“There’s not a lot of water in Idaho,” she says with a laugh. “It’s usually either dry or frozen.”
Patrick moved to Bellingham several years ago and took her first kayaking lesson within six months of landing in Whatcom County.
“I immediately fell in love with it,” she says. “And I decided that not only did I want to enjoy the sport for my own appreciation, but also to help others explore this area and learn to love the sport as much as I do.”
Ted Wang had been a sea kayak instructor for years before Patrick started paddling. The couple met and was soon teaching the sport together.
When Patrick and Wang opened their Salish Sea Kayak School in Bellingham last fall, their goal was to bring an improved experience to area kayaking students.
They’ve done exactly that.
Through changes of management at their previous employer, the couple’s teaching experience – something both Patrick and Wang have long felt passionate about – began to deteriorate.
“We wanted to limit the number of students in a class so that not only did they get more out of it, but the class was safer for everybody involved,” says Patrick.
Wang and Patrick are both certified American Canoe Association instructors, and that organization’s guidelines require that any class with over four students have two instructors. At the time the couple left their previous positions, they were teaching classes of eleven, often in rough water.
“It just got to the point where it wasn’t safe and it wasn’t fun,” says Patrick.
The couple also wanted to have direct hands-on control over the gear they put their students in, for greater safety.
“And we wanted the flexibility of being able to develop our own curriculum and to teach wherever we wanted,” she says.
Now, completely in charge of their own school, Patrick and Wang call all the shots.
“If a student wants to learn how to deal with eddies and currents we can take them to Deception Pass,” says Patrick. “If we have a student who is going to paddle Ski to Sea for the first time, we’re able to teach them basic skills on Bellingham Bay.”
Patrick and Wang’s ultimate goal with Salish Sea Kayak School is to allow people to make the sport their own.
The primary teaching season, depending on weather, starts near the end of April and runs through September to mid-October.
Patrick and Wang paddle year-round and are happy to teach throughout the winter, too.
“Having said that, we’re not able to provide dry suits to our students, so a student who wants to go out in the winter time would need to have some of their own gear because it’s so cold.”
Salish Sea Kayak School does supply wet suits to all students – in fact, they provide just about everything needed to learn the sport, from boats and paddles to life jackets and spray skirts. A list of extra things students should bring to class is detailed on the Salish Sea Kayak School website.
The school offers several options for kayak classes. One is a 10-hour series of lessons that takes place over the course of three weeks.
“That takes you from square one,” says Patrick. “This is what a kayak looks like, this is where you sit – the very basics.” Students will end the class able to rescue themselves if they go over, rescue their paddling partners, maneuver the boat, and brace themselves to keep from going over.
Patrick and Wang are adding a class for those individuals who don’t have time for the 10-hour course or may want to just dip in there and see if they enjoy the sport. “That will be a three to four-hour course taking them through the very basics in one day,” says Patrick, “basically getting in a boat to see if they want to take that next class.”
The couple frequently teaches in Bellingham Bay, on Lake Padden, and on Lake Whatcom, but is flexible about other locations; they’ve taught at Bowman Bay in Skagit County and are willing to go as far north as Birch Bay, among other areas.
“Some people have phobias about salt water so we can teach in the lakes,” Patrick explains. “If conditions are adverse, we may be able to change locations.”
They are able to customize both class schedules and content to meet students’ needs. “Our objective is to maximize accessibility and convenience for our students,” Patrick says.
With Ski to Sea just around the corner, Salish Sea Kayak School provides a refresher course for people paddling the kayak leg who may not have been in a boat since last year’s race.
They also offer a basic skills course for Sea To Ski participants – folks who may have been asked to be on a team but have never been in a kayak.
“That actually happens frequently,” Patrick says with a laugh.
Patrick and Wang have both been rescue boaters for Ski to Sea, and watched many novice boaters go over – often in rough water and plunged into cold water.
“It should be such an exciting and fun event, but by the time they get to the end, they’re tired, miserable, and cold,” Patrick says. “It would just be great to see people enjoy it – and a crash course will help them do that.”
Patrick and Wang love to teach and love to kayak – so of course, it’s fulfilling to do both – and to do so with their own company.
One of the most satisfying parts of the job, for Patrick, is watching beginners discover that they can kayak – even if they think they won’t be able to.
“I can’t tell you how many students I’ve had say, without even thinking about it, ‘I can’t do that,’” says Patrick. “Watching them overcome that – whether it’s a fear or discovering they do have an aptitude or the physical strength – it’s very fulfilling.”
Salish Sea Kayak School offers discounts on kayak lessons for Ski to Sea participants throughout the month leading up to the race. Learn more about the Ski to Sea Refresher and Basic Skills courses here, and email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 888.858.8411 for more information.
Salish Sea Kayak School