’09 Kayaking thoughties

“So I can kayak!” or “can I kayak?”

There’s little doubt that I can paddle that’s for sure. I’ve paddled a ‘sit-on-kayak’ seventy kilometres across the southern aspect of Shark Bay in West Oz.

I’ve managed to survive an overnight run down the Blackwood River in the same state.

I’ve been part of a paying group for ten days through the Yasawa Island chain in Fiji.

Organised and worried the logistics of kayaking for six days along the upper reaches of Kachemak Bay in Alaska as well as the Everglades of Florida.

I moped along over 30 months circumnavigating the Bermuda Islands.

So does that mean I can kayak? Actually I won’t be so bold as to say I can kayak as I’m a paddler by nature and skill.

I’ve read probably six to ten books on kayaking and sea safety for the kayaker, as well as the insights and articles published in various kayaking magazines. That doesn’t mean much to me as a kayaker, heck of a lot as a paddler.

The level of awareness to safety and technique has been heightened over the past three years while I’ve become one with a Folbot Cooper folding kayak. Simple things which don’t need highlighting have come to fore and overcome. Still, I’m not a kayaker, just your run of the mill paddler.

I even spent four days at a kayak convention in Charleston. Mate! The range of kayaks and the scope of mini-courses should have turned me into a kayaker but it didn’t. Still just the same, a paddler.

I’ve sat there on the Caribbean coast of southern Costa Rica watching the surf and the waves pounding the beach, wondering if I’m enough of a paddler to tackle the waters as a KAYAKER would…

I’ve run against 3 metre wave faces on a ‘sit-on-kayak’ in West Oz and survived. Consistently pushed out into a 1.5 – 2 metre wave front in Bermuda and survived. Here it’s different for some reason, took me about three days of patiently waiting for the seas to ease before the penny clicked!

Here in Costa Rica

I’ve picked the ideal time for a change of job vacation. Its surf time on this part of the coast and I’m an aspiring kayaker.

Day one, I just skirted up, crabbed the beach and launched into the water. I was doing alright until I realised that the feather on my blade was miss-set, one side paddles the other is crabbing the water. Quick adjustment (I can think and react under pressure) and all’s well. These waters are starting to get to me; I’ve lost the exit angle and veered about forty degree port square into the face of the rogue breakers running as a trio. Up over the 1st a mere 2 metres, clear the 2nd though running down the back I’m tending to be broadside to the 3rd. Power plus strokes and I’m running up the face of in excess of 3 metres of wave face when I lose it. Swamped!

It’s a solid half hour before I manage to float, swim, and paddle ashore.

So where does this leave me besides wet and tired, sure as heck not a kayaker. All the simple stuff I overlooked has come to the fore. Didn’t check that my paddle was feathered correctly, didn’t insert the buoyancy bags, my skirt definitely doesn’t like 3 metres of water dropping on it. Ah well, I got to paddle though.

After I’d emptied the water, I just jumped back in and headed straight out again. Promptly mistimed the waves and once again I was swamped.

This doesn’t happen to me! I’m a paddler with over seven year’s experience.

Day two, I’ve skirted up and crabbed into the shallows waiting for that break in the waves. Its number eleven and I’ve about sixty seconds to push out through the wash and clear the ‘break’ on the beach. Buoyancy bags are in place; paddle is set, and mentally prepared. I wait for the wash and off into it. I barely clear the wash and am pounded by waves that are unexpectedly larger than I’ve been watching. Dumped and once again I wade ashore to empty the Cooper. OK, that does it, no beach or wave is going to beat the ‘what’ out of this Oz Paddler! Like it or not I will overcome… for about forty seconds, swamped again.

Day three through six are spent hiking down to the beach and watching the surf. It has definitely increased and pounding the shore a lot closer. It doesn’t explain why I’m not getting out though. I’ve walked the beach north and south looking for an easier input, it all appears the same. My poor old Cooper is just sitting on its rack gathering dust.

The morning of Day seven, the surf has dropped, the swell has eased and I’ve launched as quick as I can. Out over the break, push on up over the rolling swell and take five to assess my return markers on the coast. By my estimate the swell has to be over 3 metres as the coconut tree ashore keeps on disappearing, well I can see the top but the actual tree and beach drop out of sight. There is a roll of wave running north along the coast, so I’ll just ease out further and do a northward run.


The question of why did I get out today versus the failures is ticking over…

I have a 5 metre kayak; the wave sets are running at about 3 metres, beach wave height is about 1 metre. And there it is I’m half a metre long for the wave set. Well something like that.

My experience is based on a longer swell and wave set. I did everything right but couldn’t see the difference. I’d sat on the beach to assess the wave height, counted the fronts to the wash break, assess the put-in spot, the exit line to avoid the rogue waves yet didn’t see how close the waves were running.

In the smaller flatter surf it doesn’t matter but with the running waves I now know that I need to apply move power to my put-in and learn to lean well back to keep the nose as high I can to clear the wave sets.

If I can reason why I don’t succeed as a kayaker will that make me what I desperately wish to be a KAYAKER. I don’t think so, so I’ll just go back to paddling for awhile longer and enjoy what I get out of the water, sea and my Cooper.

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