Pushing Your Limits: A Weekend of Wind, Rain and Kayaking
This dispatch is cross-posted from Wend Magazine.
Donning a dry suit and paddling out into a grey and stormy Pacific, on a day where you know your boat is going to be constantly beaten by salty swell, the rain will pour right into your face and the wind will force you to engage all of your muscles, possibly leaving you sore for days, might not sound like everybody’s idea of fun. But here in the Northwest, it’s the name of the game.
When I headed out to Pacific City for this past weekend’s Lumpy Waters Symposium, sponsored by local paddling shop Alder Creek, I didn’t really know what I was in for. In fact most of my paddling experience has been reserved for calm afternoons to check out wildlife and get a mild sunburn. Sure, there have been some multi-day trips thrown in here and there, but no epic “surfing the Pacific” kind of stuff. But when it comes to enjoying the outdoors, sometimes you have to push yourself and get out of your comfort zone. And there’s no better weather to do so than stormy wind and rain.
After a night of listening to the glorious sound of rain pelting the tent, Saturday morning we downed some bacon, eggs and coffee — breakfast of champions! — and suited up in various layers of polyester quick drying shirts, fleece, drysuits and booties. The ultimate outfit made for a sea of bright candy-colored groups placed along the beach shore, a stark contrast to the gray waters and sky.
My first outing for the day was intended to be an exploration of the Nestucca River, which, thanks to the elements, looked less like a river and more like the ocean that it feeds into. While another group experimented with rescue scenarios, we paddled directly into the headwind to explore some of the local wildlife. “Paddle” might be the wrong word as it felt more like cranking a very, very heavy piece of machinery. Even the seagulls back at the parking lot could barely stand still without getting blown to the side by the wind. But braving the incessant headwind and rain in my face paid off, as we saw a huge flock of pelicans skimming the water as well as a stoic Great Blue Heron undisturbed by the inclement weather. In fact from the comfort of my dry suit, I really had no place to complain; call me crazy, but being from the Northwest, I actually like the rain. And with pizza and beer as the consolation prize for working my shoulder muscles and core, the day couldn’t have been any better.
Sunday was a different story.
“Anna, why don’t you do the Fear to Fun in the Surf class?” one of the Alder Creek staff asked. They sure sounded upbeat.
“Umm… the one where I paddle in that?” I asked, hesitantly pointing out towards the large waves that might have even intimidated kayakers with a more solid skill set than my own.
Like I said, it’s all about getting yourself out of your comfort zone. And so I tightened my helmet and headed down to the beach to embark on my first kayak surfing experience. Fear to fun Anna… this is supposed to be fun. I had to keep the mantra in my head – it was the only way to make capsizing in the Pacific seem less daunting.
But I’ll let you in on a little secret: once you’ve gotten schooled by a wave and realize that it’s not the worst thing in the world, paddling into swelling waves actually is fun. In fact you keep going back for more. And so I spent the good part of the morning learning how to brace against waves, paddle through them and be at peace with getting tipped over by them. Nature is, after all, much more powerful than we ever will be.
So despite the typical Northwest weather that made conditions difficult and put a lot of symposium attendees at the boundaries of their personal limits, there were a lot of smiles at the end of it all. Which is ultimately the main reason that we get outdoors: to push ourselves and be proud of what we can achieve, be it on the water, on a mountain or just on an afternoon hike. Now it’s time to go and plan for next weekend…