Open Water Kayaking (Bucket List #128)

Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand • January 2017 • Length of Read: 3 Minutes

With a half-day to spare in the Abel Tasman National Park before getting a bus to Westport, a small surfing town on New Zealand’s prominent headland of Cape Foulwind, Jake, David, Gadams, and I found ourselves signing up for a three-hour open water kayaking course. Incidentally, this headland is said to have received its unusual name from a historic joke that it is the closest point in New Zealand to Australia and that the horrible scent of the Aussies can be picked up in the breeze.

After one-and-a-half hours of useless tuition, where we were told how to hold a paddle and apply sunscreen so that we didn’t get burnt, we eventually pushed our two-man kayaks into the ocean. Gadams and I were sharing one, he operating the rudder at the back and I steering with my paddle at the front. Jake and David followed in hot pursuit in the yellow plastic vessel of their own. Our instructor, and lead guide, was a strange woman called Lisa who seemed to take a shining to Gadams’ Scottish accent and perpetual profanities. Struggling to navigate our kayak for the first ten minutes, and falling behind everyone else despite hitting a good tempo and rhythm with our paddling, she cruised back to explain that our rudder had been out of the sea the entire time. The expression ‘fish out of water’ has rarely been so apt.

Dropping it, we raced to catch up with the pack, Lisa asking us all sorts of question about Scotland that I had no answers for. When someone asks you about your home country, you feel that you should be able to educate them with a flourishing response. Scottish history is so rich, however, that even scratching the surface can exhaust your brain cells. I apologetically nodded to her and then fluffed a few responses that wouldn’t have stood up long if put under police interrogation.

We all paused at a geographical feature called Split Apple Rock for photographs, binding the kayaks together so that everyone could hear our instructor explain how this wonder of nature came about. It was a big spherical rock rising up above the ocean which had been perfectly sheared into two pieces, remaining faintly connected at the base. It looked like a Pac-man facing skywards, or a split apple in that regards. I imagine that’s how it got its name, anyway. It was pretty cool, but at the end of the day, it was just a rock that had been a victim of thermal expansion, like every rock before it and every rock since.

“How do you guys all know each other?” asked Lisa as we continued cruising on up the coast. She was intrigued as to how David, Gadams, Jake and I were so friendly.

“We’re all members of the International Dutch Rudder Society,” replied David in deadpan sarcasm, referring to the act of men holding their own penises whilst another man moves their arm up and down. This means they are both wanking themselves off, whilst not actually wanking themselves off, at the same time. I.e. No Homo.

“Ah really? What does that involve,” she said, clearly having not understood the meaning behind David’s joke. We burst out laughing in response whilst we continued to paddle further and further, getting frustrated at the lack of structure to the tour and the inability of some other kayaks operators to follow instructions.

“Come on you pricks,” screamed Gadams out loud, his voice a caustic foghorn out at sea.

“Calm down bro,” I said, bursting into hysterics. “There are small children in our floating party.”

We rounded a final bend in the coastline and the beach which our hostel was situated on eventually came back into view. Pulling the kayaks up the sand and loading them onto the back of a waiting mini-van, we were delighted to finally squeeze out of our life vests. Open water kayaking had been a bucket list item which was now crossed off, but I wouldn’t be back in a haste for a second paddle. That’s what a bucket list is, though. A list of things that you want to experience in your life before passing on regardless of how awesome they actually are. In life, I suppose, we really only regret the things we don’t do and the opportunities that we don’t take.