What’s Your Style of Kayaking?

What is your kayaking style? Is there a right way or a wrong way to travel by kayak? Can clashes of style within your paddling group dynamic be avoidable?

Tandem team arriving at Carmacks, Yukon midway during the Yukon River Quest.Photo by Dave Barnes

Tandem team arriving at Carmacks, Yukon midway during the Yukon River Quest.
Photo by Dave Barnes

I once paddled with a group on several trips to the west coast. Our group dynamic was at the time a well established four-member travelling circus of kayaking. We had ticked-off a few of the coast’s wonders together and on the way learned about ourselves, at least I did and how we functioned as a group was to be functionaly disfunctional most of the time. In that foursome were two distinct twosome. Myself and a paddling friend who shared my style to a great degree, and the boys who were much more bold in their trekking ambitions. All four of us have strong personalities as well, which only added dry wood to a fire that was always smoldering under the embers of contentment.

Our dysfunction became more visible mid-way through a two-week adventure to Nuchatlitz Marine Park and the surrounding area. The issues arose over assumptions made rather than opting for better communication skills.  My ambitions for paddling run towards going someplace, sit and soak it up, then move on mode of travel. The boys wanted more, to see everything possible within the time frame we had set for the trip. I could not begrudge them that need, but there was defined friction within the group that boiled over and that was the match to the tinder.

We needed a break from each other, this was true. We settled the next morning to split for a few days and used our VHF radios (purchased for this very reason as the group did not have to stay together at all costs) to stay in touch at regular call-in times. The break gave myself and a buddy a chance to refresh in camp on a gem of an island in the archipelago, sitting out an incredible west coast summer wind and rain storm that in an hour had altered the sand beach into a mess of pimple-pox marks. I wrote the opening notes for a book about the trip and the place, Dreaming in Nuchatlitz while my buddy caught up on sleep and recharged for the remainder of the journey.

The boys went farther, across the inlet and explored on foot to the astounding waves and turmoil found at Third Beach. They achieved their goals, and satisfied their style. I suppose so did I having had no problem with packing up and paddling back around the islands to settle again for a second time on Rosa Island. It is a gem within a gem.

In my mind, there was no need for the friction to occur. I suppose years of paddling together and denying the obvious split within our group for so long, it had to pop! We remain close friends even after years have passed and many more paddle strokes. I think too that a realization within our group, that style means everything and it means nothing. Were they wrong in wanting more, and paddling more ambitiously? No. Was I wrong to hold my ground and suggest we paddle the within the means of the weakest of the group? No, again.

There isn’t a right way or a wrong way to go on a kayaking journey. Group dynamics, even amongst a clan of the closest of paddling buddies can erupt into more selfish behaviour. In our case, perhaps a clearer discussion at the pub before the trip of what we ‘each’ were looking for in Nuchatlitz would have softened the discussion on the pebble beach weeks later? I reflect on that fractious evening a lot.

Finding the place in your paddling needs that is comfortable to you is key. Finding people of like needs will only help to get you where you want to go, see what you want to see and have the outdoor experiences you desired in your imagination. There will always be someone who wants to go farther, to see the next island, or explore to see what is around the next point of land. These people are not trying to ruin your vacation, they are needed and their ambitions may clash at times with that of your own. Sometimes, ya just have to roll with the flow. If the day looks over your head, well, tell your mates to have a great day and you will have the campfire blazing when they get back.

To each his/her own. Kayaking should be for everyone, day paddler to multi-day adventurer. May the two never meet.

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