Hurricanes and supernovas

Surface pressure chartWe appear to be living in interesting times. Tuning into the news lately, I’ve learned:

*(remnants of)

We’ve had our fair share of man-made crises too in the past year, from oil leaks to nuclear meltdowns. And, of course, the usual wars, alerts, and political and economic upheavals.

Stormy dayIt’s enough to make you anxious.

What’s this got to do with kayaking? Well, the common denominator is: fear. We live in a fear-filled world. The mainstream media likes nothing better than to amp up the fear factor (as well as the X Factor). Before you know it, you’re anxious about everything, even your leisure pursuits.

I realise that everyone is different and perhaps many of you braver, chilled out individuals can’t relate. But I would wager that a few of you have danced with anxiety in the great céilidh of life.

In particular, in sea kayaking, there’s a lot to potentially be anxious about:

  • big, scary waves
  • tidal flows
  • failed rolls
  • barnacles
  • jellyfish
  • looking stupid

If like, me, you bore yourself to death with such thoughts and their paralysing tendencies, there comes a point when you very much want to be free of them. And that’s when you realise – well, they’re just thoughts. They are 100% in your head. Just because you’re fixated on encountering big, scary hurricane-powered waves in a 12 knot tidal flow whilst failing your roll and being swept into a bay of jellyfish (after your GPS fails due to a solar storm) before crash-landing on top of barnacles (and looking very stupid), doesn’t mean it’s actually happening, or going to happen. It’s all a (bad) dream of yours and is no more pertinent than the one you had about public speaking whilst naked (you had that one, right?). Afterwards, you wake up, reflect with alarm/amusement/embarrassment on your crazy old mind, then get on with the reality of your day.

And that is the tack I am now taking. But it’s not a case of ignoring my crazy old mind – au contraire. Instead, I am inviting it to come in and take a seat while we have a little talk. What’s this fear thing then? After I’ve shone the spotlight on it for a bit, it starts looking rather like my bank account after a visit to the kayak gear shop – empty. It has no substance. It’s no more than a feeling. The other shocker for me has been to discover how much of that fear relates to appearances – not so much how great I look in my neoprene hood, but more whether or not I can maintain that norsaq-wielding, rockstar kayaker image I’ve been working so hard to build. I know, I laughed too. It is much easier to let all that go, to escort fear out of the building with a polite handshake and a thanks for the insight, and to return to being – well, nobody.

Here’s a quote that’s inspired me recently:

It’s actually wonderful to see that you’re nobody and that all the fear you’ve had all your life was in relation to this self you thought you had. You have one less thing to promote, protect, maintain, dress up and present to the world.

Radical stuff! It’s from Larry Rosenberg, in his book “Breath by Breath”, in which he also says:

We see that fear isn’t something we own or have any control over. We’ve been living as if we do, as if we should be able not to feel it. But all we can do is meet it skillfully.

And then we just go kayaking and we see what’s out there. We might even have fun. We might pick up skills and, funnily enough, have less to fear afterwards. We might have some failures (and I don’t mean the ones involving unnecessary risk), but that’s part of learning. One person’s failure is another’s first step on the ladder to acquiring an awesome skill.

With that in mind, hurricanes permitting, I am off to the Falls of Lora next weekend. I’ll be taking my old pal Fear with me, but firstly we’ll be sitting down for a little chat, and then he can watch me from the shore.

Up here in my tree, yeah
Newspapers matter not to me, yeah
No more crowbars to my head, yeah
I’m trading stories with the leaves instead, yeah

In My Tree, Pearl Jam, No Code


  1. Fiona says:

    Great, thought-provking post as always, Pam. Enjoy the Falls of Lora next weekend! I’ve always wanted to photograph folk there in sea kayaks but am busy next weekend, otherwise my camera & I would be there. I’ve got no ambitions to kayak there myself though!

  2. John Herbert says:

    Nice post, although I must point out there’s nothing weird about earthquakes hitting the west coast of Canada. This area and the entire western coast of Canada and the US are a highly active seismic area, and the massive Cascadia subduction zone ( which lies only a couple of hundred kilometres offshore from where I type this on Vancouver Island is “nine months pregnant and overdue,” according to one scientist. When it goes, it will probably create a quake and tsunami similar to what occurred earlier this year in Japan. The zone ruptures on average every 300 years. The last time was January 26, 1700.
    Am I afraid of living with this shadow over me? Well, no. It’ll happen or it won’t, and if it does I will either be here or I won’t. I have no control over any of it. Why waste time being afraid of something which I can’t control or affect? That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t prepare for one and have my earthquake kit and an evacuation plan ready to go! 🙂

  3. pamf says:

    Hi Fiona – Thank you! Too bad you can’t make the Falls, but maybe next time. I wouldn’t mind seeing some other kayakers there myself – I might learn something!

  4. pamf says:

    Hi John – Thanks for this info. I should, of course, connect the dots with the seismically active US west coast (I lived there and experienced many a temblor) and the “Ring of Fire”, but I somehow was surprised to hear of the earthquake up your way. I will be paying more attention now! Perhaps the east coast tremor is a better example of “weird”, or at least a bit more rare. But you’re quite right, we can’t worry about all the eventualities that we can’t control, although we can take reasonable steps to prepare for evident risks. I do hope that Vancouver Island’s gestation period is much longer than believed. Take care.

  5. Maggi Blair says:

    Hi Pam, You have such a wonderful way of putting into words what lots of us think in our own heads and could never vocalise in such a wonderful way. Thank you. Maggi
    PS Have a great time at the Falls and give Mr Fear a good kick up the jacksie

  6. pamf says:

    Hi Maggi – Thank you for that great comment! It’s not easy, and I definitely have my moments – on and off the water, but it’s good to know I’m not the only one who deals with these thoughts. 🙂

  7. John G says:

    Hi Pam, 4:50 in this clip to see the fear making me forget to paddle 😉 Want to get back soon and in my Avocet or something else that’s not an empty expedition boat, that’s my excuse! It was awesome fun, highly recommend it.

  8. pamf says:

    John – Thanks for sharing that excellent video (I think!). I was especially inspired by your capsize at the end. No, seriously – I fully anticipate doing that very thing and it shows me that it is not as life-threatening as my old pal fear would have me imagine. I just have to remember to hang on to my kayak as you so ably did. It’s going to be “interesting”.

  9. Lesley says:

    Hi Pam – great post. I empathise – probably why Mary is valiantly trying to drag me off to a Storm Gathering! Enjoy the Falls, can’t wait to get there myself. Look forward to seeing how you got on.

  10. pamf says:

    Thank you, Lesley. Is Mary one of those fearless folks? I admit that I need someone like that to drag me along too 🙂 At least in the Storm Gathering you will have loads of coaches to help mop up, so to speak. Will update you after our adventures.

Leave a Reply