When people ask me why I paddle a kayak, the answer is easy: it makes me happy!
One late afternoon I came paddling through the kanal along Christiania. Both banks are lined with trees and reeds. Between the reeds, coots were nesting, and a few small grebes disappeared underwater every time I got a little too close.
Out in next, wider kanal, the afternoon sun was shining low in between the houses and the sheds. It shone on the kayaks on the water, on the trees, on the artificial ski hill behind and made the cumulus clouds towering on the horizon glow.
In addition to the kayaks, there were several other boats on the water, and children were swimming from one of the bridges.
I leaned back and let the impression of both calm and activity fill me. Filled with the kayak-joy, I paddle to the club and went ashore.
Kayak-joy and nature experience
A significant part of the kayak-joy is for me about being in nature.
In the past, sailing, climbing, fishing, hiking, mountaineering, swimming and more of that sort of activities have been my ways of getting out into the forests and fields, on the water, in the mountains, on the moors and beaches, and wherever else adventures has taking me – all these things have always made me happy, and, with varying focus and intensity, they have been part of my life since I was a little boy and experienced my father’s joy in the same things.
And now it is in the sea kayak that I get this vital injection of quality of life.
Surgery and the path to kayak-joy
When I was in my early twenties, I destroyed one of my knees while skiing cross-country, and since then I have had five surgeries on it. It didn’t stop me much, and for a long time I threw myself into lots of adventures. It wasn’t until after the fifth round of surgery, when the knee stopped hurting (most of the time), that I put all those activities on hold.
The big question then was, how would I still be able to get out in nature? The idea of sea kayaking soon came to mind. It seemed like the ideal solution.
It took a few years, though, before I got into a kayak. I moved to Copenhagen, and a friend of mine pointed to the club where she paddled herself – since then I haven’t looked back.
Kayaking, especially in a sea kayak, suits me overwhelmingly well!
Growing old in your kayak
I’m not quite young anymore – not that I’m a geriatric, but it’s slowly going that way. I have no problem with getting old. On the contrary, I’m quite comfortable being older, but I’d love to stay comfortable as the years go by.
In this regard, I have read a lot about what has and is being researched in this area. I have read a number of books on the subject and looked at various studies. There’s a lot of different knowledge to draw on and many different points of view. I won’t bother going into detail. However, there are two things that recur as the most important: lots of vegetables and exercise.
I’m a vegetarian so the veggie thing is in the bag, and the exercise thing…
Sea kayaking and exercise
Exercise is probably not what most people think of when they are paddling along the coast in a nice summer day or in the sunset. Even when we’re out in the wind and waves, surfing, rolling or whatever we do in our sea kayaks, it’s mostly the experience that counts.
Obviously, we all have different focuses: some value the experience more, others also enjoy getting out and getting the puls high.
You can easily use a sea kayak to get your heart rate up and get in shape. Paddling the kayak is, in general, a very good form of exercise.
The healing power of the sea
I’ve always been drawn to the sea. Not just the adventures and the achievements, but also the feeling of joy and well-being the sea gives me. Not only when I’m out on the water, but also along the coast like in windy weather, on a walk or fishing trip.
That this is not something I imagine was confirmed when I came across an article by Jeff Allen in Oceanpaddler No. 69, and read this paragraph:
“Why does the ocean have such a positive effect on a person? When I have a hard physical day on the water, especial if the conditions are rough, I land feeling intensely energized. When the ocean is rough, does it release positive energy into the atmosphere? Well, the answer is both yes and no – when it is rough, the ocean actually releases negative ions into the atmosphere and these are really beneficial. Negative ions bear an electrically charges, molecules that are abundant in nature, especially in surf and breaking waves. They have been proven to be beneficial to the human body, neutralizing free radicals, enhancing the immune system, revitalising cell metabolism, purifying the blood and balancing out the nervous system, which promotes healthy digestion and deeper levels off sleep.”
I know about the good effects of negative ions already, but it was new, though not surprising, that they are pouring out of the sea.
At the Scandinavian Yoga and Meditation School where I live and teach in the Copenhagen department, we have both electronic ionizers and salt lamps that emit negative ions in the yoga rooms. In addition to everything Jeff Allen mentions, they also keep the air nice and clean.
The kayak-joy isn’t just the alluring adventure and nature experience lurking behind the horizon. It’s also the joy of learning the skills that lets you move in the ever-changing element the ocean is.
One of those skills is the Greenland rolls, a skill that goes back through time and to the Inuit kayaking culture.
In a resent intro weekend to the club where I was one of the instructors, there was great surprise when participants heard about the many ways one can roll a kayak.
Although there are some very basic things common to all kayak rolls, each Greenland roll has its own character and quirks, and there is great scope for much nerdiness.
It’s capture me in a way similar to how both yoga and climbing used to occupy me. Yoga is still fundamental to my life, but climbing is now only in the good old stories.
Open water – freedom at sea
At sea I am free.
When I’m alone out on the water in my kayak and it’s just me and nature, I often experience a sense of freedom. Kayaking is simple and there are no rules out there on the ocean – almost, and you can be in peace – most of the time.
Of course, there are other people at sea in their various boats and ships of all sizes, and there are maritime rules that prevent us from sailing into each other, but as kayakers we often go where other vessels and their people rarely go. We can choose not to meet a lot others ships, boats and people, and there is rarely need to pay much attention to rules
It is not so much the absence of agreed rules that I am thinking of, but rather the absence of all the conscious and unconscious – the spoken and unspoken rules and restrictions that society and togetherness allow to seep into us mostly unnoticed.
It is therefore mostly when I am alone that I experience the feeling of freedom. It is a feeling that comes when I feel unbound. Not because there is anything as such I want to be free of: I remember a time in my teens when I tried to explain the freedom I had experienced the day before to an older person, only to be met with a shake of the head and the question of what it was that I so wanted to be free of. I didn’t know what to say, how could anyone possibly misunderstand what I was talking about: it wasn’t something I wanted to be free of, it was an experience I was seeking and would like to return to.
Later, here many years later, I understand that the boundedness, the written and unwritten, doesn’t need to be a limitation to my inner life.
The sea and the joy of kayaking
What can I say?
When I feel the kayak lifting, the paddle stroke fit and the kayak turns on the top of the wave.
When I surf the waves with the wind from behind.
When at the deep blue water with waves crested in white foam glistening in the sunshine.
When the storm is roaring.
When the sea lies mirror-clear in an early morning.
When I come out of an eddie, get caught by the current, correct course and ferry over to the next eddie.
When the kayak roll takes me down into the water and back up again.
When I’m at sea…
The sea makes me happy.
I loved reading your insights into kayaking & yoga.. I am a woman in my mid 60’s , I kayak in UK & I love my yoga..
I paddle along the Jurassic coast line & Poole Harbour, some of the most beautiful places in south England. Bird life in abundance, the sea clean.
The health & joy and particularly the health gained ,physically mentally & spiritually in limitless..
Your article was so inspiring, thank you..
Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate that you like it 🙂