Paddling on Calm Waters

Paddling on Calm Waters

Just south of Vancouver, the Deas Slough travels under highway ninety nine. Just as your eyes adjust to being in a tunnel, you resurface and for just a moment, you notice two marinas and a patch of flat calm water. The water’s surface reflects the passing cumulus clouds. You won’t hear the scream of an eagle. You will not see the wake of a swimming otter. That is why I now paddle here. It is a chance for me to follow a wobbling path into my own beliefs and to discover what may or may not be there.

When you think about it, standing up in a floating object is something we are taught not to do. “Don’t stand up in a canoe!” is what you were actually taught at camp. I even shared this nugget of wisdom with my own students when I was a canoe instructor. Put you body in a position of imbalance and you have to face the consequences. In fact, standing up when other are sitting down is also not condoned. Think of a restless student, glued to their seat, wishing only to get up and move around. When you think about it, there is something boldly contrary about defying a belief about something as unquestionable as gravity. You need a sense of trust to believe in your own self. So I mutter to my self “It is ok. The worst thing that is going to happen is that I will get wet”.  I also have to be honest with my own “self”. Sure, I may look stupid or even get some muck up my nose or in my ears but what is really driving the board, my trusting “self” or my own fears?

When I first arrived at the slough, all the rowers were already on the water. I was the only person on the shore and I had never taken “Clarity” out onto such calm water. Since early this spring, every voyage on any paddle has been a test of my sense of balance to responds to the action of the water beneath my board. At first, I made the mistake of tensing up my whole sense of awareness. I learned to adapt to the ripples by bending my knees and feeling where the weight was in my feet. The larger the wave, the lower to the board I got. I even dropped to the board on all fours to ride out a powerboat wake. After many times on the water, I actually lost control, fell into the water and almost drifted into a powerboat at the dock. Fear was running the show and my body was responding. I put my self into a situation where I was reacting to a tiger who was not even near me. My beliefs about that tiger was the tension that my body was feeling.

Gliding onto the calm slough surface, there is still the unmistakeable tension in my legs. I still judge how fast or slow it takes me to stand up. I still hesitate as I stand up and put the paddle into the water. Thankfully, I no longer spend that much time indulging in listening to my inner fearful voice . Now I sense pure and  simple sensory neuron messages to the ol cerebellum. Just stand up! To heck with the upper noggin getting into the game, it is all about balance. One more stroke and the grin begins to grow. I am feeling courage, not in my own inner monolog but with each muscle contraction in my arms. I bend over and attempt to pull harder. Then I have to be honest with my self. There is going to be lower back pain but I can overcome this. A quiet calming voice relays a private note to self , “there is no need to hurt your self”.

The calm surface of the water begins to create an integrated sensation of floating and movement between my body and the glassy surface of the water. Still the “tiger” may be lurking. So I still scan the surface for possible ripples. Is there a boat coming out of that marina? Is that jet ski going to slow down? The doubtful fearful voice just will not go away. There is still the tension in my twitching calf muscles and my feet feel like they are going numb. Instead of pretending that I am calm as the surrounding water, I begin to honestly accept the fact that my body is still feeling a contrary sensation.

A hawk hovers over a nearby fence. It too is defying gravity. Instead of soaring, it is frozen in space looking for it’s breakfast. For the first twenty or more strokes the slough is completely empty of any vessel. There is the distant roar of the highway over pass that is soon hushed by the trees thick with new leaves on the shore. There is a muted silences accept for the simple act of putting the paddle into the water.

Then it begins and some how my thoughts begin to wander. What is that branch over there? Why is there foam on the water? How deep is this murky brown solution? Why did I forget to bring my watch? One bad paddle entry and the hips do a yip and rule one kicks into play. Keep your paddle in the water. Sense the surface of the water with your feet. Feel the connection between you, the board and the water. This is when the actual act of honesty kicks in. You cannot lie to your self when you are in a state of imbalance or under the illusion of being balanced. It is no big stretch to understand why you are wearing a grin. You are opening up to your own renewing nature. You are taking ownership for your own paddling experience. There is no judge on the shore giving out points. There no one wondering who the grey haired dude is paddling on this quiet morning. It is time for the ol self to take a back seat and just listen to the slow ripple of a wake that follows the board.

So what do I learn while paddling. That is sometimes takes a type of courage to be honest with your own self. Even in the calm waters, you can fool your self into beliefs and fears that just are not there. Letting go of those beliefs, like the lack of wind on the waters surface, creates a calm.

