There is something frantic in the air right now. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it feels like summer is not all that anxious to let go of it’s busy hot days to the deep cool days of fall. It will of course let go, and yes I know, we are only in the middle of September, but I can still feel this resistance building. I feel my own drive to keep on going till this end of summer work is complete, while also trying to compete with my inner needs to begin a period of slowing down as the days get shorter.
I begin to secretly long for the cooler days and deeper colours that the autumnal arrival hails. I hear the geese calling overhead as they begin their journeys southwards. Without wishing too hard for the rain and the cold of winter, I welcome the transition between them. I ready my being for a gentle slowing, while still staying focused on the task at hand and the vision that motivates it.
This year, I say, I will be prepared for the transition. This year, I will be equipped with intention and newfound understandings of what it means to let go. I will pull out my drysuit and wear cozy socks, I will get out my warm blankets and begin to make soup. I will also give myself permission to go out and get damp from the wetness in the air, to witness the landscapes transition as it paralells my own into the shorter days of fall. And oh! The colours are so bright just before they fall to the ground… and I do feel colourful these days.
Between the busy days of summer and the slower days of winter is a time to reap the harvest of summer, to dance in the moonlight, eat peaches and let the juice run down your chin and to feel the cool breath of winter gently kissing your neck. It’s time to get out for sunset paddles and kick the leaves underfoot, finish that one last project and shine brightly before the simple stark renewal of winter is upon us.
I have long craved a map and a compass. I long for the certainty that comes through being able to plan for the journey, know where I stand in a landscape and can then clearly navigate the terrain to the next waypoint. My chosen career in wilderness guiding has been a fitting metaphor to fulfill this desire. I have become fluent in the languages of True and Magnetic Norths, I have learned to read the clouds and feel wind directions to predict weather; and I have studied the tidal cycles, learning how to work with the power of the ocean. I have slowly, ever surely become a great navigator of this wild and beautiful ocean meets forest terrain. Somewhere, though, there emerged a deeper longing – a longing to know more intimately an inner wilderness.
I couldn’t have told you about this longing two years ago when I began my thesis journey at Royal Roads University. I could have told you that I was interested in the connection between Nature and Culture, but never could I have told you that my studies would take me deeper in to my own connection with Self and an inner wilderness I had only previously had a glimpse of. I could have told you I was going to embark on a Vision Quest, but I never expected how my life would unfold after the ‘questing’ was over. It is only with the gift of hindsight that I can see clearly that I wanted to explore the more psychological dimensions of wilderness adventure, to peek into the intersections and embraces of inner wilderness and outer wilderness.
As I began this journey I felt as though I was blind, stumbling around in a place that felt uncomfortable, in a fog of not knowing that was more extensive than I had ever experienced. I had no map, not even an inkling of what the territory might look like. What I truly lacked was a compass that I could use in the dark. So, I stopped searching and I started listening, using deep self-awareness as a compass for how to proceed, when to proceed, if I should proceed. I began realizing that what I was seeking was nothing more than to see myself through the eyes of loving compassion that I might see mySelf wholly in all my glorious paradox – to learn to see myself as an Innocent and a Dragon, a humble servant and a powerful leader.
The concept seems so much easier to put in a sentence than to practice as a human being.
[I use the spelling of ‘mySelf’ to imply a deep self-awareness that Carl Jung might call soul connection.]
At this point in my thesis journey, which I recognize extends far before and far beyond my time here at Royal Roads; I can see the delicious darkness that holds juicy secrets that need time still to germinate; I am able hold mySelf with a greater loving tenderness; and have an ever-increasing compassion for my fellow humans and the earth upon which we live. I am certainly not finished this journey and sincerely doubt it will ever truly be ‘finished’, but in my searching for inner health, equilibrium and knowledge, I feel as though my compassion for others has increased as I find it for mySelf.
[ This love I spoke of in the last paragraph, I don’t mean it as a gushy, ooy-gooey kind of smoochy way, I mean it as a deep acceptance of something, in this case myself. Being able to spend enough time in the shadowy realms of my human experience and being, so that I may better understand these places and perhaps be able to work with them as I work with ocean currents on the sea. This love for mySelf that I have been cultivating in the darker days of winter has strangely begun to spill out. It has begun to affect the ways I interact with and see other people, the other-than-human beings around me and has been, it appears, to be a curious by-product of inner reflection.]
