Put Yourself in the Picture! – The Armchair Sea Kayaker

by Nancy Soares on June 9, 2014

Editor’s note: This is one of the topics Eric had lined up for 2012. Some of the featured pictures he picked out himself and he specifically suggested that you “Put YOURSELF in the picture”.

Seals on the Rocks - Farallon Islands by Albert Bierstadt

“Seals on the Rocks – Farallon Islands” by Albert Bierstadt

I can’t look at a painting of a seascape without evaluating it in terms of my kayak. Could I survive in that sea? Could I stay upright? –  Audrey Sutherland, “Paddling North”

Bond went down among the trees and gazed and gazed at the waters of the bay, guessing at depths, tracing routes through the broken reef, and estimating the path of the moon which would be his only point of reckoning on the tortuous journey. – Ian Fleming, “Live and Let Die”

Thunder Cove - estimate your path through this rock garden

Thunder Cove – estimate your path through this rock garden

In his video “Kayaking Ocean Rock Gardens” Eric gestures to the surf behind him and says “Put yourself  in the picture!” a thing he often said when looking at the ocean. In fact, one of Eric’s practices was to look at a coastal scene and visualize where he’d go and what he’d do if he were kayaking in that locale whether he actually planned to go there or not. It’s a practice similar to scouting; but bare bones scouting is pretty much just observing conditions and rating them. Putting yourself in the picture happens on a deeper level. Putting yourself in the picture requires a good imagination.

Big Sur. Would you surf this wave?

Big Sur. Would you surf this wave?

In June 2012 on my pilgrimage down the Northern California coast I experimented with putting myself in the picture. I stood on the bluffs and looked out to sea with the eyes of a kayaker and saw an amazing playground. Forget Disneyland and Six Flags! Conventional amusement park rides are repetitive: the same loops over and over. But you can go to the same beach, cave or rock garden again and again and it will always be different. No two days are ever alike. In fact, in an active rock garden no two moments are alike, and no two waves are alike, ever.

Kayaking Maverick's - no two waves are ever alike...

Kayaking Maverick’s – no two waves are ever alike…

But we can’t always stand on the bluffs and gaze at the sea. For example, I don’t live across the road from Maverick’s and Pillar Point any more. Now I’m two hours from the coast. Still, looking at pictures of the ocean I can “put myself in the picture” and kayak in my imagination. Like Audrey Sutherland, I imagine where I’d go and what I’d do. One of the plusses of this exercise is that when you actually go kayaking you can get more out of the experience.

The ocean is calling. Where would you go?

The ocean is calling. Where would you go?

Putting yourself in the picture is similar to the visualization techniques used by professional athletes. The difference is that athletes visualize the same movement over and over: the golf swing, the gymnastic dismount, the perfect judo throw. Because extreme kayaking is so dynamic, visualization is necessarily more complex. We look at a picture and ask: is that a suckhole starting to manifest? What would I do if I were positioned behind that rock and a really big wave came through? What’s my escape route? And so forth.

Let’s put this theory into practice. Look at the picture below:

Clapotis! Pictured: Andy Taylor

Clapotis! Pictured: Andy Taylor of Force Ten

What would you do in the photo if you were where Andy is in this scene? Where would you want to go? Use your mind to visualize how you’d handle the situation. This practice is helpful and can be a lot of fun. Another thing: sometimes we need a little prodding to get off our butts and out the door. When we appreciate coastal nature by putting ourselves in the picture through the use of imagination we can find something to do anywhere on any day.

There are calm days:

Rangers on retreat

Rangers on retreat

There are stormy days:

Rangers in storm seas

Rangers in storm seas

There are halcyon days:

TR Capt. Kakuk in Baja on a halcyon day

TR Capt. Kakuk in Baja on a halcyon day

There are mystical days:

Sonoma Coast

Sonoma Coast

There are fabulous sunsets:

S. Oregon coast. PIctured: TR Dennis Kuhr

S. Oregon coast. Pictured: TR Dennis Kuhr

There are cool campsites:

Trilogy Camp

Trilogy Camp

There are big action days:

TR Misha Dynnikov at LaPush

TR Misha Dynnikov at LaPush

There are mellow evenings:

Salvador Cove

Salvador Cove

Sometimes after visualizing for a bit we might decide we don’t want to be in the picture and would rather go for a hike instead. Looking at the water from beaches and bluffs can be just as much fun as being on the water. But whether on the water, down on the beach, up on the bluffs, or sitting at home surfing the Internet for cool photos, the coast is beautiful. So put yourself in the picture!

Another beautiful Bierstadt

Another beautiful Bierstadt

How do you appreciate coastal nature? Tell us by clicking below!

