“Red’s looking... red’s up and riding...”
"Change of direction from blue... and he's off”
“Nice speed from red... change of direction... nice linked manoeuvres... good flow... won’t score that exit though as it wasn’t completed”
“I reckon that was red’s best wave of the round so far”.
I’m in Pembrokeshire. At the Welsh Open Whitesands Classic Surf Kayak competition, and oddly, I’m in a judging seat. I’ve never done this before, but I have Tom Iggleden, the competition organiser, standing over my shoulder helping me understand what to look for, and work out how to allocate scores.
I’ve spent thousands upon thousands of hours in a kayak in my life, and yet in this setting, surrounded by surf kayakers, I am a novice again, and it’s a strange feeling; one that I am slowly getting to grips with and thoroughly enjoying at the same time. I'm a sea kayaker by trade, and by experience, used to moving around long boats with smooth, rounded edges; Now I’m getting used to moving around a short boat with sharp rails. On a wave. Moving along it, not down it. The more I learn, little by little, the more I realise there is to learn and the more I realise I don’t yet know, and can't yet do. But there's the point... "yet".
I am also a recreational paddler by instinct, unused to the peculiarities of competition, or to performing ‘on demand’. Of course I do have to perform on demand in my working life- but moving a sea kayak around in front of coaching clients feels very different to this, competing against other paddlers in front of a panel of judges.
So why am I doing this? Stepping so far outside my comfort zone, into a connected and yet so, so different discipline? Well, because of that word... "yet". Because I love waves, I love the sea and I love the feeling of surfing a wave. Harnessing the energy of a wave to move a boat around with your body just feels so darned GOOD! Setting bum in a surf kayak seemed like a natural progression for me, a means by which I can learn more about how to harness that energy; only until now I’ve just dabbled. Not any more though... Someone recently commented that surf kayaking had moved from being a hobby to being an obsession for me- and they’re absolutely right.
I’m a learning junkie- if I can make progress, I’m happy. I know I will fail, and fail again, and by my own standards I'll be a bit rubbish for a while; but with purposeful practice I will get better, little by little. Competition looks initially like a tough way to learn. But where else can I spend time watching those better than me, to learn from them? And maybe, if they're feeling generous, I might just be able to pick up a few tips. It's a new world, I'm learning a new language and meeting paddlers and models of boat I hadn't heard of until a few short months ago; but slowly, slowly, it's becoming my own world- and it feels like a good fit so far.
To a competition novice, pitting myself against others has given me an insight into my own motivation: am I intrinsically motivated, by performing better than I did last time, last session, or on that last wave? Or extrinsically - by the will to be better than my competitors? Well, it turns out that yes, there is a tiny bit of extrinsic motivation: I expect there is in all of us. But mostly, I just want to get better. Everyone likes a medal, of course, but I just want that feeling: of surfing, flying, gliding, of being in control in an uncontrollable environment; and most of all, of learning, improving, succeeding.
Why share my experiences? Because becoming a novice again is a great way to get better as a paddler; Crossing disciplines means we have to adapt, to apply familiar principles in an unfamiliar environment or craft. And because... well, because it just excites me. It's new, I'm learning stuff, and it involves lots of waves. What more could a girl want?!