Reflections on Bruny Island - our first ever Women's Paddling Getaway
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." - Mark Twain
From Friday 31st to Sunday 2nd we ran a Women’s Paddling Getaway on Bruny Island, teaming up with Roaring 40s Kayaking and Sandy Bay Massage & Beauty to take 17 female paddlers from TAS, VIC and NSW into the unknown. The trip involved a 3-4 month build up and a concerted effort to extend the format of the Paddling Getaways we introduced in 2017...this time we used both sea kayaks and ocean skis, we provided 3 coaches and a massage therapist, we explored on-water and off-water methods for paddling development, and we opened up the trip to interstate participants. We also decided to schedule the trip outside of the normal paddling “season”, celebrating the challenges and improvements that come with paddling all year round, and daring the weather to take us on (which it did). Last but not least we asked our participants to take either a full day or half day off work on Friday 31st, to take time for themselves (not conform to somebody else’s schedule and priorities) so they could start the Getaway as stress-free and prepared as possible. The scene was set for a terrific trip...
A few days out from the Getaway all our planning began to swing into action in earnest, with the inevitable last minute details combining with a less-than-favourable forecast and the many packing tasks to keep our small team quite busy. Day 1 dawned and everything went smoothly with airport pick-ups, a trip up to the Springs lookout on Mt Wellington showing our visiting paddlers a stunning vista from Bruny Island all the way up the Derwent River and as far east as the Tasman Peninsula...Storm Bay looking both ominous and promising as it so often does. Later that day our local paddlers arrived and after introductions and final packing we were off on our big adventure!
The morning rain had cleared and we had a decent weather window to arrive on Bruny in style...by paddling across the D’Entrecasteuax Channel to our island accommodation! We paired up in the kayaks and explored the Tinderbox cliffs, before committing to the crossing with the aid of a lively tailwind. This part of the Getaway was all about shaking off the travelling and working week cobwebs, meeting new friends, and in many cases being introduced to new craft. Tory expertly took us through the features and advantages of the sea kayaks and related equipment, encouraging us to appreciate our surroundings and work on our skills during this introductory paddle. It was an incredible way to arrive, right there on the beach in front of our 3 waterside cottages which would be our home for the next 2 nights. As most of our crew started to get warm and dry, Tory, Sandra & Ben paddled back across the channel to drive our 3 vehicles to the ferry terminal at Kettering, arriving just in time to catch the last ferry and cook up a delicious dinner for our hungry guests as they settled in! The menu involved many local delicacies including oysters, salmon and cheese, along with wines, beers and ciders. Sandra set up her massage station and we all began to relax and unwind after a busy day. After a debrief about the afternoon paddle, we started to chat about the weather forecast for the following day, and went through some likely options and contingencies before heading off to bed.
The coaching team were up at first light on day 2, and the westerly winds were on the rise. We knew there would only be a small window to squeeze in a morning paddle, if at all, so we took our IRB out to quickly scope potential routes. Thankfully the eastern side of the island was well protected, so after a quick breakfast this is where we went. This paddle involved about 2/3 of the group transitioning to ocean skis, with 1/3 of the group opting for the sea kayaks again. It was a major step for everyone just to be out there at all, as the wind was very cold at the start and end of the paddle, and the conditions promised to be volatile. For this paddle we took no chances, using the IRB as a roving safety station with Ben at the helm, Tory coaching from one of the sea kayak doubles, and Roz coaching from our new V8 Double ski. Using the IRB we were able to cover the range of craft speeds really well, occasionally zipping offshore to get a good view of the approaching westerly fronts coming up the channel. We were able to get much further down the eastern side than anticipated, before undertaking a few balance-challenging exercises and drinking in our surroundings, then turning to come back. This was a very mixed-conditions paddle with Tory and Roz calling the shots to ensure that everyone was thoroughly tested. Coming back into the channel the westerly had picked up a notch, and it was a difficult last few kilometres for many paddlers, who all did an amazing job to finish under their own steam. During this paddle we were able to see many paddlers grow into their craft and grow into their environment, looking more and more like confident paddlers.
After a relaxing lunch break we started to explore a lot of off-water methods to improve our paddling, both directly and indirectly. Sandra took us through the importance of massage, stretching and body maintenance to stay physically healthy and active, with many female-specific and paddling-specific angles being discussed. Roz took us through sleep and nutrition, profiling a typical week in her working and paddling life, and how she has learnt to manage a busy schedule, make time for family and friends, and all the while progress her paddling out of sight. Ben presented some ideas around managing mental and physical fatigue, relating that to exercise, training and general wellbeing, as well as discussing a few techniques to speed up familiarisation with new paddling environments, especially for travelling paddlers faced with new waterways for the first time. Of course all presenter's knowledge in their respective areas had come hard-won through trial and error and many mistakes along the way, so it was a very honest discussion with everyone very engaged in contributing what worked for them and sharing strategies as a group.
