The Falls of Lora

How exactly did I find myself kayaking on the Falls of Lora?  In past times, the concept of paddling there was consigned in my mind to those mad, daredevil individuals whose skills surpassed my own by a quantum factor. It had about as much relevance to me as embarking upon a hillwalking trip up Everest, or an afternoon cycle up l’Alpe d’Huez.

Well, it started with Facebook. Entirely in keeping with Mr Zuckerberg’s stated goal of having us share our  every fantastical whim thought on social media, I entered a status update which linked to this particular video:

with the wistful comment of, “This makes me want to be a better kayaker…”. The power of Facebook is such that, before I could say, “… in my next life”, I was already signed up for a one-day training course on the Falls. Actually, it had a lot more to do with having a friend who never fails to encourage and motivate others towards becoming that very thing, a better kayaker (thanks, Julia!).

Connel Bridge - Falls starting to flow

Connel Bridge - Falls starting to flow

In the days leading up to our trip, it was interesting to observe how my mind flew into full “OMG!” mode, torturing itself with videos of other, better kayakers on the Falls (and they were capsizing!) and general panic. It was hard to discern which set of Falls I was actually headed for and might as well have been Niagara.  By half way through the week, however, a certain calm emerged. One might call it resignation, but I prefer to think of it as perspective. I realised that that video where the waves looked ginormously scary involved a deck-mounted camera (objects in the camera may appear bigger), and that the swimming part was quite short-lived. There had been a fair number taken at spring tides, when we would be going at 4 days after springs. It also seemed that there had been no fatalities in any of the footage. I reminded myself that we were going with a coach with a pristine reputation to uphold (so allowing folks to drown would be quite bad for business). I even went as far as reading my last blog post. Along the way, I developed some mantras to take along with me:

  • “Just do it.”  I think this has a certain ring to it. It was inspired by the advice from John from Northern Ireland who warned that hesitation was the worst enemy on the Falls.
  • “If it doesn’t work it doesn’t matter”. This applies specifically to rolling and again was also passed on by John, a recent Falls survivor, to whom I am grateful.
  • “I can and I will”. This came from my yoga teacher who used it to learn snowboarding.
Approaching the Falls

Ain't no stopping ...

So, there we were, meeting up with Tony Hammock of Sea Freedom Kayak and his very able assistant, Carol, at the Connel bridge last Friday morning. We donned helmets (as protection from each other’s kayaks and paddles during rescues) and made our way to the water.

To be honest, the specific details get a bit blurry after this. The Falls of Lora is a veritable Disneyland for tidal flow practice and all I know is that I entered a world of  fast-moving, turbulent water of a kind I hadn’t previously experienced. I learned about its principal characteristics: eddy lines, whirlpools, flows, standing waves, holes, boils, hubble bubble, toil and trouble.  We practised breaking in and out, high crosses and s-turns as well as (crucially) plain old tight, sweeping turns. We also learned such genteel disciplines as “mooning at the menace”, or “farting at the force” (I will never again forget which way to edge in tidal flow).

A particularly vivid recollection, however, was of punching through various foaming eddy lines.  With a battle cry of  “Hoka hey!” (although I may have got that wrong), Tony led us over the top and into the fray. As I watched his kayak scooshing off on a crazy edge, I remember thinking how simple the situation was (you could say it was a little moment of Zen). There really was no alternative but to deal with what lay in front of you at that moment, to PLF (paddle like fury), edge, sweep and see what happened. And so I was off, perfectly aware that I could well be gunned down in a hail of seawater, but – astonishingly – I managed to stay upright through each of our forays into the froth. I can’t ascribe a specific reason for this, other than perhaps the kayaking gods were too confused by my newfound assertive attitude to get up to their usual mischief. I also give credit to my wonderful Isel kayak, of course. I would be telling a lie if I were to say I didn’t capsize all day. Embarrassingly, whilst faffing about trying to get my camera out of my pocket, I managed to capsize in a tranquil eddy (a real Mrs Doyle moment, please don’t ask …). Suffice to say, you can never let your guard down in tidal waters.

All 3 of us got a lot out of our day and I can certainly recommend a visit to the Falls as a great way to improve your kayaking skills. I can also recommend that you go with Tony. I greatly appreciated his enthusiasm and his ability to bring out the best in someone who is not at all used to that environment, whilst encouraging an assertive response and respect for it.

Upon finding myself low-bracing as I was drifting off to sleep on Friday night, I realised just how fully engaging the experience had been. I also realised how very silly my fears had been. But it amounted to more than a day’s training in kayaking skills for me. I discovered that, to be 100% present in the moment with unhesitating, positive intent increases the likelihood of positive results. Who knew? (Aside from a couple of thousand years worth of buddhas, yogis, gurus, and Oprah).  Too often we talk ourselves out of things that we are actually capable of. We are our own worst enemies! And now, with that in mind, I’m off to find some menaces to moon at.

Thanks to everyone who encouraged me to go for it!

PS – Photos of our trip are limited due to the dynamic nature of the environment. At one point I had a GoPro camera attached to my kayak’s stern. I am hoping to gain access to the resultant video and, if I do, I will post it here.

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