Metaphors in Adventure – What are we really doing out here?

It is the 4th year I have had the pleasure of returning to the small coastal village of Chaiuin, Chile to coach at the Simposio de Kayak Pacifico Sur. The team at Pueblito Expediciones have captured the South American market of sea kayakers as they flock from all edges of this grand continent to play in the surf and amongst the swell that crashes against the monolithic coast lines. It is in this familiar yet still foreign environment that I find pause to reflect on what we are all doing here bobbing around like corks on the sea.

It is easy to dismiss what we are doing as ‘just sea kayaking’, which on the one hand reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously. On the other hand, I wonder what lies beneath the surface of our desire for adventure and become more and more curious about ‘why kayaking’?

There is something powerful about separating ourselves entirely from that which is familiar and for us as human terrestrial creatures, the watery world of the ocean is as unknown and foreign as can be. In teaching kayaking, I find myself working with the elements of movement and direction in unfamiliar terrain in tandem with the less measurable realm of human experience. What are we really doing out here? What motivates us to head “into the water”. (Kokatat – meaning: Native American word for ‘into the water’.)

Sure, we are spending time with friends, feeling more alive as we bob up and down in the waves and perhaps, we simply like the sense of accomplishment that comes with mastering a new skill. Likely this is enough thinking for most – there is not always a need to delve much further into our motivations. Woven into these outcomes and goals is, however, a deeper more profound element that can lurk just beyond our awareness.


Just like traveling to a new country or learning a new language, my feeling is that learning to be comfortable in the foreign environment of the sea offers us more than just the physical ability to survive in these places. Perhaps it offers the gift of building confidence in our own capacity to be more than we may have previously thought; perhaps it helps us to understand that we are all capable of more, beyond that which is visible to the naked eye. What if I were to make the outrageous statement that we are not ‘just sea kayaking’, but we are in fact learning more about what it means to live into our human potential in all its possibility? Now that’s a reason to go sea kayaking!

Maybe I am overstepping. Maybe you simply took up kayaking as a personal challenge or as a romantic idea, just for fun, or simply as an alternate method of travel. But what if within those seemingly benign motivations lies a more dynamic impulse. What if kayaking could be a metaphor for those things that at first seem nay impossible? What if learning to steer your 16 foot kayak on top of a powerful driving wave is a training ground to muster internal strength to learn to surf the similarly unpredictable wave of human experience. The metaphor of surfing the wave then becomes an expression of knowing when and where to change direction and how to go with the flow.

For me, when I pause to reflect on what it is I am really doing out here and ask myself what I have learned, I hear the answer “I am learning to steer my vessel in a challenging environment, I am learning when to go and when to pause, I am beginning to understand how to work with the energy of this grand oceanic force.” From this vantage point the wave and indeed the ocean become the metaphor for this greater ride we are all on and I begin to know that I can learn the skills needed to navigate these often challenging and labyrinthine waters of daily life.


Found art… oh what we can find buried just beneath the surface.

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