Life Lessons from Kayaking

kayak on river to illustrate life lessons from kayaking

Our friends Anna and Phil invited us to spend the weekend with them in Norfolk. They’ve recently taken up kayaking and were keen for us to give it a go.

On Saturday the four of us set out for a day on the river. Anna and my partner,Yang-May, in the two-person kayak and me and Phil in a Canadian canoe.

It was a beautiful morning; the reed beds were alive with birdsong and the sun was out. As we paddled along the River Waveney I felt at peace listening to the splish of the paddle hit the water and gentle lapping at the side of the canoe as we floated and surged forward.

This was my first experience of canoeing and within minutes the muscles in my upper arms were burning in protest. It turns out paddling is hard work and I was totally unprepared for it.

Half-way along Oulton Dyke we stopped for lunch, resting on the river bank with our picnic; delicious crab and watercress sandwiches, pork pie and ginger beer. It felt like we were part of an Enid Blyton adventure – Four Go to Oulton Broad or some such.

After lunch we switched canoes and Phil and I took our turn in the kayak. We climbed in and positioned ourselves very carefully as the kayak was pretty old and unstable on the water.

‘Okay, ready to launch very gently,’ Phil said and we prepared to ease away from the dock.

The next thing I knew I was under water, struggling to breath. The water was ice cold and my legs still trapped in the overturned kayak. I managed to get my head above water, suck in air before being drawn under water again by the weight of my legs in the kayak.

I was trapped. When I opened my eyes all I could see was the murky brown river water and white air bubbles.

For a few seconds I thought I was going to drown. I felt brief panic before hearing a booming voice in my head say, ‘NO’.

No, I couldn’t drown. I knew what I had to do. With all the effort I could muster I thrust my body forward and managed to free my legs.

I burst through the surface of the water and clung on to the side of the dock, gasping for breath.

‘Are you okay?’ Phil was beside me in the water.

‘Yes.’ Apart from feeling a bit shocked and shivering, I was fine.

I waited for Phil to right the kayak and help me onto the dock. Then I had no option but to get into the kayak and try again. There was no other way home that didn’t involve crossing the river and Anna and Yang-May had already set off in the canoe and were out of sight by this stage.

This time we managed to launch the kayak without mishap and set off along Oulton Dyke towards Oulton Broad.

We were both quiet, concentrating on steadying the kayak and avoiding any further mishaps.

‘At least the worst has already happened,’ I joked, and we laughed.

It was true. I felt like I had passed through a huge hurdle and that whatever else happened that day, I would cope.

As it so happened, later that afternoon the wind picked up. We started paddling around Oulton Broad but it soon became clear that we were putting ourselves in danger. Catamarans and yachts were flying towards us and it was near impossible to steer a clear path in time.

We turned round and made our way back to the Waveney River Centre. By this time the wind was so strong that at times we couldn’t prevent it from blowing the canoe from one side of the river to the other in a zig-zag pattern.

Phil and I were paddling as hard as we could but we were powerless against the wind. My arms were aching so much I felt I couldn’t carry on but I had to. We had to get back to the river centre – there was no other option. So we carried on paddling and eventually made it back to dry land, exhausted.

But despite our tiredness we felt exuberant. We had paddled through tough conditions and survived. We had come through.

Anna and Phil were apologetic about the fact that I’d had a dunking in the river and we’d also had to deal with such strong winds. They had never experienced either before.

I didn’t mind. ‘It’s an adventure,’ I laughed.

But the day had taught me a few valuable lessons.

6 Life Lessons from Kayaking

Lesson #1Sometimes the worst thing that can happen isn’t that bad. You survive and carry on.
Lesson #2When the going gets tough you can’t give up. If you keep on going you’ll get through to the other side.
Lesson #3
When you fall pick yourself up and carry on. Conquering fear is empowering.
Lesson #4We all have hidden reserves. Use them. Sometimes you’re in a situation where there is no other option. You have to carry on.
Lesson #5Don’t go it alone if you can help it. Take a friend. Having Phil with me kept me calm. I relied on him to help me out the water and do the bulk of the paddling.
Lesson #6Be prepared. I was completely unprepared for kayaking. It might have helped if I had watched some YouTube videos on paddling and escape techniques.

That evening we sat in the dunes on Pakefield beach eating fish and chips and drinking Cava. It had been a brilliant day. We had walked for miles, canoed, laughed, talked and enjoyed the beautiful Norfolk countryside.

In spite of my aching arms, I felt stronger. I enjoyed being physical all day. I loved being outdoors in nature. I felt glad to be alive.

Further reading:

You can read more about Anna and Phil’s Norfolk adventures on Anna’s blog: Bluestocking in the Broads.

Photo: Thanks to paraflyer on

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2 Responses to Life Lessons from Kayaking

  1. Angie Macdonald August 23, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

    Hi Anna. I’m so touched that you’ve used the words resilience and courage as I’ve never really applied them to myself before. It’s really interesting how different situations bring out things in us that we never knew were there.

    Yang-May and I are definitely rating our weekend with you and Phil as one of the highlights of the summer and don’t worry – I have not been put off having another go. One of my goals is to be Fit by Fifty, so watch this space…

  2. Anna Sayburn August 23, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    Angie, Phil and I were both so impressed by your resilience and courage in the kayak. We were mortified you got tipped in, but you handled it so well. The conditions were very tough. Despite all the drama, we loved having you and Yang-May to visit. You’ve highlighted some excellent lessons to learn from your experience and I hope it doesn’t put you off having another go some time.

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