“THANK YOU! SEE YOU!” The petite Japanese woman beamed, bouncing onto her tiptoes to give each of us a hug goodbye. Strangers just three days earlier, Maiko and I parted as friends.
When I look back at more than a decade of kayak tripping, guiding, traveling, writing and coaching, it’s the other paddlers I’ve met along the way who stay with me the most. Their stories, advice, questions, stumbling blocks, victories and, yes, hugs are woven into the rich tapestry of my own experiences.
Most of my closest friends, I met through kayaking. Much of what I know about paddling techniques and tools—not to mention coastal environments, weather, group dynamics, risk management and much else—I learned from them. Nearly everything else I absorbed through mentors and students. Our playgrounds may be vast and widespread, but the sea kayaking community is a relatively small one, and I’ve had the good fortune to paddle with many of its luminaries.
An offhand observation from Body Boat Blade coach Leon Sommé at a symposium my first year of kayaking transformed my roll from dubious to dependable. In an instructor workshop on navigation, SKILS coach Michael Pardy explored the history, art and science of mapmaking, adding fascinating depth and breadth to the standard angles-and-equations lesson plan.
Most recently, I spent a day with Have Kayaks Will Travel coaches Sharon and Alec Bloyd-Peshkin, who demonstrated a simple, effective way to identify hazards and evaluate risk with your group before getting on the water. Their approach is now integrated into my own paddler’s tool kit, and packaged with it is a remembered scene—like the memory orbs in Disney’s Inside Out—of Alec and Sharon gathering their students in the shade around a graph constructed of sand, sticks and pebbles.
The most vivid memories are those I dust off and share often. For example, the lesson to test spray deck fit on the boat you are paddling that day—driven home on a dicey, 13-hour downwind run with a deck that required two sets of hands and a significant struggle to release. Another lesson: always double- check food quantities, or risk the wrath of eight hangry women for five interminable days. Then there’s the favorite story of the champion Greenland roller who learned his very first roll as a young intern, under the vague tutelage of the outfitter’s chef—seated comfortably on the dock with a beer in hand. No lesson there, just laughs.
If all of this seems like a strange introduction to an issue featuring places (“Fantasy Islands,” page 38) and gear (“Lose Weight, Feel Great,” page 56), I encourage you to think about who you’ll share that perfect island with, or who you’ll seek advice from when testing out those new boats. Then, pick up the phone and call them. Make a plan, set a date and go create your own memories.
I don’t recall the model of kayak Maiko was paddling that weekend, or the names of the islands we paddled around. What I do remember is the hot summer sun, the shared relief of dunking into the cold water to practice rescues, and the warmth of her hug.
Editor Virginia Marshall hopes to see all her friends, old and new, on the water this summer.
This article originally appeared in the Adventure Kayak Summer/Fall 2016 issue.
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