Paddle Pulse: Welcome to the amazing world of sea kayaking

By Toby Story 30 May 2023
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Our regular paddle column is all about the art and sport of sea kayaking, brought to you by paddling pro Toby Story.

Paddling my kayak from Schouten Island back to mainland Tasmania, I found myself swallowed by the fog, driving rain splashing into the choppy Tasman Sea. But then, as if on cue, the fog lifted and about a hundred dolphins materialised around me, leaping and frolicking, some even jumping right across my bow. One moment I was gritting my teeth against the elements; the next, I was dumbstruck before a spectacular aquatic ballet. 

While that encounter stands out in my memory as one of those raw, intimate connections with nature that sea kayaking is so good at delivering, it’s really one of countless such moments I’ve experienced over the years, thanks to the sport. 

Paddling came into my life as a kid with a couple of old kayaks at home in Broke Inlet in southern Western Australia. Since then I’ve worked as a guide and am now the owner and Director of Southern Sea Ventures – a company that’s been introducing adventurers to sea kayaking in some of the world’s most stunning destinations for the past 30 years.

So, it’s fair to say I’ve had my share of exploits on the water with a paddle in hand, and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned with Aus Geo Adventure readers in this new web series – Paddle Pulse. Every six weeks, we’ll venture into topics like choosing the right paddle for your strength and build, understanding ocean currents for safe paddling, and insights from our expert guides on encountering marine wildlife from a respectful distance. Whether you’re an old hand at paddling, or completely new to the sport, I hope to deliver fresh insights and inspire your own adventures.

A sea kayak can provide you with a totally different perspective of the environment you are paddling in. Justin Walker

On the water for the best rewards

Of course, sea kayaking is so much more than a sport – it’s a way to get up close and personal with nature, to embrace the wild and the unpredictable, to venture into a new environment and experience the landscape from a perspective that really isn’t possible any other way.

Imagine sharing the water with a minke whale in the freezing waters of Antarctica, watching it circle your kayak and breaching the surface to say hello. Or feeling the pulse of the sea beneath you as a powerful orca swims by, inspecting you with an inquisitive glance. I’ve experienced these kinds of heart-stopping encounters and more on trips I’ve guided over the years – and can safely say there are few better ways to get that profound sense of being a part of something much larger than yourself.

The thrill of sea kayaking is not solely reserved for encounters with marine life. There’s such a rewarding sense of achievement that comes with mastering the strokes and harnessing your strength to manoeuvre your craft – whether you’re navigating through a calm bay, drifting inside an echoey sea cave, or taking on the thrill of riding a wave into shore.

And it’s not all smooth sailing: the ocean has a knack for springing surprises, especially if you’re inexperienced or unprepared. I learned this the hard way early on in my kayaking years, when an unexpected high tide at Cape Barren Island set my kayak adrift. That’s a story (and a lesson) that will no doubt turn up again in more detail in a future post – so stay tuned.

Until then, happy paddling!

Toby Story in his outdoor marine office. David Sinclair

Toby Story is Senior Guide and Director at Southern Sea Ventures, which offers guided kayaking adventures across the world, including in Tasmania, Fiji and the polar regions. Toby has more than 15 years’ experience as a sea kayaking expedition guide, as well as a Master’s degree in science.