Things are beginning to open up... Here in Scotland, our 'Stay at Home' order gets lifted in a couple of days time, and in England & Wales, people can already travel a little more than they could just a short while ago.
I for one will be getting on the water this weekend, for the first time in what feels like an age. When we went through this process the first time around, I was decidedly nervous: would I be able to recover from the skill fade of months off the water...? The answer, for me, was yes: I could. And it didn't take as long, or feel as difficult as I feared it would.
So I now have a process to follow, learned from last year's experiences, and I intend to follow it, roughly speaking, again over the coming weeks. I thought I'd share that process with you, along with some tips for getting yourself, and your friends or club members, back on the water safely and happily.
Check your kit
Before you throw the boat on the roof and kit in the car, and dash off for that first paddle... Does it all still work? Go through your kit: is it mildew free, and in tact? How's the joint on your split paddles? Are you hatch covers still in good condition, VHF not showing any signs of corrosion? There are many things that may have just degraded a little in storage: take your first aid kit & tow line out of their bags, unpack your PFD pockets if you haven't already... Make sure everything still works.
If, like me, it's been a few weeks or months since you were on the water last, start small, and start easy. Begin with a gentle paddle somewhere that's well within your comfort zone. You're likely to feel excited but just a little less confident than you might have done after a consistent period on the water. Don't put pressure on yourself to feel like you need to head out for a big or adventurous paddle at the start. It might take you a while to work up to doing the same kind of paddling you've been used to: that's ok, we're all in the same place.
Lower your expectations
Expect to fail, to begin with. Try going out with a 'give it a go' mindset, but without consequences. Practice moves on easy water, practice rolling, rescuing, self rescuing... all in places where it doesn't matter at all if it doesn't work. Go out with the intention of failing, of trying to make yourself fail to roll, or fail to make a move. Play. Have fun. But don't expect that you'll paddle at the same standard you do when you're in a consistent period on the water. Have a look at this blog post of mine from last summer.
Be kind to yourself
We've all had a thoroughly weird year. It's affected everyone in different ways, and some more than others, but Covid has had an impact on all of us in some way. You may feel reticent to travel around, to meet with other people, to do things you think you would normally do. That's ok. Give yourself time to readjust to whatever normal is going to look like for a while for you.
Pack a sense of humour
Paddling is fun. If it doesn't feel like that today, maybe it's a day to do something else. Go out, enjoy it, go easy, and play.
Do it with friends
Surrounding yourself with (within the local guidelines) a group of people who you trust, and who trust you, will make the process of returning to the water so much easier. Talk about how you feel about being back; about what you're struggling with, and about what you want to work on today, to get yourself back into the swing of things. It's always better with friends.
Build up gradually
Give yourself and those around you time to build up: think like an athlete training for a marathon. You've had some time away, so don't expect you'll jump from your first few paddles up to a mega-day out. Build up slowly, and enjoy the process of doing so. Your body will take time to adjust back into what were familiar movement patterns. What can you learn or improve on along the way?
Appreciate every moment...
And finally: if you've missed being on the water as much as I have, you'll know how much it means to you to be back. Savour those moments, and store them away. Precious moments, every one.
Sea Kayak Coach & Personal Trainer based in the Scottish Highlands. I love paddling, running, lifting weights, cycling, and moving well- and I love helping other people to do the same. I have to work really hard to build and maintain my skills on the water and my fitness, and I hope that helps me to understand how hard my clients also have to work!