Monday, August 18, 2014

Sea kayaking with Gordon Brown...three amazing days!

Gordon, ensuring everything is in place for the day's training.
It was, indeed, an amazing three days…with a dramatic beginning.

Our eclectic and friendly group of six met at the Skyak Adventures base of operations, on the breathtaking Isle of Skye. We were two Swedish photographers, a Danish-Scottish sculptor, an Australian educator, and two Canadians living in Scotland, a social worker and a parish minister. After a warm welcome, introductions, coffee, and a most enjoyable and comprehensive briefing by our coach and mentor, Gordon Brown, we were ready to launch. It was clearly the perfect day to "learn" - the skies were dark, overcast, and glowering. Rain was falling from every direction, the driven pellets of water bouncing off our dry suits. The remnants of Hurricane Bertha, wagging its tail end furiously, was here to play!

Today, the winds were dutifully obedient to the forecast Force 5 to the upper end of Force 6 - it was, after all, the tail end of Hurricane Bertha. Right, I already mentioned that. :) Little did we know, as we took the first paddle strokes away from the shore, roads were being washed away and landscapes changed in many areas of northern Scotland. As if to kick up the delicious drama that was forming in my imagination another notch or two, under the Skye Bridge, the incoming winds angrily confronted the outgoing tide. The result: a rather "iffy" alarming tidal race - with huge rolling and breaking waves. The thought, admittedly, passed through my mind that now might be the perfect time to return to the Skyak base - for more coffee. Needless to say, we stayed...and the camera stayed stowed!

En route to a more sheltered spot, for some further instruction, before entering the “fray”, I found myself paddling along and chatting amiably with our instructor. Suddenly, the realisation hit me: I was sea kayaking with Gordon Brown! Mentally pinching myself, to ensure this was all real, every anxiety about what was to come, real and imagined, melted completely away. :) The adventure had begun. For the next few days, we would be privileged to be in the company of, and instructed by, one of the most renowned and respected ocean-going paddlers on the planet.

Kevin, assisting Gordon, entering a tide race. 
near the Gleneig and Kylerhea ferry.
And learn we did. The finest teachers, instructors, and coaches in the world value and affirm their students. They help them to believe that everything is possible, albeit with the requisite desire, discipline, and practice. Gordon is one such teacher. Applying a lifetime of gathered skills and experiences in a diversity of places and situations, he nourished us with his every word, lesson, and story. He listens very carefully and patiently to every question and query, and reflects back his observations with clarity and superb humour. His absolute passion for sea kayaking, and a myriad of related subjects, is more than tangible. Gordon's enthusiasm is contagious and we all became "believers" - in the ways that we could continue to grow and develop as sea kayakers.

Feeling that we'd reached a bit of an impenetrable "plateau" in our own paddling, the two of us quickly realised that we had put limits on ourselves. Gordon moved us all from a comfort zone into the "adventure zone". That, of course, expands the comfort zone and opens up so many more possibilities and opportunities on the water. Following his guidance and example, the new comfort zone expands and reveals further entry points into new adventures. When any one of the six of us, on occasion, began to push through into the "mis-adventure" zone (usually ending up outside of the kayaks and in flowing water), he and Kevin instantly (somehow!) appeared by our sides - with a helpful debrief and lots of encouraging words. :)

On-water briefing.
The three days were full - in the "classroom", but mostly on the water. We "caught" waves and enjoyed the exhilaration of surfing them, albeit a bit conservatively on my part. We guided one another on a slalom course around the huge bridge supports in the moving current - with eyes closed! We practised forward strokes that became more efficient and powerful, skulling, and the bow and stern rudder turns that will assist in rock-hopping. Gordon demonstrated and taught a series of balance exercises - including standing up in the cockpit! We practised self and assisted-rescue skills (in flowing water), and techniques to enter and exit the tidal races. 

All too soon, the three days were over...but there was a sense of exhilaration and accomplishment. 

Lunch break with Gordon and Kevin, (Joan behind the camera) 
Gordon and Morag Brown are a superb team. Morag, is also a highly skilled paddler, and practised as a GP with special training in sports, expedition, and high altitude medicine  - and she's climbed every one of the 282 Scottish Munros! (Having "bagged" a grand total of five, we find that pretty impressive!)

Thank you Gordon and Morag - you've inspired and enthused, and given us all a taste of what's possible when we push through the comfort zone. 

* Also extremely helpful for those who may not be able to get to Skye or Gordon's coaching sessions: the DVD series by Simon Willis and Gordon Brown, Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown and Gordon's book, Sea Kayak: A Manual for Intermediate and Advanced Sea Kayakers.


  1. Fantastic!Upside down and out of your boat provides a great place to learn from. Conservatively surfing....there is no such thing mate! Well done!

    1. Haha! Thanks for that, Lee. Somehow, someday, we're going to have to find a way to get out paddling together - there will be a lot of good stories to share! Cheers. Duncan.

  2. Hi D & J, great to hear that the course was all that you hoped it would be! You'll find that Gordon's coaching keeps on giving too, especially when you get into the "elastic" zone above comfort :o)

    Best wishes

    1. Hi Ian, good to hear from you. We are so appreciative that you suggested we check out Gordon's courses and Skyak! Now for some practice before getting out again together. :) Take good care and warm wishes from us both. Duncan.