The Inland Paddler: Sitting Down and Returning to Paddling Roots

Sitting Down and Returning to Paddling Roots

About 20 years ago (gasp!) a dear friend and I decided to buy kayaks. We both chose Ocean Kayak sit-on-tops as our entry into the paddling world. I wasn’t interested at all in sit-in boats – my friend and I both swore we didn’t have “the intestinal fortitude” for those. Then, I took a trip to Alaska and did a day-long guided kayak tour through the islands on the west side of Kachemak Bay near Homer, Alaska. It occurred to me then, if I did have a kayak with a cockpit, I could extend my paddling season.

And BOOM! Just like that, it happened.  

I became a paddler. 

One thing lead to another boat, and then another, and then eventually a British made P&H expedition style kayak. Then a standup board, then a race board, then a prone board, and eventually outrigger.  Then we came just about full circle: an Epic surfski. The same, boat, mind you, I vowed never to paddle when I caught my first glimpse of them at a kayak/canoe symposium in South Carolina. The very same symposium where I, incidentally, caught my first glimpse of SUP and vowed never to paddle on of those, either.

Fast foward a few years and I found myself sitting back down with a double-bladed paddle.  I found that it made for great cross training and really helped me dial in leg-drive for the OC, and the increased paddle cadence was a help with endurance training.

This summer, because of various and sundry events in the outdoor program I have worked with for the last five years, I found myself teaching more kayaking than SUP. So I have spent a lot of “professional” time this season in the cockpit of my expedition boat. A boat that hadn’t seen much action since the SUP bug bit me years ago.  More on-the-water classes and more “land based” classes, primarily on how to camp out of a kayak (or SUP.)

And that lead to a return to the waters off of North Carolina’s Cape Lookout at the end of our teaching season, with my fellow outdoor instructors. Sitting down, in the cockpit of a boat made in England and designed for salt water conditions. For the long haul.

I hadn’t paddled in our coastal waters quite like this in a while. Certainly not in a 50 pound boat loaded with about 30 pounds of camping gear and water. 

But some things are universal.

Reading the water. Understanding tide and current. Being conscious of wind and other weather conditions. Understanding the mechanics of good technique.

And most of all: training. But I’ll come back to that.

In the years since I started working on my padding – learning from people like John Beausang, Larry Cain, April Zilg, Jeremy Riggs, Suzie Cooney — the list is long – and spending time in a variety of aquatic conditions: sound, open ocean, river rapids – a lot has changed. On this trip to Lookout, I finally got a good glimpse of just how much I have improved as a paddler.

Sometimes you don’t realize how your skills have changed and developed until you come back to that place where you first started.

And you realize how long you’ve been working at it on the water in one form or another.

I think one of the biggest “take aways” for me was how I no longer fight against Mother Nature but work with her to meet my goals. And knowing how to match the properties of the watercraft I’m paddling with the current conditions to be more efficient. And to have more fun.

Another thing stood out on this paddle trip: how much stronger I am as a paddler.

We encountered some pretty significant headwinds on Day Two of our trip – Chattajack style winds. Easily in to 20-25 mph range with stronger gusts. I actually enjoyed it. And it didn’t tire me out the way it might have ten years ago. My mind didn’t go negative either. And that is huge. On oh so many levels.

On the last day, as we paddled back to the mainland in light wind and calm-ish seas, one of the younger instructors on his first kayak trip, asked one of the other instructors if people ever sprinted in kayaks. You know where this is going. At the end of our half mile-ish sprint together, he put his paddle down and said, “ I can’t keep up with you! How do you go so fast?”

“Well, I am training for a 32-mile race in Tennessee at the end of the month,” I said.

”I thought that was a SUP race though.”

Paddling is paddling and training is training. And it does work.  It’s not just a hashtag.

I may be about to turn 56 in just a couple of days, but because I paddle almost everyday and because I do my interval sessions, I am stronger than I have ever been. And it serves me well, no matter if I am in a race, teaching on a lake, paddling standing up or sitting down, or in the Core Sound hauling gear.

Training works. On oh so many levels.

“Always remember… You are braver than you believe. Stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.” Christopher Robin to Winnie-the-Pooh