Today I kayaked - first time ever - in Falmouth, in a hired kayak, for one hour.
Bobbing up and down on an undulating millpond on a perfect day. And experimenting with the arc of the paddle, the request of the same to the water in order to move me forwards over the surface. And suddenly, there I was - recognising the view of the beach from 50 yards out - back in the Isle of Wight in Augusts of long ago when each summer was spent rowing, rowing, and more rowing in my little pram dinghy, ‘Thumbelina’. Yellow she was, with a little red hexagon on each side. I would get lost in endless experimentation and practice, culminating in two or three silver trophies in the town regatta races at the end of August.
Kayaking today I was reminded both of these happy times and the weekend I ‘learned to play’ in February 2015. I was drawn to Franki Anderson’s The Art of Play workshop in Cornwall through having been an only child, because I felt I had never really played and now I wanted to know how.... At one point a basket of small toys appeared and we were to each take two back to our rug and play with them. I looked at my Dinky car and small doll and went blank. Sneaking a respectful glance at the others - feeling every inch the ‘cheat’ in a school exam! - I could see them making up stories with their toys, some even directing whispered conversations within their plays... I tried, but it felt alien to me. What did I do when young then? Muscle memory had me remember very quickly; I used the toys as targets for improving my skill at throwing; into the toy basket they would go, my stepping back ever further each time to see how far I could be away from the basket and yet still get them in... Clearly sports skills meant way more to me than a doll and a car having a conversation about where to go on a picnic…!
Today my play was to try many different ways of using my paddle - quickly connecting with the fact that pulling the blade towards me through the water created a tightening in my elbow, but pushing the vertical paddle rod away from me with one arm as the opposite blade was in the water had an opening, freeing sense and was stronger, yet with considerably less work. How smoothly could I do this? How fast to go fast? How slowly to go fast? How deep to go for best use of the paddle blade? Where best to place my sitting bones in the seat?… On and on, back and forth, 50 yards off the beach, just like in the Isle of Wight over 40 years ago….
How appropriate are Alexander’s discoveries to me, based as they are on experimentation and curiosity around ease of effective movement!! No wonder I leapt at them when I first heard about them 35 years ago! A whole world, a whole way of working, even a whole career of ‘experimentation in the smoothest and most effective way to excel in an activity’! Play? This is play to me!!
And so I played in my kayak today - 60 minutes of play - and it was wonderful! And yes, I did go really fast sometimes when I wanted to play at fast. Other times I played at just bobbing up and down and enjoying how my body responded differently to the waves coming side-on, or fore-aft: how my body can be free to move under my head as well as my head free to move above my body. And how my whole arm structure was compromised into being stiff if I lay back into the little seat as I paddled. And how my arms disappeared into being part of all of me as my whole body became involved in creating a sweeping circle at the tip of each blade; water droplets sparkling in the sunshine as they flew from their edges…
It was a fine, fine hour, definitely to be repeated another day!