Mauritius as an Amateur
By: Roz Barber
In December 2013 I very excitedly picked up my brand new surfski, had a lesson, and was very quickly hooked!! I couldn’t tell you when I transitioned from a casual, once per week paddler, to now being what I am told, is an ‘amateur athlete’. Or when my desire to ride horses, ride bikes or run countless kilometres in the bush changed and became a one eyed obsession with being on the water. But what I can say is that it led me to commit to a trip to Mauritius for a week of paddling, that I believe has made me grow as a paddler, an athlete and a person.
I flew to Mauritius with the knowledge that my two coaches (one for paddling and the other for strength and conditioning) had helped me to be as physically fit as I could be. I drew more confidence for this trip as three of my friends who had done the training with me were also going to be there. Everything from my departure from Hobart to arriving in Mauritius, through to registration and boat allocation morning was exciting and at the same time quite benign and surreal – very cruisey really, topped off with being allocated a very stable ski….phew!!
The first paddle happened and I was relieved that all paddlers were kept inside the reef, as the swell was so big that all the passes were closing out. To say I felt intimidated by what I saw would be a massive understatement! Another ‘Phew!’ that we weren’t tackling that, as I was feeling super jetlagged (a totally new experience for me), and unfortunately as soon as I got on the water I realised that although the footplate was a good length for my very short legs, the hump in the ski was so large that it was making it impossible for me to have any rotation or leg drive - for those who don’t paddle this is a sport that involves the whole body with the arms being an essential yet small component of each stroke.
A cruise from Tamassa Resort to Le Morne was relaxed and enjoyable, following the lead boat and paddlers navigating the reef and enjoying the warm water and kind sunshine. I went to bed with a good feeling for the possibility of paddling outside the reef the next morning. The next two days were, for me, a totally unexpected mix of expectations that were not fulfilled and an overwhelming feeling of letting down those that had helped me so much, my friends and myself. I learnt in those days how much trusting your coach is essential, combined with how important it is for us as ‘the athlete’ to be completely open and honest with them so they can help.
My fear of heading outside the reef was totally irrational…..irrational but also immobilising – occasionally some emotions hit me that I cannot override, this was one of the occasions. To paddle outside a reef that only offers 3 opportunities to get back to shore over an 18 km distance is very committing, combine that with the fact that my back was a little sore after an easy paddle the day before, and there are two reasons for my irrational response. I paddled again on the inside of the reef.
Day three dawned and my back requested pain killers. My concern for the days paddle was clearly obvious as one of the organisers suggested I stay inside the reef – option removed and I was mortified as I headed toward Le Morne on the inside of the reef again – very teary. On this day though, the ‘silver lining’ that I like to find in all tough situations, lined the dark clouds with a lot of sparkle. A paddler who was clearly struggling in her ski was happy at my suggestion that we swap boats. I did not require a super stable ski If I was to be staying inside the reef and I happened to be paddling the same boat that she owned. We both finished the day with big smiles! Smiling, but still emotional, my coach (back in Tassie) and my friends did their best to console me through my realisation that I wasn’t going to achieve what I had gone to do, paddle in big ocean swells, outside the reef.
Day four was a fun day with a team relay race, at this point my spirits had risen and I was enjoying the new ski I had. The race proved to be the opportunity I needed to remind myself that I could paddle! I got off the water on a massive high, slapped myself around the cheeks and firmly pulled myself out of the hole I’d dropped into, reminded myself of where I was and proceeded to follow my coaches suggestion and created myself an opportunity.
If you don’t ask a question the answer will always be ‘no’, ask and it just may be a ‘yes’. I plucked up the courage to ask one of the organisers, who also happens to be one of the worlds top ocean paddlers, if he may know of someone who could take me outside the reef on a double ski.
On the last day before race day I was taken outside the reef, sitting in the back of a double ski, to enjoy one of my top paddling experiences ever! The swell was the biggest I’d ever been in, 2.5 meters +, the wind was a fun 15 knots – nothing scary at all, just 100% pure FUN!! The opportunity to paddle in these conditions with another of the world’s leading paddlers was phenomenal, and an opportunity that is a rare treat and that also taught me so much. After this experience it no longer concerned me that I wasn’t racing the Mauritius Ocean Classic. The next day I was going to do the ‘Insider’ race with the knowledge that I had done what I had originally, all those months earlier, determined would be my 'Icing on the Cake' – I got to paddle outside the reef.
The Insider race was fun, I had a fun ski to race on, had a good positive mindset, paddled hard and was 4th overall and 2nd placed female….I was very happy. It will be hard for some to understand that although I raced well, that was not the highlight of the week for me. The highlight for me was the 20km I shared a double ski with an elite paddler who wanted to help an amateur paddler.
Some things I learnt:
- Don’t let your expectations allow you to lose sight of all that is good and going well.
- Don’t forget that I am doing this for fun. I have never considered myself an athlete but have learnt that if you follow a training programme with consistency and dedication around your full time work, and have a target race that you are aiming for, you are probably considered an athlete! You don’t have to be elite to be an athlete.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions and accept help if it is offered.
- I need to remember I only started this sport less than 4 years ago, so am actually going quite well, lots of room to improve but improving all the time.
- I have been lucky enough to have found a wonderful coach and am surrounded by positive and energetic people.
- It’s not always about the racing – it’s the journey that gets you to the race that provides all the learning, challenges and fun.
Whether your dreams involve spending quiet time in the wonderful wilderness that Australia has to offer, you’re taking up a new sport or want to learn to play an instrument, I absolutely say take the first cautious, nervous step and give it a go – better to give something a go and risk not liking it, than spending forever wishing you had!
My Favourite kit that went with me:
- Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 45 L
- Sea To Summit travel pillow
- Salomon Speed Soft Bottle and Straw
- Patagonia Rash Vest
- La Sportiva Helios Shoes
- Arcteryx Lyra Skort
- Patagonia Henley Tank