One of my earliest memories of kayaking was when I was ten years old. My family and I were at a friend’s holiday house in Bundeena when I casually decided to go for a kayak. The previous day we’d walked to some squishy, soft sand areas, which would swallow your legs with every step you took. The feeling was sensational and I wanted to return there by kayak. I paddled and paddled venturing far beyond the safety of the bay sitting atop my paddling boat with no life jacket. I recall feeling liberated and rather proud of myself for setting off on my own small expedition… until I couldn’t find my way back, having missed the re-entry turn back into the bay by a wide margin.
Hours later, now fully comprehending the vast expanse of the sea and feeling utterly lost, I was miserable. Paddling and exhausted, I hoped that my family was looking for me. And, indeed they were – the entire Bundeena community had been mobilised – every boat, jet ski and kayak was covering ground to identify a lone kid paddling along. My mum, thinking the worst, was overcome with worry and was physically sick.
Eventually, I came across a small boat and signalled and signalled and waved and waved, extending the paddle into the air to improve my visibility… and finally they came my way. With the kayak tied to the back of the boat and me safely aboard we started to try and work out from where I’d come. I had no idea. But, after some time had passed, one of the searching jet skis noticed the kayak being towed off the back of the boat and the rest is history. I returned to a distraught but utterly relieved group of friends and family… and just in time for them to cancel the search-and-rescue helicopter, which was due to take off at any minute.
Other kayaking experiences have not been as memorable aside from one in Sydney Habour where my friend’s two-man kayak began to sink… and sink it did. With me in a ‘one-man’ and my two friends now treading water, they held onto the back of my kayak with one hand and with the other they clung to a fully submerged ‘two-man’. Every stroke felt as though I was padding through cement. Progress was glacial but after what felt like an eternity we made it back to shore (Nielsen Park) from somewhere in middle harbour and to my good friend’s relief, we had salvaged his kayak.
Fast forward to 2014, Queen’s Birthday long weekend. I’m up for getting out any and every weekend for any type of adventure – big or small. Today’s fun was meant to be spent at Manly Dam MTBing but with my bikes inaccessible I had to work out an alternative. Kayaking sprung to mind (probably something to do with just finishing James Castrission’s extraordinary book – Crossing The Ditch) and after booking a quality double kayak at Sydney Harbour Kayaks ($40/hr) at The Spit my good friend and I were off. Incidentally, he’d spent nine days crossing Africa’s biggest lake, Lake Victoria, (also the world’s 2nd largest freshwater lake) a few years back. Suffice to say, he’s comfortable in a kayak.
Today’s route saw us head out of from The Spit past Sandy Bay, around Grotto Point headland and alongside Balgowlah Heads cliff line until we could clearly see Manly. With a southerly brewing the water had a bit of chop to it and a couple of ‘mini rogues’ made the paddling interesting, especially with no skirt to prevent water from entering the kayak. Although, Gortex jackets and thermal under-layers certainly served their purpose today.
U-turn and head past North Head into a headwind and towards Obelisk Bay (yes there are Obelisks standing tall amongst the trees). Stop. Admire the serenity of the sea. Commence return. Pass the old, eroding forts at North Head, into Hunters Bay, past Balmoral Beach where Awaba St (home to the Balmoral Burn) rises prominently and steeply, and finally back to The Spit.
After covering a mere 12.6km but starving nonetheless, we wined and dined at Pizza Pesce Birra, which was packed with people and dished out some of the best pizza I’ve eaten.
So, to conclude, very happy to have got out today and dabbled in some kayaking after all these years. I’ll definitely be back for more and it’s good to have another activity to add to the weekend repertoire.