So later this evening,  I read “honesty is a path that leads to happiness. Becoming honest is an act of self renewal”. I get that from paddling on the slough, my arms ache and the calves cramp up but I smile as I watch an elderly skipper varnish his Christa Craft. No wake here, just dealing with the responsibilities of owning a vessel.

Later, I am lucky enough to share a walk on car free Main Street in of Vancouver. I enjoy the sensation of sensing the wind as it causes nearby flags to flutter. I see the diversity of the passers by. I recall another quote from Living Deliberately, “ The result of living honestly is feeling and sharing-compassion and empathy! There is a joy in willingly integrating with the consciousness of others”. I do know that I fail in some of these attempts. Instead of pointless judgements, I say to my self “you are both innocent and responsible for your own actions”. Unlike being on “Clarity”, my consequence is not a splash into the water. I look into nearby eyes and wonder what they are seeing and thinking. Honestly, I try to find a way to glide over the fears of unknown consequences.

So each day, I attempt to take this nebulous understanding of peace back from the water I have traveled upon. I am sore and happily tired. Yes, my words sometimes blurt out of my mouth like a misplaced paddle stroke. I look into another person’s eyes and I lurch and feel a possible imbalance.  With the new technology, there is always a misunderstood text or an email that may be unanswered. I turn off the thoughts of fear and let the feeling of calm flow through. A friend’s quote rings true, “do not push the river”. I ride the sensation of waves of feelings and do not indulge in giving them a label. I know that I can muster up the responsibility and the courage. I can honestly say.” yup I did that because I was honestly afraid”. Even in the calmest of waters or oddest of situations, you have to have the courage to be honest enough with your own self and trust that self.

Keep the paddle in the water and keep moving even if the surface is glassy and flat. Beneath the surface are those hidden beliefs that you need to challenge and question. There is nothing to fear in these murky waters. We can let go of those fears and beliefs that may be shaping the actual floating experience above them. “Is there some dark corner in the human mind into which none dare to look? Some core assumption that none dare to utter?..” perhaps it is the actual attempt to seek out incontrovertible truths”…Yes..Jack…I can handle the truth! Hurrah!

Quotes from Living Deliberately by Harry Palmer

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“Clarity” and “all the best”.

Clarity and Ataboy Deep Com

Clarity and “all the best”

 My buddy Pete would tell you that if you got all the soccer and hockey Moms together and formed a military unit, it would be the most efficient and enthusiastic unit in the forces . Likewise, most of what I learned about being a single parent was from Mom’s on the sidelines as I coached their girls or boys. So my introduction to Deep Cove paddling was an inspirational voyage into how women actually get things done.

Now for those of you who do not know, “Clarity” is my new redpaddle company “explorer”. It is the inflatable board seen in the picture. I arrived at Deep cove just to check out the whole venue of what paddling was going to be like. In 20 minutes my board was ready to go. I named my board “Clarity” simply because I was offered some sage advice a week prior to getting to my new board. A wise doctor looked at me and said, “so do you want to see the world with joy and light or do you want to continue beating your self up?” When you think about it, iIt is a pretty simple question to answer. Then she said, “if you look at each day with clarity, your emotions will flow and your spirits will soar. If you contrast each observation with others, your emotions will get attached to past experience and you will sink into self-reflection. Let love and not fear, guide your through life”. Her advice seemed to make sense to me and it was a great name for a board!

From a paddle-boarding point of view, the trick is not to sink and to keep moving with each stroke. So I named my board “Clarity” and in true nautical fashion, my vessel is a “she”. I was inspired to paddle from a “she” and perhaps it is not a coincidence that I found my self being befriended by a dynamic bunch of women out of Deep cove to take “Clarity” on her first long paddle. Of course, I was not aware of the distance we were going to travel.

I was just sitting by the shore after about an hour of putzing around in the inner harbor of Deep cove. “Clarity” was happy bouncing about in the small waves created by the incoming tide and I was resting my legs. Suddenly, I noticed a proficient group of woman bringing boards down to the shore. This was a tight bunch of fit women. I noticed both the confidence and solidarity amongst them.

Deep Cove now has a dedicated group of 40 to 50 Women who meet on Thursday each week to foster a program that has been going for over five years called “women on the water”. Yet this was a sunny Monday and this smaller group where a social group that came out just to work out and to foster a growing SUP community.

