The people you meet, eh. Over the last few weeks the Hunter Kayak Klan has gained a few new members. Some are complete or near beginners but a few are some gnarlier sea dogs with plenty of stories to tell. Some belong to the Central Coast Canoe Club where racing kayaks keep them hard. I had my first paddle with these blokes a few weeks ago when we paddled from Norah Head to Bird Island and back. Pretty routine coastal trip really but on a stretch of coast I’ve not paddled before and with new company. One of these was a chap visiting from the UK by the name of Geoff Burke. At first glance, Geoff looked like a beginner due to the fact he was in all borrowed gear which seemed to make him look decidedly ad hoc. Appearances can be deceiving because this bloke can paddle.
It wasn’t until last Sunday when Geoff’s quality really stood out. We paddled from Catherine Hill Bay to Spoon Rocks, a routine local paddle against some excellent cliffs with gauntlets and cutaways. Geoff hugged the cliffs and rode the rebound with an effortless confidence while the rest of us stood back. It occurred to me that Geoff was still alive and that going in there with him might be fun. So I did. It made a huge difference to my confidence to be in that mess with someone who could obviously paddle and I found I was tuning in to the movement of the water. I could feel an immediate skill upgrade. Not skill in paddling but skill in kayaking. There’s a difference. I learnt no new strokes or techniques but rather I learnt to merge with the boat. The distance between paddler and boat was removed and I just knew I was fine. My enjoyment of the trip really escalated. I’ve paddled this coast many times but never with such control.
When we returned to Catho, we had to do a beach landing on a shore break with a crowded beach. Most landed without incident but I was struck in the back by two large breaking waves and though I had no problem, they really spooked the timing out of me. I moved up the beach away from the crowd and tentatively crept back in. My landing was pinpoint and perfectly timed but my surf confidence had abandoned me. Now, I can surf a kayak, no problem. I totally knew it was my confidence but couldn’t overcome its loss.
Geoff asked to borrow my boat which I was only too pleased to hand over. He then entertained us with some beautiful surfing complete with a perfectly controlled endo, a surf roll and a precision landing. An amazing performance that left us astounded. But I can do this. I’ve done it before and in bigger surf. I should have gone out there with him but didn’t. I was privately angry with myself for this failure of confidence and it still bugs the hell out of me. It was a critical lesson. I have most of the same skills as Geoff but the difference is that he KNOWS he can do it every time and I don’t. I want to punch myself in the head. Such a promising improvement as a kayaker only to be given another obstacle to overcome and a hard one.
Ten minutes after Geoff’s display he informs me in a pretty matter-of-fact way that he and some mates once set the record for paddling across the North Sea but didn’t know, or seem to care, if it had been beaten. Gawd, I’ve got some work to do.