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Monday, 3 June 2013

My first kayaking experience

Exciting. Challenging. Difficult.
Are these words even in the right order? I don’t know it anymore after 5 days full of such mixed feelings…
The love for adventure was there. The love for water was there. Was there more? Well, yes. A birthday gift for my boyfriend, plus temptations and fears not to be fought any longer: our very first kayak course.
Trying to get my kayak out of water after flipping
Day 1: The rise. Excitement was plummeting; it’s the same when you are in love – you feel like you can conquer the world. I sure thought I could paddle hard and handle the currents. But even on still water (Siriu Storage Pond), this seemed so unlikely. Off to an unconventional start – flipping the boat on our own without a paddle – and I was already facing one of my greatest fears: a brand new spray deck that it took a longer time to be placed and removed. Or so I thought. Because deep down inside, I guess it was only my innate wish to have everything under control, at all times. 
Nerve-calming break
Day 2: The fear. With the basic kayak techniques checked on Day 1 despite the pretty strong wind, I should’ve felt more confident. But the exact opposite feeling crept in. I fuelled it during the night and the theoretical approach of our trainer (the incredible Bonifác) on Day 2 raised it to unbearable levels. Eddies seemed scary in that dark water and I admit that pushing my kayak into Buzău River that morning was the most frightening thing I had ever done. I knew I couldn’t control the boat, I was aware that I lacked the experience necessary to steer it and discover the right lines, yet I was crazy and foolish enough to try it, with the fear of flipping and staying underwater for who-knows-how-many-minutes getting a hold of me with every stroke. At one point, I stopped for a sip of water and to gather my thoughts and I couldn’t bring myself to go back into the water anymore. But the words of Bonifác, the calmness of Balázs, and the suggestion of Adrian to try and flip for as many times as needed to overcome my fears seemed to work, as I eventually got in, trying to paddle as hard as I could and overcome the rocks that I recklessly got trapped in between and the one flip during which I used my knees to kick the spray deck loose. As I completed the second day, I realised that I didn’t feel victorious. Not by far. I only felt helpless and disoriented in the water, one step away from panic. It is a feeling I am not very eager to relive and that’s why I promised myself not to get back into the water without knowing properly how to handle my kayak.     
Day 3: The fall. I slept well during that night, not really thinking about giving in, but possibly trying to find solutions on how to train more. I was even thinking of returning to the pond to practise the paddling techniques. But, somehow fear crushed all other possibilities that morning. I only knew at that point that getting back into the water was a no-no. Tears started falling down my eyes. It wasn’t that I felt defeated, but I like completing things once I start them and it’s difficult for me to admit that sometimes the skills and strength to do that are lacking. It wasn’t even that I didn’t like kayaking. I like it fine! But I was scared shit. I talked it over with Bonifác and told him I wasn’t prepared to go on, that I’ll probably stick to rafting and canoeing, that I needed a break from all the pressure. He understood, supported me, and encouraged me… which was extraordinary!
I felt and I still feel stronger after this experience and something in me shifted once I realised that I’d come out of it safe and sound. I started questioning my direction in life, my future plans, and saw things very clearly.
The team was amazing, with the other guys – Alex, Claudiu, and Szabi – being also very supportive and fun and with a very professional and organised take on all events from the part of the company that made it all possible – ‘Outdoor Experience’. Being the only woman in the group helped me recover even more quickly and I’ll hopefully maintain long-lasting friendships with the guys. All six of them… as I admit I’m already missing them!           

On Days 4 & 5, I had a blast. The real Petra was back and I realised one more thing, that there was no need for me to force myself to seem and be somebody I was not, because those who truly love me will love me for who I am.  
Will I ever try kayaking again? On Day 3, the answer to this question would have been ‘No’, but – as that frightening experience faded away –, I realised I could go for it again once I am physically and mentally prepared to do it. Time will tell.

Pictures courtesy of Outdoor Experience.

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