There is a noticeable change that happens when you reach a tipping point in paddling efficiency. Call it unconscious competence, a star or level rating, or simply being one with the boat. I call it magic.
It’s the time when the kayak glides effortlessly through a turn with minimal input – I don’t feel like I’m contorting my body in an awkward position and I’m not thinking about capsizing. I may not even be thinking about what the kayak is doing. When I reach that moment, it’s like a bond stronger than physical contact points connects me with the kayak.
I want to go around a rock, or close to a dock, or circle a paddling partner in a group, and it happens. With the minimum amount of paddle in the water to interfere with what the kayak, water and wind want to do naturally, by design. Effortlessly. Efficiently.
Paddling is more than reaching a destination, surfing a wave or conquering a challenge. It feeds my soul. Not because of what I do in a kayak, but because what the kayak and water allow me to experience. It’s not always natural, though.
I was recently paddling with a group in Alaska on a long crossing. We were paddling into the wind and against an outgoing tide that had us losing ground – a negative ferry glide. It was discovery learning from the school of hard knocks.
After five full days on the water my body was aching. My legs and hips felt out of synch, my rear hurt and my shoulders were feeling the strain. I fell into a trap I’ve experienced before – thinking about the pain. Thinking about the distance. Running time/distance calculations in my mind not for navigational purposes, but to plot a course to pain relief and exiting the kayak.
Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, sea lions, eagles and friends old and new, I had turned inward to a place filled with discomfort.
I was fighting the kayak, instead of relishing the experience. I’m fortunate in that I can be introspective and believe in choosing my attitude (not everyone agrees that’s an asset). I recognized the trap and escaped from the inward focus.
The magic returned when I stopped thinking about the physical feeling and started re-enjoying and re-experiencing the beauty and company around me. I resumed the glide. It’s not mind over matter. I still felt the pain and ache, but I remembered to live in the moment, letting the kayak take care of itself.
It’s moments like that one – self discovery on several levels and hopefully personal growth (so I’m kinder to myself about relearning what I’ve learned before) that put me more in touch with why I love kayaking. Yes, I enjoy being in nature, and surfing puts a day-long grin on my face. More importantly, I think kayaking makes me more me.
I’m good on the water. I’m good at teaching others. After every outing, and particularly after a long, difficult crossing, I’m closer to being a better me.
A kayaking friend once told me of the joy he finds through paddling. I like that term. How fortunate that we who spend time with a paddle in our hands can experience joy that is both personal and shared. Sometimes we have to take a moment and refocus on the joy to let the magic happen.