PELL CITY -- If kayakers need another reason to visit Lake Logan Martin, they’ve got it.
As baseballs pinged against metal bats and parents shouted from the stands at the Civic Center in Pell City on a recent Saturday, sheets of water rolled off David Atchison’s kayak paddle and trickled into the lake.
Atchison maneuvered the boat through the flat water of Logan Martin with precision and looked on as less skilled paddlers practiced strokes under his watch.
“It’s a safe sport, but you can get in over your head in a hurry,” he had said standing on the banks at Lakeside Park less than an hour before. “Always paddle with someone who is more experienced than you.”
Atchison is a paddle sport instructor with the Birmingham Canoe Club, a group that brought the kayaking class to Lake Martin for the first time this spring and plans to bring it back next year.
Atchison and other club members teach paddling classes across the metropolitan area, but before last month, beginning kayakers and canoers in east Alabama had to travel further to participate.
“There are a bunch of people in east central Alabama that I felt like this would benefit,” Atchison said.
According to a report by the Outdoor Foundation, paddle sports are growing in popularity. Participation in the sport increased by 3 million people in the United States between 2010 and 2015.
In that same time, indicators -- including an increase in the number of kayak rental shops -- pointed to growth in the popularity of the sport in Alabama. Today, it is not uncommon to see kayaks piled in the bed of a pickup truck on a spring day in Alabama, and the boats can be bought at big-box chain stores that once limited sales for water sports to fishing gear.
“It’s very much like a first-time driver,” said Alabama Scenic River Trail Executive Director Jay Grantland. “You can see people drive all your life, but until you get behind the wheel and drive, you don’t understand the dangers, you don’t understand how to do it safely.”
He added that paddle classes like the ones offered by the Birmingham Canoe Club are important for people who are new to the sport.
At the lakeside class in May, Atchison was accompanied by other Birmingham Canoe Club members, including Bob Shepard and Judy Ranell. Instruction included pointers on how to tie a kayak to a car, what equipment kayakers should carry and how to discern a flat water kayak from a whitewater kayak.
The workshop also covered how kayakers should respond if they encounter downed trees in the water, how to select a life jacket and guidance on trip planning.
Once the attendees and instructors paddled into the water, conversation centered around paddle techniques, and instruction focused on the differences between various strokes.
A stroke that drags the paddle behind the hip of the paddler, Atchison said, will turn the boat. One that stops the paddle at the hip is more likely to propel the boater in a straight line.
Attendees Michelle Quick and Jeff Quick said they had already kayaked a time or two before taking the course. They were there, they said, for specific instruction about whitewater kayaking, a subset of the sport that requires specific knowledge.
“I learned I need more practice,” said Jeff. “For me, it’s about the adventure, but it’s also about the scenery.”
The pair said they traveled from Hayden and Clay to participate.
“This is not what I would consider a long drive,” Michelle said, adding that she plans to continue in the sport. “I’m going to keep going.”
The Birmingham Canoe Club posts information about classes on its Facebook page and website, www.birminghamcanoeclub.org.
Laura Gaddy is a freelance journalist and media manager for the Alabama Scenic River Trail.