As the sun begins to climb higher in the sky heralding the beginning of longer days and inviting the green spirals of forest ferns to emerge from their winter sleep in the forest, I too am drawn out into the light to join the marine life that is beginning to stir with great vigour brought with the coming of summer.
[This is how I feel after a 2-day paddle with the young and talented Finn Steiner as he makes us way around Vancouver Island in an attempt to be the youngest person to ever circumnavigate it.]
It is hard not to feel some sense of connection to the mollusky creatures that sit clasped between their sturdy shells half covered by the ocean. Sitting the in the hard shell of my kayak, encased and kept warm and safe by my layers of dry suit and fleece, I can taste the sea in the air of the misty isles of my home waters of Vancouver Island – the enchantment is palpable as we sit watching the Pacific white-sided dolphins travel and porpoise beside us.
[I joined Finn in Campbell River on the east side of Vancouver Island after some blustery days where decision making was the lesson given as winds opposed tides. I felt so lucky to be able to join him for 2 days as he paddled through Seymour Narrows, an area where currents can exceed 16 knots and is well known for its turbulant and whirlpool filled waters, and onwards past “the knuckle of the island” as we transited from the Strait of Georgia into the Johnstone Strait marked by Chatham Point.]
I feel so lucky to know the magic of travel by way of water, to intimately feel the ebb and flood of the ocean as it caresses the rocky shores and sandy beaches of this coastal playground. Sometimes I feel like I have been told a great secret of the mystery of the natural world and my – our – connection to it. It is this time of year that I revel in setting out in my kayak to search of the feasts of the natural world, like the sweet orange insides of urchin, the bitter-sweet freshness of young fiddleheads and the salty softness of the muscle and oyster. I was once told by a First Nations Elder from Haida Gwaii that “when the tide is out, the table is set,” and today in this fresh, unfurling of spring I know it to be true.
[Our time on the water together inspired this dreamy dialogue with the cycles of the natural world and I can’t help but feel incredibly lucky both to live in the beautiful place that I do, and to be surrounded by the community of inspired paddlers that exist here. The adventure that Finn has undertaken is one that many people could not even dream of, and here he is, asking all the right questions, allowing himself to learn from his experiences and displaying remarkable amounts of courage in the face of difficult decisions (all at the tender age of 17).]
The coming of springtime is a time of splendor for the kayaker. There is something almost magical that invites us out of the darkness of winter and into the light of spring that ever-promises the joys and delights of summertime. It is days like these that keep me excited about paddling.
[Finn has helped me to remember the magic of the natural world, has reminded me of my own sense of wonder and connection to this beautiful place; and as we stopped at beaches in rhythm with our bodies’ needs, we discovered amazing things like Sea Urchins, dolphins, native fishing weirs, scampering martins and the sheer magic that happens when we dare to stop and listen!]
- Finn has now rounded Cape Scott and is headed South on the outer West Coast of Vancouver Island. You can follow his progress on his PaddleVI 17 Site…Good Luck Finn – this is indeed quite the “rite of passage” you have embarked on – and what a man you are becoming!
You can be guaranteed that somewhere in the world someone is always paddling. As we Canadians begin to trade dry suit for snowsuit and kayaks for skis, paddlers down in South America are dawning their colourful Goretex Suits in readiness for the kickoff to the Chilean paddling season at Simposio de Kayak Pacifico Sur.
In its 4th year running, hosted by the hardworking boys at Pueblito Expediciones in the small coastal community of Chaihuin, Chile, this year’s sea kayak symposium was better than ever! With venues that include the flat water of the river estuary, southern pacific breaks onto long sandy beaches, and spectacular rock garden play spots at “los cormillos” or “the Fangs”, there is something here for everyone. It would be remiss of me not to mention the delicious Chilean cuisine of local fish, classic lamb ‘asados’ (barbeque), soups and local brews by Cuello Negro – the food is definitely part of the experience!
With participants arriving from all over Chile, Argentina and even Uruguay, this event continues to draw new paddlers to the sport while creating its own gravitational force within the South American paddling community. I have seen this event continue to bring familiar faces back again and again to share stories and have so enjoyed taking part in the magic!