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Carl White June 9, 2014 at 6:58 am

Nancy, a wonderful, evocative post. Back in 1989, I wrote in ANorAK of an autumn day’s outing on New York’s Tappan Zee. I titled it Putting Yourself in the Picture, because I happened to stop for lunch near the place on Croton Point Park where the 19th century Luminist artist Sanford Robinson Gifford painted “Hook Mountain, near Nyack, on the Hudson”, a stunning view across the Tappan Zee during exactly the same conditions of sun and weather and fall foliage color. I remember sitting down to eat my sandwich, then being overwhelmed by the beauty–and then the strange familiarity–of the scene before me: I had seen this before, somewhere, somehow. When I got home, I immediately turned to one of my several books of 19th century American landscape artists, and quickly found the picture.

Here in the Northeast, we are fortunate to live in the epicenter of that amazing landscape/waterscape painting tradition sometimes referred to as the Hudson River School–and its culmination in the phenomenon known as Luminism. the four classic Luminist painters were Sanford Gifford, Fitz Hugh Lane, John F. Kensett, and Martin Johnson Heade. Heade was born in Lumberville PA, on the Delaware River only a few miles from my house–a commemorative plaque along Rt. 32 marks the spot. I’ve been lucky enough to have kayaked in several Luminist landscapes–off John F. Kensett’s Fish Island on Long Island Sound and on New Jersey’s Shrewsbury River, which Kensett painted at least 4 times from the exact same site, each time subtly changing the tonal color of the water and sky; also at several places on Gifford’s tidal Hudson. East Coast kayakers, from New Jersey north to Maine thus have the chance to literally put themselves into the picture, in maritime environments that make you want to leap into your cockpit when you see these remarkable paintings.

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Nancy Soares June 9, 2014 at 6:34 pm

Glad you enjoyed the post, Carl. It was a lot of fun to go through the photos and choose the ones to put in. Thanks so much for your comment and the great story about your experience on the Tappan Zee. I have heard of the Hudson River school but don’t know much about it. Now I know more. I love the idea of literally putting yourself in the picture as in the case of a famous painting. Interestingly, there is an annual exhibit at the De Young museum in SF that displays formal flower arrangements and bouquets inspired by the still-life paintings in the museum. I’ve never been but I’ve seen photos of the event. It was amazing. I guess that’s a similar concept. It would be fun if someone collected paintings of the West Coast and went around putting themselves in those pictures. In the case of our featured paintings, I don’t think you can actually kayak at the Farallones, and I wouldn’t anyway, but the second Bierstadt looks rather nice. In fact, it looks like the S. Oregon coast, which is I’m sure why Eric picked it. Any one up for an experiment?

Thanks again for your great comment, Carl. It’s always interesting to hear from you.

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Jim Mullen April 11, 2016 at 7:10 pm

Hi Carl,

Thanks for your comments. I am heading down to NJ this weekend to look for that location that Kensett worked from, but I will not have a boat. Can you advise me of a location from where I can shoot some photos?

Thanks!
Jim

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PeterD June 9, 2014 at 8:57 pm

Visited Neptune’s Castle last weekend with my girlfriend (went through the arch, but didn’t climb to the top). While down in the area, we stopped at various galleries and saw a picture that really impressed on me what you/Eric said about no two days ever being alike. We took a side trip and paddled into the cove with McWay Falls without any concern. But this photo showed what it could be like on a different condition day.

How it normally looks: http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/01/7c/15/9f/mc-way-falls.jpg

The picture that impressed me: http://cdn.c.photoshelter.com/img-get/I0000zsfwRi7Zhns/s/750/750/ERP137599b.jpg

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Nancy Soares June 10, 2014 at 8:01 am

Very cool, Peter. It’s funny, while putting this post together I was thinking about Neptune’s Castle and how Eric challenged people to find it. (I almost used the photo, but it’s already appeared on this website so I decided to use others.) Apparently it had changed. Especially on the wild northern coast things change a lot and we can expect constantly shifting conditions.

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Fat Paddler June 10, 2014 at 4:34 pm

Growing up as a surfer, we’d do the same thing as well. Sit on bluffs overlooking the ocean, watching the patterns as waves rolled in and back out, looking for the tell-tale sign of rips or other hazards/playspots of interest.

Now as a surfski paddler I find myself doing the same thing – I simply cannot look at the ocean without choosing lines to take and where the safe exits are. In fact, a few months ago I drove along a section of Australia’s southern coastline known as “The Great Ocean Road” whilst on my way to a speaking gig, and after hours of winding along hundreds of miles of rock-gardens & perfect (BIG) sets of surf all I could think about was returning with a few mates in a Kombi van with a couple of surfskis and white-water boats on the roof and spending a solid month just playing there.

http://www.australia.com/explore/icons/great-ocean-road.aspx

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Nancy Soares June 10, 2014 at 8:01 pm

Okay, that does it. I HAVE to go to Australia. Why are you guys so friggin’ far away??? Yep, watching for the rips, the foam, the green paths through the reef – all that can make a huge difference in your actual paddling experience. I was down in Half Moon Bay over the weekend and although I didn’t race I walked up to the bluffs overlooking Ross’s Cove and noted where the sweet spot was if you want to go in to land. There’s a pretty narrow passage where you’re always safe from the rocks and it actually doesn’t shift much even on big days. I identified the point on the cliff face that I’d point my bow at if I was paddling in to the beach and then watched to see if I was correct in my assessment, i.e. did any waves close out my chosen line. Little drills like that can be both fun and instructive.

