During the end of the first day of the sea kayak course we attended for learning to paddle sea kayaks (sometimes called ocean kayaks), I used my third kayak for that day. The Prijon Kodiak, which is one of the larger Prijon kayaks. Something very unexpected happened to me:
- I flipped over.
During the day, we had practiced both the wet exit, and the t-rescue. So handling the situation was not very hard, I quickly got the help needed and got back up into the Prijon Kodiak again. What was unexpected was falling in. I had not had any feeling of being on the way to falling, and using the previous kayaks that day, I had neither fell in without doing it on purpose, nor felt any risk of falling into the water at all, basically, falling was not in my mind at that time.
It did not take very long before the Prijon Kodiak flipped me again. This time I realised when it started to happen, but I was to inexperienced to be able to counter it. But more than that, it happened again, and it happened without me having the slightest feeling that it should happen (I was paddling straight forward in wavy sea (more ocean waves than sea waves), but not doing any fancy things). Once again, a quick rescue and continued paddling, now being frustrated over not being able to stay upright like most of the others (there was high ocean waves so there where other people falling in, I was not the only one).
And once again, I fell in again. And now I got scared. Getting back up was not without some work (quite big waves), and it was tiring me to climb into the Kodiak sea kayak so often. So I decided that this was more than I could handle, and got escorted back to the shore by one of the instructors (on the way I fell in the fourth time, making me feel my decision was right, but it was on shallow water and there was no need for me to immediately climb into the Kodiak again). Luckily, the course had quite many instructors for the number of students, and we were quite close to the shore, so there was no real danger involved.
But a logical feeling that there is no real danger seems to have very little to do with the minds way of reacting to perceived danger. That day with the Prijon Kodiak burned itself into my head as something dangerous. I spent the rest of the day (about 1 hour) 10 meters from shore practicing keeping the balance sitting in the Prijon Kodiak, which resulted in two more dips, both went well, but the scare remained, and the uneasy feeling of not being able to counter it became deeper.
The day after, I went back to the sea kayaking course, and started by paddling the very stable Point Sea Rover and it worked well and gave no problems of participating in the course, even though the waves were higher than the day before. But when we should do the rescue exercises, I realised that I was scared of doing the exercises. This was strange to me, I have spent a lot of time swimming and diving and have not before had any special scare for water. Later, I have realized that I am not scared after falling, it is the moment while falling towards the sea that is dreaded in the brain. Once under, I start functioning again. But as long as I am on the kayak, the mind is continously looking out for the risk of me to start falling.
My wife gave me the support needed to be able to go through with the excersises, which went well, but that did not take the scare out of me, only proved that I could successfully handle such situations (I really wonder how the brain works since that seems not to solve the problem...). So a long time I was fighting to get back to the pre-Kodiak situation, where it felt fun being out and feeling the ocean waves move the sea kayak under me.
Due to my newfound obsession with stability, I studied what happened to the others (in the sea rover you are stable enough even when scared and in waves so you are able to study others). I noticed one of the other tall persons trying on the Prijon Kodiak and falling in so many times that he went back, just I had the day before, to get another kayak. The very same thing happened to yet another of the tall persons, trying to paddle the Kodiak, and having to give it up due to falling in more often than he cared for.
After lunch break, I swapped back to the sea cruiser. But being scared does no good for your paddling techniques (sea kayaking is counterintuitive, so when the mind tries to take over, things do not go well). Maybe I could have paddled it, but sitting in the choppy water trying to get the spray skirt on took too long time (I was not relaxed enough), and I got so much water into the kayak from the breaking waves before the spray skirt was on, that I had to start it all over again. So I changed it for a plastic Zoar sport which is extremely stable, just like the Sea Rover.
Now being back out on the sea, we practiced surfing with the kayaks, and repeated bracing (which had been practiced also the day before). I noticed that now the teacher was the one riding the Kodiak (every tall beginner that tried it fell in, and the shorter ones preferred more manouverable kayaks so it was now the only kayak left over which no one wanted to paddle). However, in the hands of the teacher, the beast was tame. He had no problem leaning it far out and returning it in balance. In fact, the photos from the course from that afternoon were all taken by the teacher, sitting in the Projon Kodiak without the support of a paddle. Enclosed below is a picture taken from the Kodiak, proving that when an experienced person use it, it is stable enough, even though it is very unstable in ocean waves when used by tall beginners (of course there are a lot of kayaks much more suitable for tall people that also is a lot better than the Kodiak, so there is no reason to aim for the Kodiak unless you really like it. That kayak is mentioned to indicate how different sized persons affect the kayak, and how experience can counter such instabilities).
Been a long time since last entry. Started paddling again i march 2009. Been out probably 8-10 times by now. It feels a lot better (and my paddling skills are of course also better by now). Anyway, I can relax on shallow water, I can even relax on deep calm water, even on deep calm water quite a bit off shore (200-300 meters I would guess). But still, now and then, the scare returns without very much reason. The distance from the beach and the depth (or maybe colour of the water) affects a lot.