I was contemplating going ashore but a open hearted face called out and said.”heh, do you want to come and paddle with us?”. It was like being invited to play on the winning team. Without any hesitation or wondering how far the paddle was going to be, I grinned and said “yes”. So what if I had already paddled for an hour, these women had opened the door and I was not going to shy away. Immediately, the whole flock befriended me. For the last hour, I had quietly traveled along the shoreline with a bunch of returning Canada geese and now I was in the middle of a great bunch of enthusiastic and spirited women.

I must confess, I am in awe of the Wicca ways and abilities of women who bond together with challenging activities like paddle boarding. I immediately felt at ease as I was invited into some great conversations. We had just paddled out of Deep cove when a fast moving object with a dynamic paddler in orange appeared. Ellen, a North shore dynamo who, helps with handicapped skiers, said.”you need to Cory, she is in charge here. She will tell you about paddling”. At that moment, Cory had rounded up the flock and was sending out suggestion in a clear and positive fashion.” Come on girls” She barked, “coming out here, I noticed that none of you are bending your hips and extending your arms. It is so easy, it is just like sex” . From the edge of the group, Christy, another grinning paddler said.”Heh Cory, we have mixed company!”. I laughed and said..”no worries ladies, I am a sailor” and with that, whatever ice that needed be broken was quickly melting with the fading afternoon sun.

This evenings objective was a not too distant Hamper Island. Ellen was filling me in on the history of the island and I was letting my hips bend and working on my stroke with a big grin. I noticed that everyone had a smile. It is hard to be taking in the natural beauty and calm of paddling without a beatific grin. Cory kept watch over the bunch of us with a patient and caring fashion. As a canoe guide, I had worked with talented and confident women like Cory. These were the bold prairie girls who migrated from Alberta to BC to share their love of being on the water. These were the fearless rough and ready women who broke into the once male dominated guiding crowd. Time slipped away and I was once again an “ace wilderness guide”. Just one stroke in, balance and glide. My own personal contrasting voice was now silent in my head and “Clarity” was busy keeping my thigh muscles contracting.

At the end of Hamber Island, the tide was running at a good clip and I got my first good taste of paddling through moving water. Christy, who had initially invited me to join the mob, said. you have to paddle through the waves and here I was attempting to surf an inbound current. Clarity bounced along like the happy goose. I had been following the rest of the ladies. I clenched my teeth and bent down and paddled a little less fearful of falling in. By the time we all paused, Nora, a true deep cove citizen was already jumping off her board and cooling off. Cory looked at me and said “so are you going in?” and so my own baptism commenced. My pfd was too loose but Nora cheered me on and said “leg up on the board, you can do it..”. Yes, I was now part of a “can do it” crowd. The sun was about to fade and soon a pod of paddlers set off to return to Deep Cove.

Two powerboats where busy burning fossil fuels and Cory got us all to wait prior to crossing back to the cove. Some one attempted to take a picture with her phone. it fell in the water and at first there was a moment of frustration, which soon vanished with amazing laughter. The paddling was working its magic. Everyone now had a grin and a strong fluid stroke. I was grinning about Cory’s drill sergeant advice and Christy was making fun of it.

The late evening sun was now turning the cove into a magical place. I could hear one of the woman say “heh you should paint this!”. Christy told me how paddle boarding had helped a friend of hers lose weight but habits had lured her back to ”a challenging weight”. “Look around you, North shore women are fit!”. What impressed me was their dynamic balance of physical fitness and mental fitness. Everyone was upbeat and positive. These are the women who provide the glue with organization and families. They work, parent and to calm the challenges of family life and to find some form of peace.. they paddle boarded. The woman who inspired me to paddle board is such a woman. She would definitely fit in with this bunch. As my flock mates came close to shore, Christy asked “so are you coming back next week?”. I grinned and said “yes” and before I knew it. Christy yelled over to Nora..”he is coming back next week!”. “Clarity” and I were now part of something bigger than our selves. In a manner what appeared to be seconds, these women had already packed up and were off to a fundraiser. I was just adjusting my limbs to a 5 k paddle and cleaning off and deflating “Clarity”.

There is an expression that some of these women use at the end of their emails and letters, it is “all the best”. This is how they work. They inspire everyone to bring out “all their best”. I salute you ladies for showing a solitary odd duck to bring out his own best. I definitely will return and I highly recommend others to follow. For other women, find out about the Women on the Water program. For other couples. let go of the self-books and get on the water. You will be thankful for it.

