Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Flying Fish Test

I am blessed to have one the worlds most beautiful workplaces. I instruct sea kayakers in Sydney Harbour. My students learn to roll, brace, carve turns and paddle in sheltered bays bounded by parkland and native bush and all of this set against the backdrop of Sydney's skyline.

Then we take these skills to the open water of coastal Sydney. Leaving the Harbour and the bold sandstone cliff lines of North and South Head, we find ourselves in a far wilder and less controlled environment.

Exotic visitors and charming locals accompany us on our lessons. Humpback whales come and go on their seasonal migration, casting a watchful eye over our deepwater rescues. At times Dolphins ride our bow waves and Penguins fish along the rocks making a little barking noise that helps us spot them as they "fly" under our boats.

One of my favourites are the less obvious but abundant flying fish which seem to be startled and take to the air as we surf across their path riding the afternoon Sea breeze .

These less celebrated 'locals' play a special part in my training programs. For the last few years they have been a regular feature of my open water paddling around Sydney, but not for everyone.

Paddlers new to the open sea environment are often so focused on the waves that they paddle in their own 'zone'. Engaging with the waves is all consuming and leaves little space in their line of sight for the transient skimming flight of these elegant creatures.

I have given up trying to point them out. On a moderate day the flying fish are more easily stirred into flight but seldom seen by the new paddler who is totally engrossed in staying upright and on course.

Having the composure and balance to scan the broader horizon is the first step towards
spotting the flying fish as they glide back to the surface.

I always smile when I hear the exclamations that usually accompany successful completion of "the flying fish test."

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