Close to beach, on shallow water, I have not experienced the scare since March. Even when out paddling this weekend, I could feel more worried about paddling in shallow water with large stones on the bottom, than a little deeper with sand bottom. That is good, because that is a logical connection (rocky shallow bottom is likely to be a larger risk than deeper sandy bottom far from beach).
But still, there is a long way back. Now and again the scares just pops up, without good reason. For example not more waves than I can handle, but suddenly some small slips, or even twists of the kayak, and then it might take a minut or two before I am back to calm again. Or deep water, far from beach, and waves coming from behind or side, and the feeling may be a long lasting scare, not calming down until back in "safer" locations.
My drysuit helps a lot, it is sort of a calming safety thought, assuring the logical part of the brain that the true danger should be quite small, although the instinctive fear might feel otherwise.
Today I did something I have strived to dare doing a time, simply testing my "logically believed skills" against my fears. It had been blowing all day, in about the same direction, around 6-14 meters per second (there is a wind meter in the harbour, showing both average wind as well as tops). The wind had thus built up both long swells and short waves of a good height (above 0.5 meter, below 1 meter). These are waves I believe I can handle, and which I wanted to prove to myself I could handle. So I went out.
The place where the club has the landing creates a situation similar to diving into cold water from above. After you start diving, there is no going back. It is the same thing with the club landing place. It is located in the harbour, calm and safe, garded by a 5 meter wide entrance. Outside, the waves are first choppy, and then there is the open water where the waves sure looked heigh. Staying in the chopy place is no good idea, concrete to right, rocks to left, and water bouncing of both, so when starting out, you have to continue out. I was having help in the terms of an experienced kayaker with me, who proved the safety by going out and back, and explaining the best route.
Out I went. Heart pounding, and feets shaking. A lot of adrenalin (bodys way of trying to help in the believed danger, but actually a very poor way of helping). It went well, I was in high waves and on deep water. Paddling against the waves where quite easy, actually quite quickly giving me the feeling my kajak was stable. This although I know my paddling technique was hampered by shaking legs and stiff body. Paddling sideways, which was needed after only 30 meters, was more shaky which is natural, and not something I would like to do too much. We started surfing after just another 30 meters, going in to beach with the waves, and back out against the waves to do a new surf.
My judgement that I could do it was proven right, I did not fall in. My judgement that this was closer to my true limit was almost proven as well. In the end of the second surf, when I was almost in and just ready to turn to start a new travel out, I almost fell. It came unexpectedly, I had just finished surfing, I had just started turning left a little, but not yet "really started turning". Then something, what I now presume was a slightly bigger wave probably also almost breaking, surprised me. I did not see it coming, one moment everything was fine, next moment I was struggling to stay in balance. My kayak was still beneath me, but edging by itself so much that it was on the limit (probably above the limit) of how much my kayak can edge without med following due to a too stiff back (I would guess around 50 degrees edge with the right side down). I remember trying to find brace support on the right, but I was so much higher up than the bottom of the wave that my paddle did not reach water on that side withg me sitting up. My left leg was hurting from straining to try to keep me upright, and on my left was so little water left from the wave that I do think I could not use that as a brace. So from my own perception of the situation, I guess I was turned by a short but high wave, and riding it almost on its top, with the kayak following its downward forward slope. The hole situation lasted a second or two, probably not more, definitely more than a second since I had time to realise there was no good place (or at least I did not see a good place) to stick the paddle.
It scared me, but not "out of my logical reasoning", so we went out and in again a couple of more times for surfing. Then followed the dreaded going back into the harbour. The path was defined by the experienced paddler, in principle, we went up high above the harbour inlet, going against the waves, then started turning so we were neither perpendicular to nor parallel to the waves. Say being 30 percent above being in parallel with the waves, and then falling down so we were say 30 percent below being in parallel. Since waves close to this harbour is not predictable, now and then I was on waves being parallel to the kayak. Closer to harbour, some of these were more swells than waves, and some where not really waves, but just choppy moving peaks in the water. Going back in felt a lot worse than going out, and even worse than surfing. However, it might have been more feeling than reality, we hit straight onto the wanted spot of the opening, and everything went well. Since I did not fall in, this built some confidence, and it was also good training of blanace as well as paddling skills.
Think I will practive in a little lower waves before I do it again though.
It feels that it is the time to drop this part of the web. I have the last month and a half been out on wavy water, and on deep wavy water. Both the Vacation on Havnsö in end of June, as well as a number of paddling trips around the club, as well as the excursion around Skanör/Falsterb end of july. The scare for waves is now reasonable, I have even paddled in high waves from the back and from the side. I have so far kept the balance, and that is comforting me. Also, being out on deep water hour after hour makes it hard to continue to feel panic so long.
Whatever the reason, I am still worried in a way I was not before, still continuously judging the height and the balance in a way I was not, but also many times relaxing quite well for long times as long as nothing unexpected happens. Paddling against the waves is the easiest, and also a situation where I do not worry until waves get really big. Paddling with the waves is harder, but also that has gone quite well, and feels good as long as the skeg is in use.