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Tim June 10, 2014 at 5:15 pm

Excellent post!
I only do the ‘putting myself in the picture’ when I do white water kayaking. Just got used to it: before paddling down a rapid in a whitewater river – often getting out of your kayak and walking up a cliff and looking down at the river, looking at the eddy exit points, look at sharp rocks etc. May be it is because I was taught
With rock gardening and sea kayaking it is more of experience it first and play it back in your head at night while you remember your day of paddling through gaps in the rocks through swell and thinking “Phew, that was close”

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Nancy Soares June 10, 2014 at 8:05 pm

Hi Tim, thanks so much for reading and commenting. Glad you’re putting yourself in the picture – it sounds like you absolutely have the right idea. It’s easier to do on a river because the eddies, holes, current, etc. are constant while a rock garden is always changing. But the practice applies to both environments and experience with one complements the other for sure.

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Scott Becklund June 10, 2014 at 5:42 pm

Nancy,
This post is so spot on. Today I spent the day hiking the entire Sea Ranch coast. The forecast was for big seas and big winds. The winds never came.
The entire hike was both beautiful and torturous. At every overlook and cove, I was the lone kayaker that wasn’t there. As Sean wrote, I chose a perfect “line” in the surf ,found the safe spots and THE perfect play spot.
Eric could articulate what many if us could only dream.
I’m off for an evening hike and cigar along bluffs. I’m sure I’ll not only put my self in the picture but invite Eric and a couple of friends along.
Thanks

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Nancy Soares June 10, 2014 at 8:15 pm

So glad you enjoyed the post, Scott. I love your phrase: “The lone kayaker who wasn’t there”. One of the reasons I think Eric could do what he did is that he used his imagination so well. He looked at stuff and said, “I wanna do that. Now how can I pull it off?” And just like we’re all talking about, he figured it out on paper so to speak before he ever hit the water. I find myself doing the same thing. Even on my little piddle paddle on Saturday I bobbed around watching the waves for half an hour before I tried to surf. (It was not a good surfing day.) But I watched and grokked and finally I saw one coming, whipped around, and got a pretty good ride. Got a couple more by just being patient – it was a good exercise.

Have a great time at Sea Ranch! I’d wish I was with you but I’m really tired from travelling, hiking, kayaking, and partying (yeah, I know, it’s a rough life…) Actually, I am glad to be home 🙂

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Tony Moore June 12, 2014 at 10:01 am

Great article, Nancy! That’s exactly what I do whenever I see a photo, painting, or video of surf / rock gardens. Imagining yourself doing something is the first step in doing it…a very important step. In weight training, it’s the same thing…you must imagine yourself doing so many reps of such-and-such weight, and then you have to believe you can do it. Then, you go at it 100%! The mental preparation is critical to succeeding at the actual undertaking.
Tony

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Nancy Soares June 12, 2014 at 8:15 pm

Thanks for your comment Tony. You make a really good point: you have to believe you can do it. With belief comes commitment and commitment makes a huge difference to the success of the endeavor. When you put yourself in the picture you’re already taking that first step by saying, “I believe I can do this if I can just figure out how.” Then comes observation followed by a plan. If you play it over and over in your head you stand a fair chance of succeeding, especially if you have Plan B and really commit. You’re absolutely right about mental preparation.

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Jeff Laxier June 17, 2014 at 8:59 am

Thank you for the great post. The images are fantastic for my mind surfs! I coach and encourage paddlers (& active athletic activity doers) to visualize their ride, route, line before taking one. Amazing results!
I have a few ocean rock garden features, river runs, and mt. Bike routes that I run often, in my head. I will the actual runs to others.
Again great post!

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Nancy Soares June 18, 2014 at 7:14 am

So good to hear from you Jeff! I’ve been thinking a lot about you and Cate lately. I’ve got 3 friends who are interested in joining me for one of your classes – I just sent them your schedule. Now we have to pull it together. Realistically it won’t be till late August or sometime in September but even if I can’t find a buddy I plan to come to Ft. Bragg again this year.

I’m glad you liked the post. And you’re right, visualization is a huge part of success at any sport. When I was preparing for Knife in the Woods I’d be visualizing running the “gauntlet” while hiking and Eric, who usually hiked behind me would ask, “Who are you fighting now?” because my hands would be twitching and I’d start walking faster and faster without realizing it. Those visualizations helped me tremendously because even though like an active rock garden knife fights are unpredictable, if you imagine yourself responding over and over to various scenarios you condition your mind to rapid change and it plays out well in actual reality.

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