It’s an hour from sunset and Cliff and I are kayaking along off the South East Coast of England when he announces “I had to go to a christening yesterday morning. Before I went to it I was quite open minded about the whole God theory...... I’m not so sure now, there was so much weird stuff said. Anyway,” he pauses and looks around him at the waters we’re slicing through “this is my church.”
It’s hard not to agree, you’d struggle to find a more instantly relaxing sport. You are basically sitting on your arse looking at the beach.
Some -like the guy in microlite way above us - live to fly, others are city rats, but Cliff was born to get wet. He runs Epiclife in Hastings, a backstreet den that’s packed to the rafters with wet suits, flip flops, wind surfers and boogie boards.. There are people queue-ing out of the shop to get to his Perception Kayaks. I was one of them. The moment I walked in there I wanted to spend money. Which I did: wetsuit, boots, three oars – I said ‘OARS’ – kayak, wheels, buoyancy aids for me and my son.
As he took my credit card and noticed my name Cliff said “I bet you get a lot of comments about your name don’t you. I have a guy who sells me buoyancy aids called William Drown, Will Drown! I thought it was a gimmick but it’s his real name. Anyway take all this stuff and I’ll see you next week to take you through the ways to get the best out of your kayak.”
So anyway what the hell am I doing off-landing? A couple of months ago I invested in a shed on a nature reserve by a beach and have spent every weekend there ever since. This means the Sunday football is no more and so I decided to use the sea to exercise. I am not a natural born boogie boarder so I am once again at the foot of a learning curve.
You’d struggle to find a more instantly relaxing sport. You are basically sitting on your arse looking at the beach
Not that I’m a stranger to the sea but I’d say I was more Pugwash than Chay Blythe. Over the years I have turned over a couple of dingys in the Caribbean and managed to get them upright again, sailed round Strangford Loch, Sydney Harbour and Mustique in style and ease and I’ve spent a day up and down the solent on a skiff. It would be dishonest to claim I did much but pull the odd rope and look at the view.
My greatest ocean going experience was undoubtedly the Port Rush Raft Race in Northern Ireland where six of us managed to strap two metal ladders and two heavy beams across six lightweight plastic barrels and come second last. We managed to beat five transvestites powering a four-poster bed with a bike, and some blind children in a dustbin who didn’t make it past the surf. Sounds rubbish but it was one of the funniest experiences of my life.
Between buying the kayak and Cliff taking me out I had grandly announced to my mate Deeson who lives down the beach that I intended to cross the English Channel and did he fancy joining me. “Good luck,” came the text back, “It’s the busiest shipping lane in the world and it’s a sea not a lake.”
My mate Dave was even more sceptical. “You’ve got that rower in your living room and you’ve not actually used it for five minutes whilst we’ve been working together. Imagine going upstairs now and sitting there for six hours. That’s what the equivalent is. Only with huge oil tankers trying to ram you and massive waves shitting you up.”
Neither of them had either touched on my greatest fear – Great Whites. Like most of you guys reading this I saw Jaws as a terrified seven year old and have never been able to hit the water since without worrying that as all sea is connected there’s every chance a Great White could make it’s way from South Africa or Australia to wherever the hell I was paddling. This is despite the facts that the water temperatures and feeding habits suggest it’s unlikely Bruce The Shark will rock up next to me and ask me personally if I fancy joining him for lunch.
I googled and then you tubed ‘crossing English Channel’, read about and watched some Olympic kayak champions doing it, saw the size of the swell and have now lowered my expectations. I am unlikely to be going out with my passport or coming back with any baguettes just yet. That’s not to dampen my enthusiasm for the boat though.
So earlier tonight Cliff came over and he showed me a few basic exercises to warm up and warm down with, warned me not to dry the wet suit out in the sunlight, explained how different paddle techniques will affect the boat differently and that was it, we were in and heading East towards Camber Sands. I’m not sure there’s an easier sport or a more relaxing and scenic exercise to be had, certainly not if you live in the centre of a city. We kayaked for two hours and I could feel it a little in the tops of my thighs and middle of my back but all in all it seemed like that rare thing to a lazy bastard like me. Good exercise without too much pain or endeavour.
Now I’m sitting in the dark of my back garden, enjoying the warm summer night and listening to the sound of distant machine gun fire at the military range across the bay, wondering what the hell I was doing all those years surrounded by motors and advertising and traffic jams. The only distraction is the microlite and I hope to god Cliff doesn’t sell them.
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Kayaking With Blue Whales (video)
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