For more information contact

Deep Cove Canoe & Kayak Centre

Canoe & Kayak Rental Service

Address: 2156 Banbury Rd, North Vancouver, BC V7G 2T1

Phone:(604) 929-226

Sixteen Things Calvin and Hobbes Said Better Than Anyone Else

In no particular order, is a selection of quotes that nail everything from the meaning of life to special underwear. Enjoy.

On life’s constant little limitations

Calvin: You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don’t help.

On expectations

Calvin: Everybody seeks happiness! Not me, though! That’s the difference between me and the rest of the world. Happiness isn’t good enough for me! I demand euphoria!

On why we are scared of the dark

Calvin: I think night time is dark so you can imagine your fears with less distraction.

On the unspoken truth behind the education system

Calvin: As you can see, I have memorized this utterly useless piece of information long enough to pass a test question. I now intend to forget it forever. You’ve taught me nothing except how to cynically manipulate the system. Congratulations.

On the cruel reality of commercial art

Hobbes: Van Gogh would’ve sold more than one painting if he’d put tigers in them.

On the tragedy of hipsters

Calvin: The world bores you when you’re cool.

On the tears of a clown

Calvin: Isn’t it strange that evolution would give us a sense of humour? When you think about it, it’s weird that we have a physiological response to absurdity. We laugh at nonsense. We like it. We think it’s funny. Don’t you think it’s odd that we appreciate absurdity? Why would we develop that way? How does it benefit us?

Hobbes: I suppose if we couldn’t laugh at things that don’t make sense, we couldn’t react to a lot of life.

Calvin: (after a long pause) I can’t tell if that’s funny or really scary.

On the falling of sparrows (or providence’s lack of a timetable)

Calvin: Life is full of surprises, but never when you need one.

On why winter is the cruellest of seasons

Calvin: Getting an inch of snow is like winning 10 cents in the lottery.

On the gaping hole in contemporary art’s soul

Calvin: People always make the mistake of thinking art is created for them. But really, art is a private language for sophisticates to congratulate themselves on their superiority to the rest of the world. As my artist’s statement explains, my work is utterly incomprehensible and is therefore full of deep significance.

On playing Frankenstein with words

Calvin: Verbing weirds language.

On realising God is more Woody Allen than Michael Bay

Calvin: They say the world is a stage. But obviously the play is unrehearsed and everybody is ad-libbing his lines.

Hobbes: Maybe that’s why it’s hard to tell if we’re living in a tragedy or a farce.

Calvin: We need more special effects and dance numbers.

On why ET is real

Calvin: Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.

On looking yourself in the mirror

Hobbes: So the secret to good self-esteem is to lower your expectations to the point where they’re already met?

On the future

Calvin: Trick or treat!

Adult: Where’s your costume? What are you supposed to be?

Calvin: I’m yet another resource-consuming kid in an overpopulated planet, raised to an alarming extent by Madison Avenue and Hollywood, poised with my cynical and alienated peers to take over the world when you’re old and weak. Am I scary, or what?

On the truth

Calvin: It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy…Let’s go exploring!

Semper Gumby…stay flexible

Semper Gumby (Stay flexible)

What is the net affect of little lessons that we learn in life? How do a few words become the directional marks upon a moral compass? I am standing upon my new paddleboard and I am about to leave the safety of the harbour. I have paddled past the last bridge and the fuel station and now power boats are able to kick in the their engines and create wakes that will test my own balance.

It seems that every faith system has it’s own code or pillars of belief. It is common to hear ”well these are the four primary things to remember” or “one must abide by these three crucial rules”.

At a young and impressionable age, the words honour, courage and commitment got tossed my way. For me, the initial meaning of honour seemed to bring forth images of knights and their round table. It was an understanding of integrity that had to be a deep and personal understanding. Courage was that scene you saw in all the movies, where the brave Marine would sacrifice their own lives for the rest of the platoon. Commitment, well I always think of a quote Anson Dorrance wrote about Mia Hamm. “The vision of a champion is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion, when nobody else is looking.

I grew up with these ideas in my noggin. After a nearly fatal motorcycle accident, it appeared that I might never run or even walk again. I drew strength from these words.