One of the highlights for me this year was seeing the strong showing of women who attended. It seems as though each year there are more and more, and this year they were fierce! There is some serious talent and determination in this group of ladies! I can’t wait for next year!
Among the surf sessions, rescues and maneuvering classes there were 2 young boys, ages 11 & 12, who were excited to learn all the technical skills they possibly could and quickly mastered balancing skills – showing up even the coaches in their abilities to stand and dance on their kayaks! The diverse mix of participants made for wonderful learning environments for everyone, participants and coaches alike – and I haven’t even mentioned the whole English/Spanish language adventure.
One evening after a long day of paddling, the entire coaching team held an open Q & A session with the participants. We shared stories, answered questions (both serious and silly) but one of the most interesting questions that arose was “How does the paddling community here, in South America, differ from those in other parts of the world?”
There was a long pause from the coaches panel, which is unusual, as you might imagine. The easy answer might be: this paddling community speaks Spanish. The final consensus, however, was the obvious: Paddlers are people and they are fundamentally the same the world over.
Students bring an excitement to learn, a passion for the water and often a fear or challenge to overcome – no matter which ocean you are on. What changes from place to place is what happens in the moment – the conversation shared over a plate of food, the smiles exchanged after tough rescue on the ocean and laughter as you help a stranger zip up their dry suit preparing for a day in new waters – these are the moments that bring an event to life…and this event is alive and well!!
This vibrant Latin American affair is one of the highlights of my year. From the amazing people, to the beautiful place, the delicious food and not being made fun of for using my hands more than most to talk… this event is one of my favourites! It is a tease of summer and warmth to get me inspired to keep my dry suit in use during the cold winter here in Canada. Thanks Pueblito Expediciones for continuing to deliver the best and Kokatat for its ongoing support!
Well, the busy summer season is over. I have been in my rubber boots these days, but rather than tromping through sand, I have been tromping through fallen leaves. I have been watching mushrooms sprout in the green forests and breathing the sweet air laced with the smell of decaying leaves.
(Don’t worry, I will be surfing and kayaking all winter, but let’s be serious…it won’t be as busy as the summer!!!)
I love the fall – The colours, the smells, the swells, the cold air and jumping in piles of carefully raked leaves. There are also the feelings that so often accompany this time of year. It is some set of indescribable afflictions that go along with dealing with the unknown and transitioning from one way of being to another. I notice them in myself and in the people around me. I have lived a seasonal lifestyle for so long now, that I am able to recognize the changes in my own cycles as they correspond to each season. Fall is a time of change, leaves die and begin to decay. The trees shake off the productivity of the summer and prepare for the long cold winter months ahead. The change of pace, from working sun-up to beyond sun-down as a wilderness guide, to having entire days that are waiting to be explored and lazed about in, can be a bit startling. I know that sometimes I find it quite unnerving.
But…The beautiful part about this feeling, is I have had it at this time, every year for as long as I can remember. The unsettled, unsure wave of anxiety that I have as I transition from summer into winter is a regular visitor. Like clockwork this feeling creeps up as the last trips of the summer run to a close. Equally, I have learned that this state of not knowing is often (if not always) followed by some amazing opportunity that has the capacity to surprise and somehow always brings me exactly what I need! How do you think I ended up in the circus!?!
Living in the wilderness and on beaches has highlighted many things for me, but most importantly it has shown me that there are patterns and cycles in the natural world – and in turn, patterns in my own way of being and feeling throughout the year. Fall is a time of storing up energy, of letting go, of rooting down and of slowing the pace. So when I catch myself getting upset because I spent the whole day at my home, puttering about in the garden, in my sweatpants…I remind myself that productivity and busyness has its place, but so does slowness and spending time as a hermit.
“We all change colours and lose our leaves, then we bloom again.” -Maria Lago
Sea kayak surfing – the fringy sister of an already fringe subculture of paddlesports – has taken on its own following in recent years. Although it emerged from the simple necessity of being able to guide a sea kayak into tough surf landings on long trips, it turns out that surfing unloaded kayaks is also incredibly fun. The longboat is the longboard of the kayak surfing world, carving smooth turns as it finesses its way through the water. It’s not easy to control a 16-foot-long boat on a moving, churning wave – perhaps that too is part of the appeal.
