Personal Essays

When did you start kayaking?

A guest post by Lee Gilbert of A Whole Bunch of Ing’s. Lee is the expedition leader for the Paddle to Retirement Expedition.

“When did you start kayaking?” is a icebreaker, an epilogue of our paddling to that very moment. Whether it be sitting on a beach next to a roaring fire, in a pub being introduced to new paddling partners, or socializing at a symposium; this is the simple nexus that drawls so many different people together. And here’s mine.

I grew up in a modest house in rural Newfoundland with salt stained windows, which my mother would feverishly clean after every storm. Kelp was a common site in our garden after storms….as well as fish , and various cru stations. Now I wasn’t a newcomer to the ocean living of Newfoundland, I have had family living there permanently since 1641.

Growing Up in Boats

While kayaking wasn’t really heard of or popular when I was growing up we spent much of our time in boats or on wharfs fishing. Rural Newfoundland was a childhood dream with thousands of km’s of nothing, and our parents had little to worry about when sending us kids “outta da house” as soon as breakfast was ate. As far as they were concerned kids shouldn’t be sitting around the house unless they were being punished for a indiscretion; like getting caught robbing someone’s rhubarb patch.

My first recollection of being self propelled on the water was a rickety old raft I build out of drift wood on my front lawn. I build a crude sculling oar/ pole to propel myself and was quickly exploring our bay in which we lived. My mother tried applying limits of exploitation, geographically named as Wiseman’s cove etc…which only ensured I would sneak around it.

Teenage Years

Then the teenage years approached. Beer, girls and mild narcotics became my main point of interest. And aside from hunting or fishing my attention was swung away from exploration of the wilderness and more so in exploration of my newly acquired recreation. Having said that I became an expert in packing my rucksack as to not have beer bottles clanging together as I said goodbye to mom and dad for a weekend of camping. We also began building cabins deep in the woods to escape the watchful eyes of other parents in the outport who would quickly report our illegal activities to our parents (police were non existent). However during these outings I became enthralled by the nature around me. I watched many a sunrise after a sleepless night, I watched two eagles locked by their talons in their passionate lovers free fall about 100 feet…only to hit the water. It was beautiful and funny all the same time.

One of the guys we hung around with had tragic news that his brother was missing. An avid kayaker his brother had departed one day into Trinity bay and was never seen again. Many stories circled among the outport men of what they thought could have happened to him. However his body was never found. That was my first memory of kayaks.

Married with Children

Fast forward a few years and suddenly I am a Sergeant in the military married with children. On a training exercise a few years back I broke my fibula and really messed up my ankle. Not only did this put a damper on the training; it ceased my first addiction…running. Suddenly my fit frame was getting doughy from a lack of my strict schedule of a minimum of 20km running a day. I needed to find a exercise I could do while healing.

One day I was struggling to mentally get through another workout on a concept rower. Watching the seconds tick by and the pseudo kilometers build, I brainstormed about a low impact activity that would get me back outside. As watching these dudes walk around with protein shakes flexing in a mirror was not my idea of a nice relaxing activity.

Then it hit me. Kayaking! I quit my workout at 52 minutes instead of the required 60. No longer would the rower tyrannize me with it’s beeping and timings. Off to my computer to have a look at where I could buy a kayak.

The Kayak Adventure Begins

I lucked out and picked up two poly day touring kayaks for under 2000 bucks. By far the best two grand I have ever spent. My riot sprint has well over 2000 km on her from 4 meter swells next to icebergs in the North Atlantic to the calm streams of Ontario. This little 13 foot kayak really got me hooked and I began the journey of trial and error in skills, and subsequent kayak and kit purchases which has lead me to where I am today. Not only do I collect kayaks like hockey cards I refuse to part with any of them. They are a apart of my paddling history, and I can’t bear to get rid of them as they remind me of certain trips, certain feelings. Feelings that I had not felt since bright crisp fall mornings in the 80’s as a young child finding a new droke I had never been at before, or exploring over the next hill and finding a large granite cliff. A feeling that everything was good, everything was new.

Be it be an hour paddle in the afternoon after a stressful workday or a 10 day trip along Georgian bay, I relish each moment I spend in my kayak. While the kayaks and skills improve and the locations vary, it all boils down to one thing.

That moment of total peace, of amazement, of joy, of absolute exhilaration. The childhood feeling of excitement. That very second as I round a headland to see the perfect scene. The day a muskrat crawled onto my deck, or the day a sea otter decided he was very angry at my intrusion into his cove. The crackle of a fire, the cool fog on my face on a early morning.

Kayaking is my vessel to more things than destinations.

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  • Thanks, Lee. Great article. I agree with you that a question, like “When did you start kayaking?”, can draw paddlers together.

  • Cheer’s Bryan hope your readers enjoy as well. Keep up the great work.

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