Contrary  to some folks assumptions, I rose up the ranks within professional yachting to become a skipper and tactician. Later in life, I entered my own profession of teaching and became a master educator. Along the way, the way my ethos tempered. With time, my beliefs gave way to less hostile situations and I wondered if I could return the my youth and just “abide”. Could you take the code of the marines and fuse it with a Zen perception?

When you think of it, honour is to believe in something larger than your own self. It is letting go of the ego voice and letting the body and spirit combine to show a hidden voice. Likewise, courage is to have the strength to let go of those things that hold you back and to reach for a point of acceptance. Finally there is the whole set of challenges of commitment. What do you do when your faith fails you and your feet soar into the air after yet another hug wake?

My newfound love of paddle boarding has been inspired by a lovely lady’s love who went over the horizon. She left me with a path to follow, “Keep paddling”. So I took her advice to heart. I began redefining my own relationship with my own body. I lost thirty-five pounds prior to even stepping onto a board. I began to honour not only my own body but also my own emotions. It was ok to feel these waves and even attempt to overcome them. Instead of doubt, I started to listen to that inner voice that gave me courage. “You can do it”, said my inner child. You have the courage! The pain in my back became less, I accepted the challenges of paddling into the wind. Most of all, I let go of my own fears and felt the strength of love. I could hear her voice, “keep paddling” and I saw my own body overcoming something I had thought I could never do.

Slowly, I have started to define my own pillars of paddling. I wrote them down and played around with their order. Most of all, I decided that if I was going to make some changes that it started with me. For ten years, I had held my self back both with pain, excess weight and an inner voice that was not fuelled by spirit but by doubt. The first challenge was to focus on the present. The first step, the first stroke and yes even the first splash into the water, inspired me to create the F.I.R.S.T. Paddle boarding and life pneumonic.

So stay with me and let see how this flies.

You are placing your board in the water, the wind is slowly blowing through the rigging at the dock. You can hear the cry of gulls and you feel the warmth of the sun on your face. You attach you foot cord and prior to that first step onto the board, you let go of the inner voices and feel the present. Feel your pulse as you grip the paddle and feel you feet attempt to find balance.

Yes, you on the water and with imbalance you will get wet. You are mostly salt water any way and the wet suit and or extra gear and flotation device will keep you afloat. I…let go of the I and realize ..it is only water. So what if you fall in. So what if you make a fool of your self in front of a restaurant deck full of dining patrons. So you didn’t adapt quickly enough and the tenth harbour ferries wake caught you napping. It is only water.

There is the shudder, the forward and backward lurch and the grin as you taunt the gods and a newfound balance kicks in. Now is the time to breath. Inward, for five seconds, hold the breath and then let go. This too will pass. With each wobble is a moment in between when you can find balance. Remember to breath.

Spend too much time looking at your feet and you will not be able to find balance. Spend too much time in your own head and you lose sight of the horizon that is guiding you onward. See outside of the board. Prior to the wakes catching you off guard, watch for their patterns and adjust your course to go across the wake at an angle. Repeating back to feeling the moment, relaxing and repeating a quiet mantra, |..it is only water..remember..breath and the final but most important advice..

Keep your paddle tip in contact with the water. Keep moving. The greatest risk of imbalance is when you are not moving. Stay stagnant and there is no change. Change is always occurring though. How to deal with change? Put your self first. Honouring that self does not mean to boast or brag. It shows a sense of integrity to start from within and find that source to move with. Tip to water.

On the water, I find a sense of peace that sometimes eludes me on shore. I find that state of mind where I can heal and let go of the ruffles of the day. Now I look at my new board and smile, it is my own personal device to get “my Zen on”. I can go back in time and fuel that fire within and yelp like an innocent child. I can laugh and smile when inside, there may be emotions that attempt to create salty tears. It is only water.

It is one of four primal states of matter. My inner compass keeps guiding me back onto the water. Yes, I have now soared into the air due to another massive wake. Yes, I am griping my paddle both with rage and a clear understanding of how much I paid for the bloody thing. What on earth was I thinking! Yet the fire is within and with that fire, I climb onto my board. I breath in and pause. I look to see if there are any more boats and with a wobble and a grunt, I stand up and immediately put my paddle into the water. You come F.I.R.S.T. if you have the strength to honour what you body, mind and spirit can achieve. Yes, she is right…I must keep paddling.

1. F for find balance

2. I for I am not afraid..it is only water

3. R for remember to breath

4. S for see outside of the board

5. T for tip in the water..the paddle tip..not you!

Keep paddling!