With the westerly winds now quite strong and the fronts of bad weather more regular, we set off to explore the island by non-paddling means. We travelled to the isthmus for a look at Adventure Bay, before bushwalking to Penguin Island via the bay's southern edge. Towards the end of the walk out we discovered an old whaling station, and clambered around the rocks to soak in the power of the water against the steep cliffs and coves of the coastline. Tory took us through some of the colonial, natural and indigenous history of the island and on the way back we saw not one, but two albino wallabies!
After settling back into our accommodation, enjoying a massage and another fine dinner, we discussed the final day of the trip. The winds were forecast to drop, the rain to clear, but the swell was going to double in size from an already impressive 2-3 metres to 5-6 metres! We decided that the theme for day 3 should be "confidence"...the confidence to take on the swells and cliffs in our double sea kayaks in the morning before transitioning to single skis for the afternoon. This schedule would push us to complete 4 paddles for the Getaway (instead of the 3 originally planned), covering a huge variety of paddling and really making the most of the conditions we had on offer. We slept like logs that night, knowing that a big day was ahead but also feeling tired from a combination of exercise, fresh air, good food and company. You just can't sleep deeply like this in “normal” life...it was sooo good!
Day 3 broke, we enjoyed a final breakfast spread and rolled out...destination Fluted Cape! We drove through showers (Ben had previously promised a day of no rain!) but things cleared up right on cue as we changed into our kayaking gear. Sandra, Tory and Ben took us through some stretching and relaxation routines on the beach, before we paddled through a small but challenging shorebreak and out towards the big blue. Before going too far we went through some turning and manoeuvring strokes and practiced not being over-reliant on our rudders, encouraging correction with the body and blade and being aware of our partner's paddling rhythm and paddle angle to help stay in time. As we progressed further afield we started to "play" with the water, running closer to the rock gardens than previous days, with the swell slowly building as we approached the Cape. Huge walls of water were running along the cliffs, just to our inside, as we got our first glimpses of the dolerite columns forming this incredible spectacle. As we approached the Cape we felt like ants below the towering spires, with the swell bobbing us up and down like corks. We took a moment to sit in silence and listen and look at everything around us. This was an incredibly challenging environment for many paddlers, who with eyes like saucers slowly accepted where they were and what they were doing...at the edge of the world paddling under massive cliffs in one of Tasmania's wild waterways. It was a very profound experience for us all as we headed a little further south before turning and surfing the lumps as best we could back to the bay, encountering point breaks of all sizes and some challenging headwinds and sidewinds on our way back to our starting point. Every paddler was absolutely dialled in by this point and the teamwork in the doubles was spot on. We finished the paddle with a final landing through the increasingly fickle shorebreak, showing just how far everyone had come with their sea kayak skills.
A short break for lunch coincided with a move further up the bay, towards even more challenging shorebreak. The sea kayaks went back on the trailer and the single skis came off. This was it...the final session of the Getaway! We spent some time reading the beach and looking for advantages...places and times where the energy abated and gave us opportunities. We stepped through some procedures for launchings and landings and started to put them into practice. We were absolutely stoked to see the girls charge out through the swell, in most cases taking on some pretty big white walls and succeeding! We then split into two groups, with one group working on technique and another group refining their shorebreak skills and building familiarity with the beach environment. We finished off with some quality "play" time in and out through the waves.
Suitably tired and happy, we packed everything up and talked about how far everyone had come over the Getaway trip. These women, aged in their early 40's to their late 50's, had taken on water that we hadn't yet introduced a lot of our male paddlers to. We highlighted teamwork and friendship as key advantages going forward, and resolved to keep using our resources and help each other out remotely and when travelling in each other's neighbourhood. We talked about how challenges and obstacles and barriers to development, when encountered, can be overcome...by taking time for yourself, trying new paddling disciplines, being consistent all year round with support and safety from paddling buddies, by exploring wild places where there is a lot of energy but also a deep peace to be found, regularly taking on mixed conditions and new paddling environments, and by taking the confidence developed during the Getaway to our future endeavours, both on and off the water.
It was time for a trip on the ferry back to the Tassie mainland and our final goodbyes, each of us changed in some way by the experience. Personally I felt incredibly proud of our Getaway paddlers, excited about their future, and stoked that our small team had put on such a nice trip for them. I reflected on how lucky I was to work with Roz, Tory and Sandra (as well as Sam back at home!), and how incredible they are at what they do. I also realised that we were able to evolve and add a new dimension to our coaching in 3-4 months...in many ways the Getaway themes applied just as much to me and NLK as they did to our participants. We really feel that this Getaway was a milestone for us and our women's programs, and hopefully a milestone for all our paddlers as well. I am more confident than ever that NLK has what it takes to make paddlesport a positive and rewarding experience for anyone, anywhere, at any time of year. And...that just feels so good it can't be put into words!
A huge thankyou to everyone who joined us for our very first Women's Paddling Getaway! Please stay in touch and I'm sure we'll see each other on the water again soon. Thanks again to Roaring 40's Kayaking and Sandy Bay Massage & Beauty for helping to make this weekend so special.
Keep exploring, dreaming and discovering!
All the best,
Ben, Roz, Tory & Sandra
(check out this link for more pictures from our trip)