I’m still not sure how I feel about you.
I could learn to love you. But it will have to be that creepy-upy kind of love.
You see, rock climbing took me in right away. It was love at first sight.
Climbing provided me with a constant stream of reassurance. Each time I climbed a little higher, it said, see, you’re already improving. It said, isn’t this fun? It said, failure is fine, I’ll catch you if you fall. You got this. You’re strong.
Climbing beamed out a unconditional love like a happy labrador puppy.
Kayaking on the other hand, has been more like the next door neighbor’s angry cat. Sometimes, if you’re really lucky, it will curl itself around your legs for a quick pat. Sometimes it just ignores you. Sometimes the claws come out. You have to work for its affection.
My complicated relationship with Kayaking started in the swimming pool at the local university.
Dirtbagjens invited me along to rolling practice sessions run by the world’s two most patient teachers, Brohannes and Will.
On Wednesday nights, I would always finish work later than expected. I’d get home then sprint around my apartment throwing swimmers and other useful things into a bag. I would desperately try (and usually fail) to reach the uni on time.
When I did turn up at the side of the pool, I would get enlist the help of my patient teachers to puuuuuuuuuuullll the neoprene skirt over the lip of my borrowed kayak. Couldn’t even get dressed on my own.
Once in the water, I would bounce into the edge of the pool, the lanerope, the other boats and then the edge of the pool again.
I was convinced that I needed a degree in fluid dynamics before I could ever hope to paddle in a straight line. At unexpected moments, I would spin around in a perfect circle… and act like it was all part of my plan. I wasn’t fooling anyone.
Bohannes and Will patiently explained the theory behind rolling a kayak.
Everything they said made sense when I was calmly sitting in my boat with my head above water. Simple stuff. Flick your hips, keep your head down. Easy peasy.
As soon as I flipped upside down, all those logical sounding words dripped out of my head and onto the bottom of the pool. I couldn’t remember which side I was supposed to roll up on. My eyes were shut. My brain screamed that I needed air. I clawed at my skirt and swam to freedom.
Slowly, slowly, my patient teachers convinced me that I wasn’t going to drown. They promised they’d flip me back up if I needed help. Pinky promised.
I had three sessions in all.
I made a little progress each time. Tiny tiny steps that were hard to see at the time, because the failures were so much bigger and more obvious.
I was so frustrated.
My waterlogged head raced with voices that said that everyone else in the pool was progressing well. Except me. I was just wasting everyone’s time.
Everything felt so foreign and unattainable. I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to learn this ridiculous skill anyway. When would I ever find myself flying down a river in raging white water. I’d be absolutely terrified. I’d be a liability for the competent kids.
As I left the pool each night, I’d think, oh well, I gave it a go, but this kayaking thing is not for me.
Between sessions, my poor old brain would stew on questions about whether I wanted to persevere, or give it up and do something more enjoyable with my weeknights.
Was I giving up because it was hard or because I was scared of failure? Or was I being realistic? Eventually these questions swirled around into a huge tornado of confusion. I tearfully explained to Dirtbagjens that I wasn’t going to any more sessions. I couldn’t do it. I was never going to be able to do it. I didn’t want to do it. It sucked, I sucked blah blah blah.
After my emotional outburst, Dirtbagjens continued his training. I enjoyed a few Wednesday nights cooking dinner, reading good books and playing guitar at full volume in the empty apartment.
Eventually, I made peace with my decision to leave kayaking behind as a failed experiment.
I have a short memory though. And a few weeks later I found myself at the whitewater stadium at Penrith.
I zoomed down the rapids in an inflatable two-person-kayak. Will sat in the back and did his best to keep us both right-side-up.
I spent the whole day laughing like a hyena. The whitewater took me wherever the hell it wanted to take me. I splashed my paddle around at random and hoped that willpower (and Will’s power) would be enough to keep our boat pointing in the right direction.
Will spent the day yelling “PADDLE, PADDLE, PADDLE LEFT, LEFT, LEEEEEFFFFTTT, SHHHHHHHHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITTTTT”.
Will and I did a lot of swimming that day.
I came home slightly sunburned, slightly banged up from my swims and beaming from ear to ear.
Maybe this ridiculous bastard of a sport could actually be fun… Maybe.
I tested that theory out recently on the Barrington River. The water level was almost comically low. The local outdoor centre tried to talk us out of paddling on that particular weekend. They weren’t worried about our safety. They were worried that we’d be bored.
I ignored their advice and borrowed an old perception dancer.
I borrowed paddle from a local scout club. It weighed about a tonne.
I wore my climbing helmet and a swimming top that I’d used once before in a corporate triathlon. Law firm logos were emblazoned across my shoulder blades.
I certainly didn’t look like a competent whitewater athlete with all that mis-matched gear. But I was really keen to explore the river.
I spent two days on the river.
I played in the baby rapids.
I learned a few new strokes.
I scraped across rocks when the water level got too low.
At some points I had to get out of the boat and drag it through ankle deep water.
I tried so so hard to paddle in a straight line. Eventually I just embraced my unique brand of unpredictable zigzags. They allowed me to become closely acquainted with the water dragons who live on the banks of the river.
I even did a few practice T-rescues off the front of Dirtbagjens’ boat. If I stayed underwater too long, I’d start to panic and splash around like a madwoman. But each time, I’d get my head back above the water and find that the river was calm and peaceful and pretty damn good looking.
I loved the whole weekend.
Back in the real world, I’ve found myself looking up weather reports more regularly. If I hear rain falling, I smile and checked the river level.
Maybe this kayaking thing is growing on me.
Time will tell.