68 participants and 12 couches crowded into the marquee in the morning, along with a handful of men making up the 'Man Creche'. The sun was shining and there was no hanging around. Groups for the workshops had been carefully calculated and we were off. I'd booked my workshops a while ago, obviously feeling very confident at the time. Greenland rolling - don't know what that is, I'll give it a go. Rachel Kehoe had us rolling around on some grass next to the car park at South Sands before we knew it. I was quickly introduced to Greenland paddles (thin bit of wood) as well as hip flicks, tucks, something about butterflies and don't forget 'more cheese Gromit'. Still doubting my ability to go from the wrong way up in a kayak to the right way up, using only a piece of wood, it was soon time to give it a go. Cheryl, my partner went first. I started by providing some support but it didn't take long until the look of surprise on her face. "Did you help? Was that it?". Cheryl had rolled without any help. We swapped rolls and the same happened to me. "Are you sure you didn't help? It felt too easy!" Rachel grinned knowingly at all her students.
Check out the master a work with this video of Rachel rolling.
After a quick lunch on the sandy beach, we were back at it. This time Rachel got us trying a different technique - and it worked first time. Unbelievable. I'd always wanted to roll. It's essential for serious whitewater and rough sea conditions, but I never thought I'd be able to pick it up in a day.
Day two and I was off on 'Shrill and Thrill'. I really should remember what I'd signed up for. This one was to include dealing with rougher conditions, some surfing and rock hopping. Launching from South Sands again, the sea was looking forceful. White-capped waves crashed into shore as we lined up our boats and buckled our helmets. First task - launch and paddle out to the flatter water and back again, without any help. Getting out wasn't so bad. "Don't stop paddling!" shouted coach Eila Wilkinson from the beach. Now just to go back again. A wave turned my boat and a second wave had me over. The water was so shallow I had to wade the 20 metres back to shore pulling my water-filled kayak and my battered ego.
The wind was creating some interesting conditions. Eila had us do some laps of the rocks near a buoy, paddling hard against the wind and getting as close to the rocks as we dared. Then we ventured out to the sandbar in the middle of the bay. Big swell meant big waves breaking over there. "If you're surfing a wave and there's someone in front of you, capsize." Such is the speed which you can travel at, and the damage a pointy end of a kayak can do. "Swimmer!" one of our number was over. It didn't take long to get her back in her boat. We had the choice of one last challenge before lunch, round another set of rocks with the swell still bouncing us around. My hands were tired from gripping my paddle so hard in fear. "Are you coming or are you going for lunch?" shouted Eila above the wind, "I don't know." "Your're coming with me, let's go". And that was a turning point for me. The first part of the morning had been about survival in the rough conditions, feeling like I wasn't good enough to be with the others. On the little circuit before lunch I found some technique and some confidence which led me to enjoy the rest of the day a lot more.
The afternoon saw us surfing in and out of the big waves and practising launching and landing as well as rescues. I've been helped from the water into my boat, and helped others, plenty of times now but not in conditions like that. There was definitely thrills, shrills and spills that day!
After another lovely evening meal, we had the chance to show pictures of what 'floats your boat'. People had brought 5 photos that told something of their paddling story. Patagonia, Norway, Mexico, Jersey, Scotland, so many amazing places and brave and intrepid women. But the best story was from Pa. Pa is an incredibly adventurous person and cares about the marine world so much. Her story is even more incredible considering she has suffered two serious injuries which have effected her motor skills. Check out her story here.
What a steep learning curve. I can't convey how much I learnt in such a short space of time. I'm still a newbie sea kayaker and there's so much I don't know. The best way to learn is from like-minded, passionate, experienced and badass women. Thank you so much, everyone, for an incredible weekend.