Goofy’s & Natural’s Introduction to Sea Skills [70]

A long, long time ago, instructor Keith Oakford peered into his crystal ball looking for testing conditions at Gerroa. He saw wind, waves, rebound and students struggling. The dates 19-20 January 2008 flickered.

18 January: Keith consults the weather gods, who foretell of showers and strong winds. And the gods of thunder and lightning are having a tiff — looks like a good weekend. Goofy and Natural pack for their first kayaking and camping weekend, or should it be camping and kayaking? (The tent is bigger than the kayak.) Despite pouring rain, all smiles, they head off from Sydney and some while later arrive at Gerroa Fisherman’s Club where they spend an even longer time ostensibly enjoying the expansive view of the curved beach, grey ocean and even greyer sky. Could it be that they’re lingering in the club, waiting for a break in the rain so they can pitch their tent? (They end up in a hotel.)

19 January: The group meets at the boat ramp at 0800, in the rain. Instructors Keith, Lawrence Geoghegan and Adrian Clayton introduce themselves and the local surroundings, in the rain. All kit up and ride thunderous rapids out to the open sea. Revision class begins with forward stroke, paddling backwards in Indian file (lost Indians) and sweep and draw strokes. Then it’s out past the northern headland into the rebound. Conditions test Goofy’s and Natural’s hip flexibility and bracing reflexes. The wind comes up to 15-18 knots so the group returns to the shelter of the leeward side of the headland. Two by two, paddlers go out with instructors to again test their skills in the rebound. When not involved in this activity, some practise sweeping, edging and paddling backwards with and against the swell, some fight seasickness and others focus on staying in their boat. All are pushed beyond their comfort zone. For some, the return to the beach is the first time landing through surf. Everyone eventually finds the beach, demonstrating varied techniques in dismounting their craft.

After lunch the group breaks out through the surf and practises towing — single tows, v tows and Indian file. Then it’s time to officially get wet, with everyone taking turns to do wet exits and recover, using whatever method works: re-enter and roll, or for the less posy, cowboy, or feet first. One of the group has a nifty deck pack which doubles as a deck float.

Curious dolphins arrive for the T rescue show and giggle in high pitched tones about the fuss and bother humans have to go to. Lawrence chooses this moment to demonstrate clever behaviour; he has his boat tipped right over with only his beard and face appearing above the water and then sculls back up to an upright position. The show continues, with Keith demonstrating how it is better to get your chest, not just your arm, over the rescuee’s boat for stability and to protect the shoulder. Goofy and Natural wonder what the dolphins make of that advice, while the dolphins depart the human preschool.

The skills practice is never-ending, just like the rain. In the second — and last — surf landing of the day, few except instructors have good timing, so many get caught in the dump zone with varying degrees of success and failure despite the small waves. One paddler is so happy to reach solid ground he kisses it (with his forehead).

A break in the rain allows more tents to be pitched in the cosy riverside spot with sweeping forest views. Most end up in the club for dinner and the last wickets falling to India.

20 January: Goofy and Natural awake to beautiful birdsong, blue skies and a dry tent — bliss. The forecast is for a 15 knot northerly followed by a late southerly change. (We did check, Keith!) 0830: Time for wet wetsuits on and a review of surf skills including low and high brace positions for shoulder protection; the causes of and responses to broaching; the difference between leaning and edging; and how to punch through waves on the way out.

With paddlers in small groups, the instructors stand in knee then waist deep water, helping with low and high braces in up to one metre waves in the dump zone. Some students have their first experience high bracing into a tall breaking wave and surfing sideways. After a quick break on the beach Keith explains additional strategies to get ashore without catching a wave. For example, paddling on the back of a wave or paddling in backwards.

The group migrates south to find a secluded portion of beach to test new skills on bigger waves. The first view of the landing is from the sea and not the shore. Most negotiate the landing successfully. Adrian is at sea and Lawrence is on shore — gesticulating, encouraging and guiding. The unlucky 13th member of the party, while broaching heroically for an extended period on a particularly large wave, extends his high brace a bit too far and pops his shoulder. Cool heads prevail in recovery and first aid. Our fearless leader jogs the length of the beach to organise transport to the hospital.

In a more sombre environment and with military precision, instructors direct the now-more-cautious students back through the surf where everyone regroups before returning against a strong headwind. Like good ducklings, they follow mother duck (Lawrence) one by one into shore. After a debrief and an update on the condition of number 13 everyone says their goodbyes. Goofy and Natural head home.

Keith again stares into his crystal ball …

Postscript: The good news is that ‘Number 13’ could return to paddling within a week or two.

Hot tips

  • Keep those elbows in!
  • If you think you can do the drills, try them in the slop, then try them backwards in the slop, then…
  • Lean forward with your paddle flat to the deck when spearing through a wave.
  • When sweeping, keep your paddle (top hand) low.
  • The reception at the caravan park closes at 7.30 pm and the bistro at the Fisho’s club earlier than you expect.
  • It may be quicker to paddle backwards to your victim than to turn your boat around and approach forwards.
  • Scull slowly (whether in your boat or in the bar).
  • If you slather your face with sun cream, then put your sunglasses on, there’s a 5% likelihood that you will end up with a big red sunburnt stripe running up the middle of your nose.
  • Pack your triangle bandage.

Why ‘Goofy and Natural’? This refers to the way that you stand on a board (water-ski, snow/surfboard etc). A ‘Natural’ will stand with their left foot forward, using the right foot at the rear for balance and control. A ‘Goofy’ will control with their left foot. When taught to Eskimo roll to the right hand side (which relies on a right hip flick/knee lift), Goofy just couldn’t get it. (Normally Goofy picks up these coordination/motor skill activities quicker than Natural.) When Goofy tried on the left hand side — BINGO! Moral to the story: If you don’t seem to be able to roll, give the other side a try.