The Ocean Teaches Me About Fear!

“No matter what your skill level or paddling years, the ocean can teach you humbling lessons all the time!”

Last year I learned a valuable lesson doing a Reverse False Bay crossing with Jasper Mocke, Kenny Rice and Stu Mclaren. If I remember correctly we were either the first or the 2nd surfski paddlers to ever attempt a reverse bay crossing.  The wind was strong but not out of control. Before the start, we made sure we had all our accessories and agreed on a compulsory regroup every 30 mins.

The paddle was running smoothly however before our final compulsory regroup, the weather began to change.  Also, after 40 km, I was starting to fatigue. The loss in concentration resulted in losing sight of the group and missing the final meeting point. Conditions were really starting to get wild! (Jasper mentioned afterward that it was some of the sketchiest conditions he has paddled in). With limited instructions of where to finish, I started to feel ‘Fear‘.

Fear is a natural and healthy response to a dangerous situation. You become aware of the dangers around you, your senses sharpen, adrenaline kicks in and you are completely focused on what needs to happen to get out of the situation. Fear IS NOT Panic. There is a HUGE difference!

I witnessed this difference during a group training session.  There was a new strong paddler, who hadn’t realized the difference in stability between the Fenn Bluefin he had learned in, and his newly purchased Fenn Swordfish. After being knocked out his boat he was unable to remount.  He started to panic.  Being cold and stuck in the middle of the ocean can do this to anyone. While in “panic mode”, no matter how many remount attempts he made, he couldn’t get into his boat. However, my arrival and the arrival of some other boats soon after had a calming effect and even though he was still in exactly the same situation, he remounted his boat with no hassles. We were able to laugh about it and slowly make our way home.

Back to my False Bay Crossing.  Lost in an unfamiliar ocean with conditions getting worse, it would have been natural to panic, but in those times you have to embrace fear for what it is and show courage! I made a decision to paddle to the nearest beach and make contact from there rather than risk a potential capsize, hypothermia and further fatigue while looking for the group out at sea. The others had made the same call and to their relief, we had all aimed for the same beach.

The lesson here is, we can prepare for dangers as best we can; we can make sure we have our accessories and procedures in place; but if things go wrong, we must embrace fear for what it is and not panic!