After reading Sarah Alder’s article in the last issue of NSW Sea Kayaker I feel compelled to reply. Although Sarah’s article was couched in general terms I have decided to take it personally seeing that of the two club trips she mentions I was the leader of the Currarong Paddle and probably the most guilty of being out in front on the Batemans Bay paddle. Maybe it was not directed at me but this sort of criticism has featured a lot in the club lately and I seem to be involved most of the time and perhaps I am getting touchy about it.
Like it or not sea kayaking is in the main part about propelling yourself forward in a kayak over the ocean. Some amount of physical effort is required.
Inevitably some people are stronger and fitter than others and as a result, faster paddlers. In order to cover a given distance the faster paddler will have more opportunities to rest (whether they want them or not) and not be as tired at the end than the slower paddler. It has ever been thus and always will be.
Sarah wonders whether those at the front know what it is like to in the position of being always at the back. In the dark distant past of my motor cycling days I used to go trail riding with a group who was considerably faster than I was. The protocol was for the person in front to stop when they got to an intersection on the track and wait until they saw the person following and then take off. This ensured that you were not left behind injured or to take a wrong turn and get lost but did nothing for your self esteem to be constantly at the back and gasping to catch up. Rather than blaming those at the front I took the attitude that it was I who had the problem and it was I who should endeavour improve and not expect the rest to slow down. Over time my riding improved and I was able to keep up. I have had similar experiences bushwalking and cycling and without being challenged in this way I doubt that I would have made the effort to improve.
Sarah describes her reasons for sea kayaking in terms of the physical spiritual and emotional rewards from interfacing with the marine environment. The implication being that those of us who like to travel at a reasonable pace are not interested in these things. Does she really believe that by travelling at 4kph she is experiencing a much more intense communion with nature than I am at 8kph. At just above walking pace the world does not flash by in a blur and sitting passively in one spot bobbing up and down like a piece of flotsam is not my idea of the ideal way to appreciate the wonders of the ocean
I concede that having to make an extra effort to try and keep up may well detract slightly from her enjoyment of kayaking but she has to recognise that having to slow down and to have to stop and wait detracts from mine. Paddling at a pace, which is well below your natural rhythm, is frustrating and uncomfortable, while stopping and waiting results in muscles cooling down and cramping up.
The safety aspects of group spread are constantly being debated and commented upon within the club. The inference that is usually drawn is that the slower weaker members of the group are deserted and left to their fate. In all my paddling with the NSWSKC this has never been the case although it’s been alleged often enough. Stronger and more experienced paddlers have a responsibility, moral and to some extent legal, for the safety of the less experienced. I, and most members who undertake to run club paddles take this responsibility very seriously. To imply that group spread is evidence of an abrogation of that responsibility is unfair. When the sea conditions are benign as they were on both the paddles Sarah mentions safety is not unduly compromised if the group does spread out, provided the leader(s) is(are) satisfied that any novice paddlers are not left on their own.
Sarah concedes that one of the reasons she paddles with the club is “for the safety margin this provides”. She may well feel that she gets a safety benefit from paddling with more experienced paddlers but those of us who would be the first called on in case of any difficulties don’t have their safety enhanced by travelling with a group of weaker paddlers, rather the converse.
Responsibility for the safety of a group is an onerous one and by enlarge one that is capably discharged by members of this club. Unfortunately the reward for taking on these responsibilities is usually criticism of the nature of Sarah’s and to be described as “SELFISH” (her capitalisation) is a bit beyond the pale. It is hard enough to be responsible for the safety of weaker and less experienced paddlers without being held responsible for protecting their fragile little egos as well.