The feeling of riding a clean, green wave – accelerating the long waterline of the craft to the wave’s trough, riding the line along the green face and changing direction at a snap as the boat rises to the top – it is the closest I have ever gotten to dancing with water.
If you are reading this, you likely already know what I am talking about, so enough of all that. I’ll get on with it.
After you master the take-off and positioning on the wave (or even if this is something you are still working with) you will want a few tricks up your sleeve to help accelerate your learning. Whether you are surfing beach break, point break or tide races, there are three key variables you can mess around with:
Play with Your Edges
If you are familiar with biking or skiing, you will know that when you want to initiate a turn, you lean – or carve – into it. With longboat surfing this is not always possible as the momentum of the boat can create immense amounts of pressure on the hull, keeping it running in the same direction. In order to release the pressure, it is often necessary to briefly edge away from the turn first (lean away from the direction you want to go), and then you can lean into it, carve, as the boat changes direction.
Body Trim – Fore and Aft
Where you position your body over your cockpit can make the difference between catching a wave and missing it. Subtle shifts in weight forward and backward, pivoting at the hips, can also help you move up and down the wave face. A common reaction to the feeling that one is falling off the backside of the wave, is to put pressure on the foot pegs, moving your upper body weight behind the hips. The mental process goes, “If I push my hips forward, my weight will be forward and therefore I will ride down the wave.” Unfortunately, what this actually does is put you in a standing position where the majority of your body’s weight – your head and torso – is behind you and behind the wave. Instead, bring your chest forward over your thighs or knees and pull your knees towards your body. This allows you to dramatically shift your weight and affect not only your boat’s waterline but also your positioning on the wave.
Use Your Head
Don’t worry, the bow of your boat will not likely disappear – quit staring at it! Often times we get focused on the spot directly ahead of us, but the head is a powerful tool. Our body, and whatever might be attached to it, i.e. the kayak, tends to follow the head. So look around you, from side to side, know where you are on the wave. Then decide where you want to go and stare at that spot, I mean intensely. Perhaps you imagine, like I do, that you are “Mr. Magoo” leaning forward, squinting through bottle bottom glasses to see that future water as it comes into focus.
– written by Kate Hives
Read more at http://www.canoekayak.com/skills/messing-longboat-tips-surfing-sea-kayak/#4ZLplWtlLxjfrOYK.99
I made this little “how to” video for my friends and family as they were preparing for a kayak trip with me. It is a trick to pack your sleeping bag so it can withstand an ocean dunking – and stay dry!! I have tried many different methods and this one, by far, takes the win for both reliability and cost.
You will need:
1. Your sleeping bag
2. A stuff sac
3. A garbage bag
It has been a whirlwind of a month which has most recently landed me back in Victoria BC, Canada (my home waters), but I feel I am only just arriving here and in order to truly arrive, I feel I need to reflect on my magical times in Scotland.
I didn’t know it was a dream of mine to paddle in Scotland, until I paddled in the Small Isles last year. Once I had floated around in the tidal streams; explored the bleak, yet beautiful rocky and heather coloured islands and had the opportunity to bask in the depth of cultural myth that fills this place, I knew I needed to return.
This year I was lucky enough to get an amazing weather window that forecast calm winds and cool seas. It was just the push I needed to hop on a ferry from Oban to the Outer Hebrides and launch my little kayak from Castle Bay on the Isle of Barra heading for the cliffed islands stretching south into the horizon.
I arrived and immediately floated my boat, setting out for an evening paddle. I wove my way through the Isles as the sun dipped itself into the ocean and the puffins heralded dusk, returning home after a long day fishing. I arrived at the Isle of Mingulay at 10pm and fell asleep under a pastel sky.
