Kayaks playing starring role in Harvey rescue efforts

A quick check of flooding coverage in Houston shows that kayaks, which have spiked in popularity for recreational paddling and fishing in the last decade, are now playing an important role in rescue efforts.

Part of the reason? They’re tough, easy to transport, and lots of people have them.

“They’re indestructible, they’re not inflatable so they’re rigid, and they’re easy to store,” says Cody Ackerman, head of the Outdoor School at REI-Austin. “To me the big thing is if you own a kayak, you also own some lifejackets. In these situations, that’s more valuable than a boat.”

In the last decade or two, kayaking has grown to become one of the leaders in outdoor recreation activities, he said. Kayaks typically sell for between $600 and $1,000, and more people than ever own them.

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“As people moved away from canoeing, kayaking has really become popular,” Ackerman says. “There are more options and prices are lower.”

A woman kayaks down a flooded section of FM 518 near the intersection with Interstate 45 in League City, Texas, on Aug. 27. The remnants of Hurricane Harvey sent devastating floods pouring into Houston Sunday as rising water chased thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground. Stuart Villanueva/The Galveston County Daily News via AP

Experts, however, warn that conditions are dangerous, and only skilled paddlers should attempt water rescues. Just because you’ve paddled on Lady Bird Lake doesn’t mean you should load your kayak and head to the coast.

If you’re in a flooded area and hoping to evacuate and have access to a kayak, though, consider strapping one to the top of your car before you attempt to drive out.

“If you get stranded, it gives you options,” Ackerman says.

Two kayakers try to beat the current pushing them down an overflowing Brays Bayou along S. Braeswood in Houston Aug. 27. Rescuers answered hundreds of calls for help Sunday as floodwaters from the remnants of Hurricane Harvey climbed high enough to begin filling second-story homes, and authorities urged stranded families to seek refuge on their rooftops. Mark Mulligan/Houston Chronicle via AP

And if you’re not an experienced paddler, stay home.

“I’m nervous about people taking kayaks who aren’t from there,” Ackerman says. “Not knowing the area, I”d  be very concerned about where the water is flowing, and are you prepared to paddle that…

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