Enculturation – Introducing My Wife to the World of Kayaking


Enculturation is the process by which a person learns the requirements of the culture by which he or she is surrounded, and acquires values and behaviours that are appropriate or necessary in that culture.

I have adapted this concept here since, for many, sea kayaking is the subculture to which they belong. Paddling influences the lifestyle, values, and beliefs of an adherent. I wanted to introduce my wife, Stephanie, into the culture of Sea Kayaking but had to learn some skills myself to navigate these unchartered waters.

The challenge has always been to include Steph in my passions, after all, our first date was paddling a Canadian canoe down the moving waters of the Barrington River in the middle of winter. She has paddled rivers, completed multi-day walks and even canyoned with me. Her predominant approach has always been tentative prior to events, sometimes fearful during them and always jubilant on completion of our little journeys. It has helped us share something in common. In terms of sea kayaking, her upbringing was one that showed extreme caution and trepidation to the open blue waters of this world. She definitely does not contain the “adventure gene” many paddlers possess.

Nevertheless I purchased a double sea kayak a number of years ago and we paddled mainly enclosed waterways including the local Shoalhaven River, Danjera Dam and the headwaters of Tallowa Dam. Some of these events were overnighters as well. The enculturation process was coming along smoothly. One day when the conditions were right I managed to persuade her to come along for a paddle in Jervis Bay. The experience had her initially very apprehensive. Swell and chop made her feel uneasy, very uneasy. Regardless, I paddled along. I even convinced her to do a self-rescue exercise with me at the day’s end. What a ball (for me anyway)!

The next challenge was to take her out into more open waters. Summercloud Bay was the choice of venue. We paddled toward St Georges Head. The sight of a breaking reef, Black Rock, had her virtually hyperventilating. We stopped at a beach closer to the headland and things were not good. She was petrified of going back. Conditions to me were ideal but to her way of thinking she was doomed to some indescribable horror and was basically freaked out. Navigating these marital waters was beyond me. I was out of my depth. Steph refused to eat lunch and quietly struggled to settle herself down. We did paddle back. Her end of trip jubilance was a little subdued this time.

No paddles occurred over the next number of months until a paddling friend purchased a double. This was the tipping factor that was needed. Steph got on well with my friend’s wife and things got moving again. We successfully completed a Myall Lakes camping trip, with some rougher conditions, and managed to paddle in Jervis Bay in some wilder moments as well. She purchased some of the paraphernalia of our culture including paddling top, pants and gloves. I think she was getting hooked.

The fruits of perseverance for us both have been the two most recent experiences. Late last spring we paddled out from Currarong to see if we could spot some whales. This we managed to do with a mother and calf swimming up to and around us for a good twenty minutes. At one stage the calf rolled over beside our boat splashing and touching our craft. Steph handled this very special moment well despite some concerns and plenty of adrenaline. The second experience was paddling Doubtful Sound in New Zealand over the Christmas break. Despite the annoying sand flies she lapped up the three days exploring this amazing place. She managed some challenging conditions but loved every minute and I was with her in this experience.

Yes, I would call this process one of enculturation and hope I have side-stepped the dark side of indoctrination. It has deepened our relationship and required me to adapt my way of doing things on the water to a more patient but certainly more rewarding manner. There is talk, mainly stemming from me, about paddling Far North Queensland these winter holidays. The challenge not to push too hard will always remain. In the end if things seem too daunting I am given the royal wave to go off without her. Family membership in the NSWSKC looks likely in 2012. Good luck to all you who wish to attempt to cajole their partners into this sport and way of life.