Tuesday, August 25, 2009

More Lessons

When we tell people that we’re going for yet another paddling lesson, some look at us oddly and ask “But why do you need a lesson? Don’t you already know how to paddle a kayak?”

The simple answer: “We go to learn from someone who does it a lot better than we do.”

Todd in The Keyhole

There’s much to learn, and if you want to do it well, it can take a fair amount of instruction, coaching and practice. And in more extreme conditions, those skills can make the difference between having a wild, adrenaline-fueled good time and... well, a not so good time. Like a lot of things, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it, and the process of learning becomes its own reward.

Michael off Rum Cay

This last week, Todd, Peter and I spent two days training off of Bar Harbor with Mark Schoon-Rice of Carpe Diem Kayaking. Todd and I have been taking classes with Mark for nearly two years, while Peter has been at it for awhile longer. We’re working toward the British Canoe Union’s (BCU) Three-Star award, which is given for proficiency at a long list of skills. Last week we went for a day of tune-up instruction. Yesterday was to be our assessment, but lacking the necessary wind, we opted for another day of instruction, focusing on paddling among rocks and ledges.

Peter off Rum Cay

It was an auspicious day to be paddling in Frenchman’s Bay. Hurricane Bill had just passed by amid much concern, its storm surge dealing a glancing blow to the area. The previous day, a number of people were swept from the rocks at Thunder Hole, resulting in the death of a 7 year-old girl. We headed out as workers attempted to piece back together floating piers and knocked over pilings.

Our fearless leader, Mark.
Below: 4 seconds later

Among these snapshots from our lessons are the ones that exist only in memory, choice moments that leave strong impressions. Many of mine took place under water. If I had snapshots of those moments, they would be of the gauzy light above, and the chaos of bubbles amid churning water, but it’s more the feel of the paddle in your hands, trying to tell if you’ve got it right, and the sense that this roll is coming together or not. We each experienced a moment well above the waves too: bow dug into the bottom, the wave pitchpoling the boat.

Todd... Rum Cay

The swell was too big for us to safely get into some of the choice rock gardens, and when we surfed, we learned to let some of those bigger waves pass. Maybe this is the essence of continuing one’s education: teaching yourself humility and perspective, because if you don’t, it is likely that, sooner or later, the ocean will.

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