I moved to the west coast in the year 2000. I had recently injured my back and it was clear that the days when I could stuff my back pack for a month long excursion were over. At least for a long while.
But not all is lost. I’m on the west coast with an opportunity to live my childhood dream to explore the beautiful islands.
I’m not a city person so for me the ability to get out of town is more than a desire. It’s a way to keep my sanity.
What I soon found out is that instead of feeling at home like I did in the mountains of the Canadian North, on the sea I was feeling scared for my life at times. I remember one crossing in particular where the waves got bigger and bigger as I got near the halfway point. I was terrified and at the edge of my bracing skills in the steep breaking waves. I don’t think I could have turned around even if I wanted to. I had to keep plowing my way to what I thought would be my paradise for a night or two.
I realized I needed to upgrade my skills.
So I started practicing bracing.
But mostly what I practiced was my wet exit and paddle float reentry. It was embarrassing for me because I was known as an accomplished outdoors person before I started kayaking. I used to take people on multi day expeditions in the mountains. People trusted me to know what I’m doing.
And now I was the rookie without a clue. The only thing that allowed me to explore as much as I did was my own ignorance about the dangers of it.
Right about that time I came across a few videos about the Inuit and their paddling style. I was blown away with how comfortable they were in their kayak. It’s like the kayak is an extension to their body. I knew that’s what I wanted to learn. If only I could roll like that I would feel completely at home in the waves, free to explore wherever I choose. And keep my peace of mind.
All I needed to do is practice. Right? Or so I thought.
But the more I practiced the more I realized I was missing some critical pieces. I would try to do a balance brace with an oversize paddle float at the end of my paddle, and still end up having to come out of my kayak. Everything felt so hard.
And the Inuit made it look so effortless.
One thing I discovered is that before rolling can be easy, I had to learn how to move with my kayak. But before I could move my hips to get the flexibility I needed I had to make changes to the fit of the kayak. There is no way around it. The way I had been taught to jam myself in would not work. Not if I was to get that kind of agility.
It took me a lot of painful practice to figure it out because there wasn’t any step by step instructions. I had to watch the video and try to fill in the blanks.
After learning how to move my hips I was able to do a sidescull. Then it was a breeze to learn to roll without effort. This turned out to be a major breakthrough for me.
Moving the hips also make my forward stroke more powerful, and made me faster. It gave me a solid low brace I could count on. It made me confident in rough water, and gave me the freedom to explore those beautiful islands that were calling me.
I felt like a competent outdoors man again. Someone who could handle himself. And I now have a sense of what the Inuit were doing when they invented the kayak. It was not a boat for them. It’s something you put on to become agile on the sea. It’s not about using force to overcome the sea. It’s about dancing with it, learning to respond to its every move.
In learning to sea kayak there are techniques that you learn that make you a better kayaker. And then there are breakthrough skills like learning how to move your hips, that give your competence a quantum leap. Those breakthrough skills are what I want to share with you.