An early start took me around the Isle of Berneray with breathtaking sea cliffs covered in curious Razor Bills, screeching Kittiwakes, bobbing Puffins and 2 golden eagles soaring high above the lighthouse. The calm waters around Barra Head afforded me a closeness and stillness to be a silent witness below the skies completely alive with birds on the wing.
The west coast of Mingulay was exciting. It is a cliffed and rugged coast with caves, arches and fissures perfect for paddling through and around. Being alone, I had a word with myself about what kinds of passages I may paddle and decided that anything I would want a helmet for was completely out of the question. But when I got to a natural arch inside a cave that heralded light on the other side… I had to do it! I took a deep breath, held it, accelerated and blasted through the opening into another cave and out into the daylight. I guess it wasn’t really all that dangerous, but I felt exposed for a moment. Once on the other side the sense of excitement and surprise was overwhelming and it spilled out of my mouth as a hoot that echoed through the cave walls.
I wove my way back north being sure to explore each isle in its entirety. The wind stayed down, the seas were forgiving and I moved through the seascape with wonder and ease. When I arrived back at Castle Bay, it was a Sunday and I could hear music coming from the local pub. I’ve never been one to pass up a good old local jam, so I headed for the sunny patio and ended up with a beer and a whisky in front of me as we sang old songs accompanied by accordion! The local scotsmen of Barra are alright with me!
I had one more day to paddle and decided it would be a wasted day if I didn’t set a goal, so I decided I would paddle around Barra. It was only 26 Nm but with half of the paddle likely to be into a stiff headwind, I wrestled a bit with my lazy self. I set out on the west side of the Isle and into a 15kn wind, finding myself more and more comfortable to paddle alone, in bigger sea conditions… It did take a bit of getting use to at first but paddling alone is feeling liberating.
The hard work paid off and once I reached the northern most reaches of Barra and it’s turquoise seas I turned to head south with an even stiffer tailwind. The push was a lovely change and as I paddled south, I sang and laughed as I danced with the wind and water. As the utilitarian Scottish castle came into view on my arrival back into Castle Bay, 2 white tailed eagles took flight from the nearby shore to soar above me and carry on southwards circling higher and higher. I settled into my tent that night, preparing for an early morning onto the ferry back to Oban, feeling as though I had tasted a little bit of magic that this place has to offer. I have not yet satisfied my desire to paddle in this place and the Isles to the north of the Outer Hebrides is now calling!
Paddling on your own can be scary. There is no one to help you solve problems if something goes wrong or if the weather suddenly changes. There is no one there to make you laugh with when you get lonely and no one to help you carry your boat up long beaches – no one but you.
Solo paddling can feel heroic and life affirming, but my intention to paddle alone did not stem from a desire to be bold or to do something no one had ever done. I wanted to see what kind of decisions I might make, how I would cope with the lonely days on my own. I wanted to crawl out of my comfort zone and use it as a time for reflection. I have been on the coast of North Wales for much of this winter and while spending time on the water alone, I have run into highly changeable weather, encountered fears I didn’t know ran as deep as they do and learned to find courage within, when I need it most.
I needn’t go into too much of the nitty gritty detail of the whole trip because it all gets lost in the in-betweens of calm days and rough seas, irrelevant distance measures and finding places to sleep. What is worthy of discussion is my thinking processes and the struggles to remain present in each moment.
I am always meticulous with checking weather reports, wind directions and tidal movement, but alone, I felt my need to know these things was even greater as I set out knowing I was the only one who could help myself if conditions got tough. It is one thing to intentionally go out in bad weather with friends, looking for waves and surf, but an entirely different beast when headed down an unknown coastline on your own. The other challenge I faced was forcing myself to get on with it, even when things looked less than perfect. It is a fine balance between making the decision to stay because of bad weather and pushing forward even when the outcome is uncertain. It is so tempting to stay in bed when you are only accountable to yourself.
I remember one day in particular that turned out to be a challenging one. My first task was to set a goal. I would paddle 40 nautical miles to make up for the short day I had previously due to high winds. I find that goal setting is essential in order to get out of my tent. The early 5 AM start felt like a success as I paddled off with the sunrise behind me. The billowing white clouds on the horizon were brilliantly lit. They were, however, sitting on top of a dark grey layer like merengue piled on top of a cake. This should have been my first clue that the weather was subject to change that day, but conditions were calm and I knew I had a few bail out points along the way.
