Beginner's course in kayaking - an instructor's views

Nybörjarkurs i kajak – en instruktörs betraktelser

We can call him Olle. Around 60. He has never sat in a kayak. We stand in a circle on the lawn with our paddles and I'll try to explain how it's done. All the others have at least tried paddling sometime before. When Olle realizes that he is alone in never paddling, he looks a little ashamed.

I try to calm him down, saying: "That's why you're here."

This is a beginner's course in kayaking , intended for people like Olle. We're going to try it a little carefully, feel how it feels to sit in the kayak, slide along at a leisurely pace.

I'm talking about tipping over. I always do that with beginners, because I know it's the big fear when you start paddling. It is natural. I explain that if people fall over, it's usually when you're getting in or out of the kayak. That once you sit down, most people are quite safe.

I will also say, quite truthfully, that after all these years I still put my hand on the dock when I sat in a kayak I've never tried before, and gently lean against the dock to see how much I can lean without tipping over. To get a feel for where the limit is. And that when my students do the same thing, they soon notice that they can lean quite a lot.

It's a good evening. No sun, of course, but no boat traffic either and the lake is mirror-like. We slide along the beach, the greenery hangs out over the water and alcoholic beverages bob on the surface. I cautiously glance back at Olle, wanting to see how he is doing. Yes, he keeps up, although of course it doesn't go very fast.

I paddle to catch up with the fastest and ask them to wait a bit so that the group gathers. Turns my own kayak so I can see everyone in the group. Asks if everyone is sitting well.

I point out my favorite bathing rock. Tells that my sister lives at Stora Essingen and that I sometimes paddle there and invite myself to dinner. I show a simple steering wheel. Drink some water. Everything really mostly so that everyone gets a little break.

When we continue, I paddle closer to Olle and ask how he thinks things are going.

"Yes, it feels good. You have a good attitude here”.

I'm happy when he says that. He actually says it several times during our short little trip.

A good attitude.

And thinking that's the way it should be, although I don't know exactly what he means. Maybe he means the person he spoke to on the phone when he called and booked. Was it Malin? Maybe the girls and guys who work on the dock and help the participants get in and out of the kayak and adjust their footrests? Or myself when I had a briefing on land? I do not know. Maybe he means all of us.

In the past, I often ended the tour by doing a roll, i.e. what used to be called an Eskimo turn. Turn the kayak over and get up on the other side, without leaving the cockpit. If I'm honest, it was probably mostly to do some advertising for our acting courses.

But I've pretty much given up on that. I don't want the participants to be impressed by me, but by the sport of canoeing. Also: if I ever receive complimentary comments (well, it actually happens!) I always feel a certain discomfort.

Is it the jante law? My small town background? "Do not brag!"

I do not know. But praise often makes me uncomfortable.

I practice rollerblading in the pool during the winter, together with really good paddlers. Some belong to what must be considered Sweden's elite.

And don't get me wrong, they are nice people. And I learn a lot from paddlers who are better than I am.

But still, there's no escaping it. It's the beginners that make me love this job!

I actually don't know why. Maybe it's the joy I see in people's eyes when they discover the magic of gliding soundlessly across a still water surface. When I managed to make an anxious participant feel calm on the water. When someone suddenly understands how to steer with a paddle, without a rudder. Or just discover that Stockholm becomes a new fantastic city that looks completely different from the lake.

You will be too impressed by Stockholm to paddle in Lake Mälaren. If you didn't realize it before, you do now. Our capital is incomparably beautiful!

It won't matter today either. That said, it's the kayaking experience that should be highlighted, not the leader. I have no idea if Olle was impressed by me. I don't even know if he thought I was a particularly good paddler. Because that's not what he said. He just said:

"You have a good attitude."

Thanks Olle, for saying that.