kayak, it would roll and send me back into the ocean,'' Stimpfle said.
Leonard Savage, a member of a carpentry crew from Fred Pollard Construction working on a house nearby, heard his cries for help. Another crew member, Brad Campbell, 31, commandeered a boat on the shore and rowed to the rescue.
``He thought it would take too long for 911 to respond,'' said Campbell's mother, Jean Jasmine. ``He had to row about a quarter mile out, about 15 or 20 minutes, and he's a big, strong guy.''
``When he got Erik aboard, he was shaking uncontrollably -- hypothermic,'' she added.
Once on dry land and in dry clothes from Campbell's truck, Stimpfle still found himself disoriented. ``I sat around getting warm and getting my head back for about two hours,'' said Stimpfle, a family reunification worker with Child Care and Family Resources.
Next time he ventures out in a kayak, Stimpfle said it will probably be wearing a dry suit in a class offered by Alaska Paddle Sports. He's decided that rehearsing self-rescue techniques is a good thing.