Sunday, 18 January 2015

I Choose To Sea Kayak

I choose to sea kayak because....

If I were to ask my many sea kayak friends and acquaintances to complete this statement, I am sure it is unlikely that there would be a universal reply. Of course this is not a surprising assumption given that we are all individuals and we view our world from our uniquely personal perspectives.

There is of course no right or wrong way to view the sea kayaking experience and it is one of the joys I experience when paddling with others, the variances in why we choose to be there. In the photo below I have come up with the words that I associate with my experience of sea kayaking - why I choose to be passionate about this pastime.

Sea kayaking for me over the many years has been a recreational outdoor activity and also a means of employment. My introduction to it was in 1986 when I borrowed an Anus Acuta kayak from a colleague at Outward Bound Wales to lead a group of young people on a kayaking expedition along the coastline of the Lleyn Peninsula in North Wales. It wasn't until ten years later that I bought my first sea kayak and so began my deeper connection to what I consider to be a truly wonderful method of travelling along our coastal landscapes.

Until then I was an inveterate white water kayaker running rivers like a dinosaur - with a long neck and a small brain. One day while running a river with friends in mid-Wales we were accosted by a land owner about our right to be on the water. It was in that confrontationally unpleasant moment that I decided to move away from the inland waters to the open sea, where there are far fewer restrictions based on ownership and disputed rights. Within a few months I found myself kayaking along the Scottish coastline around the island of Ulva off the Isle of Mull, camping on a close cropped grassy headland, cooking beside a beach fire and generally being overwhelmed by the myriad natural experiences I was encountering. I have not looked back since then.

That was eighteen years ago. Today I am probably more passionate about sea kayaking than I was back then. I think as my sea kayak experience grows so does a deeper level of understanding of the benefits I gain from this remarkable activity. I think too as I grow older, my self awareness is enhanced and I am far more aware of the responses I am having to my various sea kayaking experiences. I am learning more about myself and the world that I live in.

Sea kayaking appeals to me in so many ways and at so many levels. I love the sense of journey, the exploration, the packing for multi-day trips, carrying everything I require and choosing where to camp along the wild and rugged Scottish coastline. I enjoy the fun to be had, taking the kayak into caves, through arches, around boulders, under cliffs and generally into any form of moving water. The ability to move silently and approach closely to wildlife is a huge draw for me. Having Seals swim up to me in my kayak to check me out, Dolphins and Porpoises breathing their fishy breath almost within reach, Puffins gaily bobbing on the surface of a mirror calm sea, the lazy flick and wash of a massive Basking Shark as it gulps its way around my boat and the wheeling sea bird cacophony above me as I paddle past.

It is the simplicity of life on the open water that is a strong attraction too - living with only what I can carry, eating within my means, paddling as far as I can, sleeping where I pitch my tent - the life of an maritime hobo. Then there is the landscape - the beauty, the grandeur, the immense skies, the island studded horizons and the mountain fringed sea lochs. I am fascinated by our human connection to this landscape and so I find the material remains of our ancestors enigmatically alluring. I can lose myself for ages wandering the landscape around my camp site searching for chambered cairns, hut circles, duns and other indelible remains hidden in the bracken and heather. I allow myself to fancifully wonder about the people who have trodden the land before me - who have lived and loved where I have arrived so easily in my kayak.

Above all, sea kayaking allows me to travel and live at the pace of nature. My life when kayaking is governed by the tides, the wind, the waves and the daylight hours. I normally travel slightly faster than walking pace and given the right conditions can cover thirty miles a day. I tend not to choose to push myself on my trips, preferring to fully immerse myself in the coastal landscape I am traversing. However, there are many times when the vagaries of the Scottish weather conspire to make some days a significant challenge where I have to draw on my resources of stamina and mental determination to reach a chosen destination.

Much of the time I choose to kayak on my own. Solitude sits well with me and I am comfortable with my own company. This 'solo' time provides me the space to think, to dream and to be creative. The process of paddling through the sea can be a meditative movement and I have found that it is a wonderful way with which to resolve conundrums I may be facing. Equally though I thoroughly enjoy paddling with other folks. There is a distinctly different quality to the experience but it is equally as rich for me. When kayaking with friends I am afforded the opportunity to spend absolute quality time with them, reconnecting with them and their lives. When kayaking with people I have not known before, I find that we soon break through the normal social conventions of shallow small talk to reach far more intimate and satisfying conversations. A sea kayak journey brings everyone to a universal level where the shared experience creates a strong bond that remains long beyond the trip itself.

My forthcoming journey around Scotland is going to an incredibly rich experience for me. I will encounter so many wonderful experiences that will undoubtedly enhance every aspect of my life. I am certain that from the moment I set off from the shore at Kippford my life will never be the same again. This is a good thing.


  1. If you need a bed for the night or some shore support around Stonehaven/Inverbervie/Montrose get in touch.
    Is there a secure way to pass on my phone number?

  2. Reading your post got me thinking about how sea kayaking and cycle touring are different, although there are plenty of similarities. The same self sufficiency is required, you can only take what you really need, the same sense of being exposed to what each day throws at you. However, I envy you the sense of wilderness you must be getting with sea kayaking, or maybe I am idealising it? With cycle touring one needs a road and where there is a road there are people and traffic. On the other hand, cycle touring really allows for seeing cultures and meeting people. And with cycling one can access a lot of different habitats. Look forward to reading more about your journey!

  3. A lovely reflective piece Nick.
    It echoes all the things Kayakers go there for. A safe passage for you fella.

  4. It's lovely to hear the emotional rationale behind your lifestyle choice. Your passion shines through.


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