Wednesday 21 November 2012

All at Sea, in a sea of smiles….

A few weeks ago Rob got talking to his good mate & local paddler Bob Turner about the club he belongs to, the Sutherland Shire Canoe Club. Bob was eager to expand the horizons of many of the club members who owned sea kayaks, but were primarily paddling the enclosed waters of southern Sydney, caused mainly by a lack of group confidence to safely head out to sea.
Rob suggested a training weekend where we would put together a program designed to give these essentially flat water paddlers a taste of open water and the basic set of skills to paddle safely as a group in the sea.
We expected (and planned for) about 15-20 paddlers, so were greatly surprised when Bob started to push through the numbers in the days prior to the event, with over 40 paddlers eventually registered.
We had to swiftly pull in some help in the form of trusted paddling mates Fernando, Rae, Chris & Shaan to cater for the demand, something we hadn't anticipated to be so strong.
The miserable Friday weather cleared to a sparkling Saturday and we divided the groups by ability & set off on a day of skills training & adventure.
To give you an idea of the progression through the day, my first act with my guys (Rowley, Sam, Albert & Ross) was to teach them a safe wet exit in four feet of water off Bonnievale. Three of the four hadn't performed one previous, nor worn a spraydeck.
Sam, Rowley, Ross Albert
Six hours later we were parked out at sea, bobbing around off Jibbon Head, performing deep water rescues with increasing speed and competence. In between we edged, fell in, manoeuvred, fell in, braced - successfully & not so successfully - and had a hoot of a day with about equal time divided between being upright in the boats & swimming around next to them.
This is something of a leap of faith for paddlers used to racing on the fat, where the water is something to be avoided, not swum in! Not only did my guys rip into the activities but they all made great progress as the day wore on and finished with hugely enhanced confidence about venturing beyond the safety of enclosed waters. And when I pointed at a far marker and said 'let's all head over there for the next drill' I was doing well to foot it with a bunch of paddlers with excellent forward stroke technique and fitness. I had to keep making them fall in to give myself a breather….
The reason for this rapid progress? I reckon it was the club spirit on show so clearly through the day. Sometimes clubs can feel like an amalgam of strangers, reintroducing each other at each varied & distant event & never really showcasing the characters under the neoprene. By contrast these guys paddle together most weekends, race in organised events on the Woronora River at their club house, and plainly they not only know each other well, they know each other well enough for some pretty fearsome exchanges of banter!
I loved my day out with them, barely a moment passed without a chuckle as someone stuffed something up or a cheer when it went right, mixed in with a comedy routine that would have done Jerry Lewis proud. It's an atmosphere that fosters encouragement, it's a long time since I've heard paddlers clapping one another on a training day. Most of the day I felt like I was back in the dressing room at Coogee Oval.
A sun-beaten and pleasantly weary mob descended on the Bundeena RSL for dinner and a presentation from Shaan on the story of her remarkable solo Bass Strait trip. While there was a party in full swing at midnight on Friday around the camp site, no such bonhomie was apparent on Saturday after the dinner, I think the sea had woven it's wearying spell.
Sunday was a less formal day with some rolling classes for some, and a sea paddle for the more adventurous out to Boat Harbour & back. Judging by the smiles on the dials of those returning with a building Nor' easter from Boat Harbour, Chris & Fer had achieved the right mix of safety & exhilaration on their well planned 'experiential' trip. The group Shaan, Rob & I took also had a nice taste of steep moving water as the wind kicked in on the return journey to Bonnievale, to conclude a cracker of a weekend.
A big thank you to Bob Turner and his merry mob from the Sutherland Shire Canoe Club. We were so impressed with the 'give-it-a-crack' attitude and good humour evident among the members.
Thanks also to Chris James, Shaan Gresser, Raewyn Duffy & Fernando for coming along & sharing their collective wisdom, safely guiding their respective groups through a rigorous day of skills & confidence building, laced with fun.

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