Author:  David Seidman
Copyright 2000, International Marine/Ragged Mountain Press, ISBN-10: 0071362371, 160 pages

Just as with many novice kayakers, it seems most basic how-to-paddle books suffer from a certain overeagerness to hit the big water and start touring.

So, they tend to cover such topics as navigation, packing for camping, advanced safety gear, and all-in rescues, often devoting precious little space to the vital fundamentals of paddling. But “The Essential Sea Kayaker” evidently subscribes to the belief that a successful kayaking vocation is built upon a firm foundation of these basics, and concisely helps the reader lay that groundwork.

“The Essential Sea Kayaker” may be regarded as the elusive ‘missing manual’ that perhaps should be tucked into the hatch of every new sea kayak. Author David Seidman relies on his background as a technical writer to clearly explain the kayaking fundamentals—from choosing a boat, paddle, and other basic gear, to carrying and embarking with your kayak from a variety of launch sites—but with the voice of someone who was himself a beginning paddler not so long ago.

While most beginner’s manuals regard the dreaded wet exit as a rather unlikely accident, and so cover it somewhat late in the book, “The Essential Sea Kayaker” pragmatically addresses it immediately following the launch, thereby alleviating what is undoubtedly the greatest fear of all novice paddlers.

Following an explanation on that most basic of all paddling skills—balance and stability—Seidman devotes a full page (including three photos/illustrations) to properly holding the paddle, even before delving into the cardinal forward stroke, to which he then consigns ten pages, with numerous excellent illustrations along the way.

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There are, of course, the requisite sweeps, stern rudders, draws, and braces, completing what the author regards as Sea Kayaking 101, proceeded by another section addressing more advanced gear and techniques, including extended bracing, rolling, reentries and rescues, and handling various weather and water conditions.

I am reluctant to consider “The Essential Sea Kayaker” strictly a beginner’s manual, due the the wealth of admittedly basic but oft-overlooked information which even some intermediate and advanced paddlers could stand to refresh themselves upon. Fortunately, this was one of the first manuals I discovered when I started kayaking, and I attribute much of my early and steady skills progression to it.

But I still crack the covers each Spring, shortly after the last ice sheets melt from my local lakes, to reawaken my skills, and I inevitably discover some new and helpful nuance to an old, familiar stroke or technique. Like a paddling partner or instructor who’s always just a little bit better than you, “The Essential Sea Kayaker” is a helpful mentor that will continually renew your fundamental paddling skills.

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