My journey has been inherently impactful to me as a leader, especially in terms of the concept of ‘leading from where you stand’, if only because I am more fully aware of just where it is I am standing. I embarked upon a Vision Quest as a grounding foundation for my study. The vision quest is designed to initiate participants and invite them on a journey towards being able to more wholly embody their truest Selves, to encounter soul and learn to use Ego in service of its deepest longing. A year and a half after my Quest I have traveled through initiation, which took a lot longer than I expected – or hoped- and am now actively participating in the Return (which has also taken a lot longer than I had imagined). This process of bringing the gift, mySelf, back into the world is a heavy task. It seems as though it is requiring me to be more responsible than ever before – deeply responsible to mySelf.
To clarify how truly big this responsibility to mySelf is, feels like a daunting task. If I can try to distill it down into its simplest form: responsibility to mySelf means I am open and clear about where I am now; that I can listen enough to hear when I need sleep, to be social, or to run in the hills; that I can be compassionate enough to honour those needs in myself and in turn, others; to continue to trust that I will always have what I need (even if it doesn’t always feel like it); and that everything I can be, I already am. Ha, no big deal right!?!
First and Last – A Sea Tech Towline Odyssey
My first towline was a North Water Sea Tech tow line. It got its first use at Skookumchuck Narrows while I practiced rescues in the turbulent currents. I have since carried that tow line with me to Patagonia & Australia, it has traveled hundreds of miles with me up and down the BC coast, it has helped me solve problems in the tide races of North Wales and Scotland, and those are just some of the highlights – still it continues to deliver.
I only recently decided to retire it because of how much I have used it over the past 10 years and I felt as a professional that I should keep my gear current, especially for rescue scenario practice. I was sad to retire it, as it seems like it has got more life left in it. I have loved the simplicity of its design and use.
As I pulled the latest version of the Sea Tech tow line out of the box, I was excited to see that its function and use had not changed in any fundamental ways. Why mess with a good thing? In fact, when I look at them side by side, the old and the new together, I do notice a bit of wear on my old retired line, but other than the red of the fabric being a bit sun bleached, they both look ready to use!
They have, however, made some useful improvements to the existing functionality of the system. The rope is now even more easily removable from the bag and slightly improved bungee system for reducing work load while hauling as well! They have also moved the rope contact point to one side so the rope bag can be re-closed and out of the way while in use. It is hard to improve on such a good thing, but they have done it.
So, long story short, I couldn’t bring myself to retire my old rope fully. It is now my go-to back up and lender for that moment when you realize you’ve left yours in your garage still hanging from the last trip out.
My first towline was a North Water and with the way it’s going, my last towline will be a North Water! Cheesy, maybe, but most good love stories are.
Deck Bags – what are they good for?
Whispered amongst paddlers is the idea that when expedition paddling or even going out for the day, a deck clean of extraneous gear is preferred over the yard sale of kit that can end up cluttering the space in front of you as you paddle. There is an obvious reasoning that goes into wanting to have as little as possible strapped to the outside of your kayak when traveling in complex waters, open ocean swells and landing on surf beaches – there is simply less to lose and to get in your way. There is also a great argument to have certain tools available to you should you need them in a sticky situation.
I carry a number of tools and resources in a small bag that I carry inside by cockpit that might resemble a ‘ditch kit’. It has some communication devices, water purification, extra snacks, fire starter, a knife… all the usual stuff one might need if separated from your boat. There are times, however, when I might find myself in a situation where I do not want to open my skirt and compromise my dry cockpit to access these tools, like in any kind of adverse sea condition. In this case, I have found it necessary to have a small deck bag that has a store of practical tools that I might find useful as I bob about in rough seas.
I have been using the North Water peaked deck bag and fill it with a quick repair kit, a few flares (waterproofed of course), snacks, gum (for sea sickness), a warm hat and gloves, compass, and a few other bits and bobs depending on what I am doing. When paddling and working in coastal environments, I have found this sweet stowage system on my deck has vastly helped me deal with common problems without compromising my own personal safety.
First of all, it comes in this snazzy blue colour (also yellow and black), lol. It has a snug fit on my deck and secure attachment points which I use confidently in surf and rough conditions. It’s solid shape on the deck makes for easy access to all it’s contents and the best part is the double-slider zipper which allows me to stow my compass while having it tethered to a bungee on the deck outside for those foggy navigation days.
So yes, a clean deck is helpful, practical and makes your kayak look ‘super sleek’. I have found my deck bag to be the perfect solution to keep my kayak deck looking clean while giving me safer access to the resources I need when on the water.
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