Sommarøy, (literally Summer Island) about an hour outside Tromsø, is famous for its long, white coral beaches, its lagoons where the water takes on the most psychedelic of colours, and for its hotel consisting of luxury cabins on the beach. For kayakers Sommarøy is also known as Paradise, and home to Arctic Women’s Playground, an all female kayak gathering where I have had the honour of coaching workshops the past two years. I was quick to suggest we could rent a cabin in Sommarøy for an extended instructors course, as I knew the area well. However, I had never before visited this island in winter, and this weekend we were in for a gale. Perfect!
We started the course on Friday night, and as usual we got the biggest and loveliest of the cabins, and as always in Sommarøy, I got a bed with a view and fresh prawns with lemon and mayo on toast for supper. Over supper we discussed the different roles the kayak coach must take on, coaching versus instructing, regulations, and safety issues. Coaching in the arctic means you have no leeway what so ever, the water temperature barely rises above freezing in mid summer, it’s dark half of the year and in exposed areas you get sudden gales and katabatic winds. The people living in these conditions are by nature strong-willed, good-humoured, often very competent and somewhat prone to anarchy, making for interesting group dynamics, so to ensure the safe return of all the participants, the arctic demands strong and qualified leadership on the water.
As we were setting out on Saturday morning, the clouds were rolling in, and there were already whitecaps beyond the sheltered beach. The temperature was sinking fast, and we were in for a long, cold, very windy and very rainy day.
We were headed for the western side of Hillesøy, where the open ocean is funneled through narrow passages, creating perfect playgrounds easily reached from the sheltered sandy lagoons. To get there, however, we had to fight a gale and the tide, in other words; the perfect environment for leadership training.
I was very happy to have local instructor Ingrid Berthiniussen come on board as my assistant, as I knew she would perform the tasks of paparazzi, patient, stand-up comedienne, scout, guide and advisor without missing a beat. Ingrid is a great coach, and her sunny personality brightens even the grimmest day.
We spent most of the day around Hemmeligstranda (The secret beach) practicing rescues, landings, towing and rescuing an unconscious kayaker hanging under his kayak, and what these participants might lack in technique, they made up for in determination and attitude. These guys were all hard work and smiles, despite the very demanding conditions.
After six hours on and in the water, the wind picked up as predicted, so we just put ourselves in its way, and let it surf us back to the cabin for a hot shower, a bacalao dinner, discussions on today’s tasks, and more tasks for tomorrow.
For Sunday the participants had to plan an entire beginners course, and perform it in a condensed version before lunch while we waited for the gale to calm down just a little.
Then it was time for final exams, which consisted in rescues, self rescues and cases involving towing, leadership and communication.