Thursday, 11 April 2013

The gym bunny's guide to the great outdoors




Lunan Bay
For a period of a couple of years I spent many weekends over on the west coast of Scotland on sea kayaking courses and day trips all with the aim of getting my 4* sea kayak award. Award achieved and a move to Aberdeen meant that latterly I had only been out paddling twice in the last 4 years added to which I was increasingly getting painful tendonitis like symptoms in my elbows whilst paddling, especially in challenging weather and sea conditions.

My new years’ resolutions this year had been to do more cycling and more kayaking although the on-going winter weather hasn’t been particularly conducive to either but when I found out that Seafreedom Kayak, the company in Oban who I did my training with, were now running courses on the east coast of Scotland I quickly signed up for the first available course that I could get to – the rough water paddling course. With the benefit of hindsight this may have been a little overly ambitious given my lack of paddling over the last few years.

Prior to this course I had been trying to work out what was causing my painful elbows and came up with a couple of options.
 A) the wrong size and shape of paddle: Having always had to borrow kit this was generally out with my control but if I ever find a paddle that I feel works for me then I will be buying it as soon as! 

B) Poor technique: More practice and coaching required hence my new years’ resolution.

 C) Poor upper body strength: This is where the gym comes in. I have finally started working on my poor upper body and core strength as they are weak as is the case for many runners and so yes, dear reader, after years of making derisory comments about the lycra clad gym bunny brigade I have joined the ranks and am now a fully paid up member.

The signs lining the side of the road to our meeting point at Lunan bay alerting visitors to the danger of rip tides should maybe have given me the first indication that this may not be an easy choice of course. Meeting the instructors, two lovely guys named Ali and Ross, and rest of the group who were all from the same kayaking club in Dundee and who were all chatting happily about all of the kayaking they had done during the winter should possibly have set off another couple of warning bells in my wee brain that i very possibly didnt have the skills for this.

However it was a gorgeous bright sunny day and Lunan Bay is a beautiful venue. I wondered why I hadn’t been there before, long stretches of golden sands, a little village in a cove in the distance, the ruins of a castle perched on a hill and the concrete war defences scattered round indicated that there is a lot more exploring to be done. But I was here for some paddling.

Golden sands

Getting ready

Today we were to be surfing. It’s just like normal surfing except in kayak. The general idea was to practice getting out to sea and coming back to the beach again in rough water and although at 2ft high the waves didn’t look that impressive from the beach when you are sitting at sea level in a kayak they go right over your head. The most successful technique seemed to be to go straight out through them and keep paddling to brace yourself - and keep moving. Once we reached the calmer water it was time to turn and go back to the beach. There was a 50/50 chance that I would get to the beach without some mishap and, making sure my kayak was perpendicular to the following waves, I made it. It wasn’t for the first time, or the last, that day that I would wish my last kayaking trip had been less than 18 months ago as I felt decidedly wobbly and vulnerable in the waves.
Yes, i know the waves dont look THAT big but from where i was sitting they looked HUGE!
The next few times we had to look more closely at our timing as apparently waves travel in “sets” of 6 or 7 big waves and then you get some flatter water between the sets so on the way back in we have to look behind us at the oncoming wave and time our beach approach for when there was flatter water which meant paddling backwards at some points basically to stay still to avoid coinciding hitting the beach with the big waves and then paddle forwards when the flatter water was visible. This bit was fun and developing some form of technique based on timing rather than pure chance felt good.
Pay attention now…this is the science bit….
 
Next was the tricky bit – on the way back to the beach we had to try and turn back into the waves before reaching the beach so of course you are very vulnerable to capsize when you are sideways on to the waves. I capsized. In my defence so did everyone else including the instructor who executed a perfect recovery roll while I executed the most incompetent exit from a kayak imaginable. Think beach whale floundering in the shallows and you will get the general idea.
Heading out to sea

Turning - trying not to capsize
The borrowed drysuit was too big and didn’t seal at the neck and I have a sneaking suspicion that it was leaking round the ankles too so by the time I set out back to sea to try again I was thoroughly wet added to which my hands had turned to blocks of ice as soon as the first wave had hit them that morning. Even sitting in the sun for a while with a hot drink made no difference, I was shivering uncontrollably. Eventually I decided that I could take the cold no longer and it was with a mixture of relief and disapointment that i retreated to the café for a scone and a cup of tea and to warm up in the sunshine and to wait for that welcome sensation of pain in my hands which means that the feeling is coming back. I think realistically i need to start over my kayak skills courses again and do some heavy investing in my own, non leaky and warm kit which fits. I have tentatively broached the subject of purchasing a kayak of my own which admittedly does present certain logistical problems when you live in a city centre flat. I have a feeling that Simon is ignoring me hoping that i will go off the idea but kayaking is such a fantastic way to explore inaccessible and remote locations and you get a completely different perspective of the land when you are out at sea...assuming, of course, that you haven't capsized and are upside down in the briny.

You can see the attraction of kayaking
I was a bit surprised as ive never really felt the cold that badly before when kayaking and ive been out on the water on colder days but given that 4 days later I am suffering from a stinking cold maybe I was going down with some lurgy or other anyway. 

On the plus side though, my elbows didn’t hurt at all, so maybe the gym bunnies are on to something! 

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