Kayaking is one of the fastest growing sports, and for good reason. It provides outdoor adventure, exercise, camaraderie, peace and opportunities to fish as you escape from the city. Better yet, modern kayaks are light, fast and easy to transport and steer, so any beginner who hops in a kayak can quickly attain competence that sparks a sense of achievement.
Still, kayaking can be very extreme and enter into the realm of danger. You may capsize, get trapped by natural obstacles or encounter wildlife you would probably prefer to avoid.
Here are the most astounding stories of kayakers who narrowly avoided disaster.
Thomas Swiader Junior
In May 2012, Florida fisherman Thomas Swiader Junior almost capsized when an alligator struck. He was on Triplet Lake in Casselberry, 20 miles North of Orlando — all alone with his girlfriend’s Yorkshire Terrier, Buffy. Or so he thought.
When the gator sprang at the kayak, it flipped the terrier into the water and whacked Swiader.
“It happened so fast, I didn’t know what happened. It hit me so hard; it whacked me in the arm. My arm was throbbing. I’m surprised I didn’t go in the water,” he told the Palm Beach Post News.
Despite his shock, Swiader found the presence of mind to grasp the terrier’s leash and heave it back from the water, unharmed. Then he vigorously backed his kayak away from the gator.
In the spring of 1996, kayaker David Hughes was heading along Little River Canyon, Alabama, on a Class V run aptly named “Suicide”.
Suddenly, Hughes realized that he was caught in a “vertical pin” — a nasty trap you fall into when your kayak is rolling over rapids and sticks in an upright position. He was pinned underwater against a rock, his legs locked in his kayak. The rushing water’s pressure against his back bent him in half and bashed him against the deck as he rapidly ran out of oxygen.
Mustering all his strength, he wriggled partway out of the cockpit, but his legs remained trapped. So, in desperation, he clasped his hands and reached out into the falls, hoping the force would snap his legs and painfully propel him out of the kayak. Instead, his body became a lever that pried the boat loose.
Hughes only suffered torn ligaments. But his ordeal was far from over because he could not walk. So he had to kayak 12 miles of waterfalls — including three more miles of Class V — to reach the emergency room.
In September 2008, veteran kayaker David Wilson was rolling along one of Australia’s top white water rivers: the remote West Kiewa. After he turned a familiar but blind bend, his kayak became wedged under a log that pinned him to the bottom of the river.
In desperation, Wilson harnessed the power of the rapids ramming his back as leverage and heaved.
“I pushed my upper body to get the maximum force of water against it and leverage my legs hoping they would break. After a while, with a sense of relief, one did and allowed me to roll out of the boat,” Wilson told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Wilson bobbed to the surface and swam into an eddy at the end of the log. He was glad to be dragged from the froth by his friends, one of whom was an orthopaedic surgeon. His friends looked after him until police and rescue workers managed to airlift him out 15 hours later.
In May 2012, Californian kayaker Joey Nocchi was jumped by a 14-foot great white shark. He and his friends were wrapping up a successful fishing trip off the Central California coast.
“I was taking just nice fluid strokes just cruising along and I got hit from the bottom and it sounded like somebody hit my kayak with a baseball bat,” he told KSBY.
The shark took a giant bite — about 22 inches wide — out of his kayak. Knocked five feet into the air and then into the water, Nocchi had a close encounter with the shark cruising over the top of his kayak.
“I didn’t want to touch it. I had my hands back but his tail came across me and I felt his skin on my hands and it was a pretty crazy, eerie feeling,” he said.
Miraculously unscathed, Nocchi crawled back into his leaking kayak and paddled hard back to shore with his buddies.