Thanks to the sport section’s newest plan to splash some schadenfreude across The Saint’s back pages, this couch potato was sent to join the Canoe Club’s adventures at sea armed with just a wetsuit and a warning not to fall in.
When I eventually found the boat shed, I was already slightly late, but what I found felt more like war preparation than a day at the beach. I suppose the North Sea is, essentially, the enemy. Not only a wetsuit, but a lifejacket, helmet, another jacket, some footwear and a cover for the top of the canoe were all thrown at me before I had time to ask if I should really not wear jeans.
Before I knew it, I had a kayak on my shoulder and my friend was trying to explain how to get out of the kayak if you flip over:
“There’s a sort of strap at the end of your cover, and you just pull on it and you’ll come out.”
“And what happens if I don’t pull on it?”
“Well, you’ll drown.”
It was only now that I realized this might not be the pleasant kickabout in the park I was expecting. I became most nervous, however, while sitting in the kayak. Why on earth had I thought this would be leisurely? Probably because my only previous kayaking experiences occurred on a lake with my entire family and a lightly flowing river, breezing gently under the Pont du Gard. This was not quite the same. My friend had decided not to kayak during this session. “Any advice?” I asked at the last moment. “Don’t fall in,” he said. To be honest, I didn’t intend to. I was led into the water by a helpful kayaker and thought it would be a good time to ask what my chances of falling in actually were.
The answer: “about twenty per cent, but you’ll be fine when you pass the waves.”
I could feel the kayak rocking from side to side, and I very much doubted that I was going to be able to overcome this new obstacle. However, I followed the kayaker’s advice and paddled straight towards the wave. Amazingly, it seemed to work. “I’ve made it,” I thought with joy. Everyone threw a ball around while we waited for the stragglers to join us, and the rather relaxed and calm atmosphere lulled me into a false sense of security. Then we were given our two choices for the session: surfing the waves or a “pier launch.” Yes, you read that correctly. Canoe Club members push you off of the pier in a kayak.
Wondering exactly what I’d signed up for, I decided that my best bet was to try some surfing. That would be easier, surely, than being shoved off of a pier. We started kayaking into the waves, and after a couple of misses, I caught a wave. It was a thrill until, of course, the wave spun me round and unceremoniously dumped me headfirst into the water. I immediately tried to get out, but I couldn’t because of the cover. I slowly came to the realisation that I couldn’t actually breathe and decided, after a good 10 seconds, to maybe try and pull on the strap I had been told about at the beginning.
I collapsed out of the kayak and gasped for breath, feeling more than a little foolish. I slowly returned to shore and was helped back into my kayak. Then I got thrown straight back out. I fell in a few more times, once when the wave was so small it shouldn’t have knocked down a tower of playing cards, but amidst the cold and wet, I realised something: I was having fun. Next, we were dragged along to a pier launch. If anything, I was more alarmed than scared, but the experience turned out fine. After a short moment of panic as I was launched off, I hit the water with an easy thud, and that was that. In actuality, it was the easiest part of the day thus far. We headed back in, and I fell one last time for good measure.
Lastly, we stood around in the freezing cold, soaked to the skin as we cleared away the equipment before hypothermia set in. My hands were stinging from the cold, but once I realised the ordeal was over and I could relax, I realised I had a really good time. Maybe a sports session that really tests you is good now and then; it wakes you up from the stupor of lectures and essays. Kayaking was a breath of fresh air (and a couple of gulps of fresh salt water for good measure). As I told the other kayakers how much I enjoyed the session, they replied enthusiastically: “You should come to our pool sessions.” I stared at them, a little confused. “Pool sessions?” “Yeah, we have sessions in the swimming pool at Madras every week. They’re much easier for beginners and much warmer, too. I don’t know why you weren’t sent to one of those.”
I tried to recapture all of the positive feelings I’d had a moment before, but all I could think of were the freezing waves crashing against me, the fact that I couldn’t feel my hands at all and the realisation that the last time I agreed to check out a society, I was attacked by people waving swords. In my frostbite-induced paranoia, this led to one conclusion. I think my editor is trying to kill me.