A Quick Paddle With a Folder [42]

What, me worry?

By Ian Phillips

Phew! It’s a scorching hot day here in my pokey little office … the sun is beating in and with the various computers, printers, scanners and what-nots, it makes for a hot and unbearable arrangement. My poor little air-conditioner is working overtime to keep anything even remotely cool. And it’s only 10 am!

The perfect remedy – pop down to the beach for a quick paddle, a few surf dunkings, a couple of rolls – I’ll be right as rain; perfectly refreshed for the afternoon and ready to tackle those obnoxious people who choose to bother me during the middle of my business day!

But a quick paddle? Not so in my latest acquisition, a sexy and delectable folding kayak. Acquired on yet another whim, after leaning back with a cool glass and remembering my first ever kayaking experience … a day when I triumphantly paddled the beaches of Tasmania in a ‘purloined’ folder (much to the annoyance of its owner), feeling the water move against my feet through the skin hull, feeling the frame flex with the waves, feeling at one with the kayak … Aaah, to remember those days again …

And so, one more kayak richer, one more bank account poorer, I proceed to the coast; to relieve my anxiety, to quench my thirst for the ocean, to feel at one with my kayak, to get wet …

And no longer do I worry about the hair-raising lift provided by my car-top kayak aerofoil whilst travelling at illegal speeds… no longer do I worry about the constant fitting and removal of roof racks that I consider to so dreadfully ruin the lines of my car… no longer do I paddle alone and worry that some bastard is ripping off my car whilst safe in the knowledge that the kayak cradles indicate the owner is far, far away …

I marvel at the concoction of tubes, ribs, rubber and Cordura that lies before me in the boot of my car, and wonder if just this once I can manage to put it all together in one go, without forgetting such memorable items as the footrests or the seat, those crucial bits that most kayakers could never imagine leaving behind! Just once can I manage to make it happen without having to start all over again because of one forgotten step? Just once can I not suffer the jibes and sniggers of those beachside armchair kayakers marvelling at the contraption appearing before their eyes, only to discover that the operator REALLY has no idea what he is doing? If only I carried the instructions with me rather than feebly attempting to appear the suave and cool skin-kayaker – oft-beaten by the weather and waves, but never beaten by his kayak construction procedure.

Another sip of a triple-iced, caffeine enriched Coke and I should be right to begin… I think. First I grab all the front bits and stack ’em together, then grab all the back bits and stack ’em together, now grab all the middle bits and stack ’em together… I’m sure that’s what the instructions said…

Expand that bit, slot that in here, slide that over there, click that up that, use that bit here to do that there, twist that a little, jiggle that here, s-l-i-d-e that there, roll that there, curse this here, tighten that, blow this, drop that, don’t forget them, screw that down there, clip this, fit that, squeeze them over there, wipe sweat off brow here, add this, jump in, launch and I’m away!

Who said it would be difficult to create a kayak out of your boot! After 26 mins of painstaking application I am done – I still time myself in a macabre ritual to hopefully break the world record for folding kayak creation, and to hopefully break the record without knuckle baring or finger cracking. After what seems like a 2 hour work-out I can finally pack my goodies into the kayak, get in the water and relax!

At last I push out through the surf and I’m away, sensing every wave, every ripple, every movement of water with my heels as the hull flexes under my feet. As I paddle through each wave I feel the whole skeleton of the kayak gently flex around me, responding to every change in the ocean and I am happy… I am loving every minute of it …

I silently move through the water, no longer hearing the slapping of waves and water against a rigid hull, instead feeling the waves through my knees, feeling my ‘new’ skeletal extension and 17 foot skin graft move with me IN the water, no longer ON it. Embarrassed to scream out for joy in the midst of surf ski paddlers and surfboard riders (who invariably arm themselves with stainless steel weapons when they see me cruising by), I hold in my mirth and exhilaration having at last begun to enjoy kayaking the way I always wanted …

I paddle on, paddling close to the cliffs, close to the action of the waves against rocks, close to the beauty, close to the rocks. Exploring crevices and creatures, peering over the side to marvel at the fish below, amazed at the plant life that sways below me, in awe as how close the rocks are to the hull of my boat …

Whoops … too close now! I slide over a rock with some nasty looking edges, wincing whilst waiting for the excruciating sound of rock against gel coat that I am all too familiar with by now; the slashing Zorro styled scars on my hard shell boats repeatedly glassed over are a grim, ever-present reminder of my over-enthusiastic exploration techniques… but the sound doesn’t come, I feel the rock against my foot as the hull flexes away from the rock… I glide onward, without a scratch or a care in the world, thanking the Gods of skin kayaks for delivering me from an untimely demise on the outskirts of North Head.

