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HELENA – Keely Larson always figured she was holding her own when she went kayaking with her more experienced friends.

But it took only the first few minutes of a recent beginners’ kayaking lesson at Helena’s Spring Meadow Lake for her to make a basic discovery.

“I always had my paddle upside down,” she said after the lesson. “So I’m improving.”

While much of the state is sweltering in record temperatures, some are turning to water sports to beat the heat. For curious newbies who don’t know one end of a kayak paddle from the other, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks this summer is holding twice-monthly lessons for beginners.

Ten students at a time spend an hour learning basic paddle strokes in the shadow of Mount Helena from volunteer instructors in kayaks purchased from local outfitters.

Students get to try a variety of watercraft, from small, single-person kayaks designed for small streams to larger, two-man sea kayaks geared for bigger water such as the Missouri River or Canyon Ferry Lake.

The goal is for people interested in kayaking to learn how to do so safely, said Liz Lodman, FWP’s boating education coordinator.

FWP also offers online, classroom and home-study courses on boating safety.

One of the instructors, Ellen McKinley, said she got into kayaking for the simple reason that she could not load a canoe by herself. But then she quickly learned to love maneuvering low in the water in a kayak powered under her own strength. The feeling can’t be matched in a motorized boat, she said.

“You don’t see the wonder of things when you’re zipping past it so fast,” she said.

Her son, Zach McKinley, also is a volunteer instructor. He teaches students what they should look for in a boat, how to get in and out of the water, and how to get around in it. The No. 1 fear of beginners, he said, is getting wet.

Katie Lindsay, a 23-year-old AmeriCorps worker, heard about the new program through her job with the state parks program, and she convinced several other AmeriCorps volunteers to try it out during a recent summer evening.

“I just wanted to try kayaking for a long time, and this was free, so I figured why not?” Lindsay said.

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