I paddled in calm waters for a few hours, feeling meditative as each paddle stroke passed me by. The terns were soaring around me and diving like torpedoes into the water to catch their breakfast. I felt lucky as the sun shone down on me as though I had an invisible weather shield around me, while dark masses of clouds and rain passed me by on both sides. As the coastline turned from long sandy dune beaches to folded layers of rock rising out of the briny deep, the sea state began to change from glassy to corrugated. I often enjoy paddling with a bit of texture to the water, as it keeps me focused and makes things more interesting, but what happened next turned out to be a bit more than just exciting.
All morning I had been chased by dark squalls, surrounded by rainbows that signaled incoming rain, but had so far managed to be avoided by the masses of unsettled weather. When I reached a spot on the coast that made landing nearly impossible and I was fully committed to making it to the next town 6 miles away, the sky darkened, the seas started to heave and the rains began. I zipped up the hood of my Kokatat Gore-tex Passage Anorak just before the hail began its attack, hitting hard on my hood and stinging as it pounded my nose.
Normally the sea conditions would not have caused me to worry, but as the front closed in, the seas got bigger and bigger, the wind stronger and more powerful. It became a mind game of convincing myself that it wouldn’t get any worse – that I could make it safely to harbour – and I began talking to myself. The unknown elements began to creep into my thoughts like how long the squall might last, where I might be able to land safely when I got towards the nearest town and what I might do if the worst were to happen and my boat got smashed into the rocks. It’s probably not the best plan to think of all the negative possibilities, but in my mind I was preparing myself for the worst and hoping for the best.
Just as I had my first glimpse of the distant headland that heralded safe harbour, the seas picked up even more and a wave formed, big enough to crest and surf my boat sideways towards the rocky shores. This is what we train for – the unexpected. I braced into the wave, gave out a hoot and dug in harder. There are always options in life and the options here were, 1. Get scared, overwhelmed and give up (no good outcomes promised here) or, 2. Get inspired by the power of the seas and find my own power to match it.
I put my fear in a box, thanked it for keeping me safe, and tucked it away in my mind to make room for focus. All my senses were heightened and instinct told me to paddle offshore. At least there, I would have time to solve any problems that I might encounter before getting blown dangerously close to land. The conversation with myself (yes, out loud) became positive, hopeful and even jocular as I turned my body into a powerful machine, moving through the water towards town, now coming into view.
This process I found myself engaging in is something I have practiced, though not always consciously. This is why I practice rescues in uncomfortable places, why I head out to surf waves on a beach that give me butterflies in my stomach. It is all training for the moment when you need it most, which is rarely planned, possibly overwhelming and often terrifying. The mind is a powerful tool which needs to be exercised and trained as much as the body.
I navigated my way safely into the walls of the harbour, not before a few more big decisions through and around rocky reefs and rebounding waves with the power to smash my tiny boat to pieces. I felt lucky, but in the end, it was not luck that had moved me through the water and kept me upright in blowing wind, crashing waves and pounding hail – it was my whole being. It was good preparation, the ability to turn fear into focus and being willing to be hopeful, even hilarious, throughout the ordeal.
It is easy to stay on shore, play it safe and avoid the unknowns of the ocean. But in making the decision to go, there is opportunity to learn more about your own inner will and courage than you ever thought existed. It is here that I find myself learning about when to be in control and when to let go – it is here that I am reminded and I learn to feel truly alive.
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” – Vivian Greene
I’ve been paddling, or trying to paddle, the Cardigan Bay coast in Wales. It has been tough going with weather forecasts haunting my journey. I’ve only been able to make it 40 Nm and have been land bound for 3 of 5 days. I will have to return to finish the coastline. It feels very worthwhile!
These are just a few clips of my Vlog project… Raw, unedited and real. Kayaking is full of surprises and decisions, but maybe that’s why we do it. It is a pure adventure. You never know what might happen and there are always surprises that the weather dishes out!!