Lunch-time I think, but where can I go? It would be nice to land for a bit, but there are no nice little beaches here, no quiet secluded spots. I paddle north past Manly Beach, the memory of a horrific dumping after following in a sick friend playing on my mind… the surf looks big today… I choose to paddle on… let’s try the next beach.

My demented mind convinces me this ‘new’ beach is a smidgin less violent – why not pop in here, no bad memories on this stretch of sand… yet. I wait for what seems like hours for the ‘right’ wave. I shoot down a speedy swell, over-confident in my surfing ability, sure that I can make the shore in style with nary an incident. Wrong again. Whilst again marvelling at the feeling of waves rushing under my feet, I relax my composure and unceremoniously slide off the wave I have successfully ridden for a piddling 10 metres, rolling nicely a couple of times, falling out what seems like six or seven times but what must be only once, and come up to the cheers of three young surfers, all of whom were laying bets on the success of my landing. Suffice to say, they all left with money in their pockets…

I carefully drag myself up the beach, clearing the surf zone, and inspect for damage. Extremely gratified, I find none, even finding no evidence of the ‘rock-sliding’ earlier. My confidence in aircraft aluminium and rubber once again restored, I settle down to the always fun game of ‘what’s in this dry-bag?’

After a careful rearranging of flares, various hand-tools and what seems to be an unusually high quantity of thermal clothing items for this time of year, I find my carefully created loose-meat and salad sandwiches in their customary post-dumping loose-sandwich format, and I sit down to a relaxing luncheon.

The paddle home is far less eventful than the paddle out – perhaps my delirious mind, still marvelling at the extra-sensory kayak around me, is blocking out the wind, waves and wildlife. It must be so – even the yacht that repeatedly heads precariously close to me does not get a rise from my normally agile mouth – a most unusual occurrence, with most yacht encounters earning a minimum of one notch on my paddle shaft, with yet another mark going up against ‘that confounded kayaker twit’ on the sailing club rec room bulletin board.

Back at the launching pad, I smile to myself seeing my car still intact and in-situ, my misguided brain telling myself this is entirely due to the ‘non-kayaker’ image currently being projected from within.

Perhaps instead I should have concentrated again on my entry back to the launching beach… two dumpings in one day, due entirely to an extraordinarily spiritual and emotional attachment to a pile of aluminium, rubber and Cordura and the corresponding lack of attention to my most basic skills, is something I choose not to remember. I must make a mental note to myself not to tell anyone in the Club about it…

I lie on the beach for a while, tingling with enthusiasm from my skin kayak experience, too tired to launch again, yet longing to feel the waves at my feet once more. Alas, my soulful expedition is over, but my trip is not. Still ahead, the now-arduous task of disassembling my creature, my new love, and packing her away into the boot. This task may have been a piece of cake in the living room, but after a lengthy, energy-sapping paddle it takes on a new light, almost appearing too much to handle.

But yet, what light through yonder window breaks, I soon discover how easy it is to ‘destroy’ this beast under duress, how easy it is to return it to the components from which it was born. Far, far easier than the task of assembly, the disassembly is a dream, and I foolishly consider my de-construction task completion time comparable to any hard shell kayaker leaving the beach – I must be far more light-headed than I first imagined.

With all this complexity, all this assembly and disassembly, plus a never-ending maintenance schedule and the joy of forever more playing ‘Tail End Charlie’, you may dismiss my ramblings as foolish, emotionally charged banter. Perhaps you are amazed at the complexity of the task, unbelieving that any sane being would go to such lengths to get in the water, bewildered that any of this could make sense to anyone. Perhaps then, you have never paddled a skin kayak… perhaps you have never really paddled IN the water…

Yes, the folder has now taken its place at the front of my paddling book, relegating my poor old hard shell kayaks to the forgotten heap, in all probability never to be paddled again. And why? At last I feel at one again with my kayak, at one with the sea.

After one initial, teasing taste, followed by years of yearning to again paddle with a flexing, moving, alive skeleton around me, I am once again where I started, once again where I want to be – in control, the way I want to be. Maybe I can pretend just for a moment that I’m a real Eskimo in a real, alive, water-responsive kayak, chasing adventure and dinner… not just a pseudo-pretender reliving his fantasies, chasing yachties and scantily-clad bathing beauties… aah, the dreams…

As for getting back to the office… maybe tomorrow I’ll finish those orders, unless the folder just won’t fold back into the boot…

Now where did I put those blasted car keys?

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