by Eric Soares on August 9, 2011

The book’s title says it all.  This just-published book by Aussie kayaker Sean Smith tells the story of an ordinary bloke who took up sea kayaking in earnest because he had to.  It’s not about a long sea kayaking expedition.  It’s about a fun-loving rugby rower out riding his scooter who was run over by a hit-and-run driver.  He got banged up pretty badly, and his femur was broken in two.  After recovering from that ordeal, he was in Bali for a rugby tournament when the terrorist attack on the nightclub occurred.  He witnessed the explosion, carnage, and confusion, and though he did not get blown up, he was emotionally traumatized.

Later, he was a passenger in a sports car and was nearly killed in a serious auto accident.  This time his pelvic girdle was destroyed, and he suffered internal injuries as well.  He details his recovery experience with straightforward language laced with dry down-under humor and understatement.  As a person who has also spent some time in hospital, I could relate to his suffering and depression.

His doctor told him he was morbidly obese and a prime candidate for cardiovascular disaster.  He quit smoking, toned down his partying, dieted, and began an exercise regimen.  Since his lower body didn’t work right, he took up sea kayaking to develop his upper body.  He relates a funny story of his first trip on flat water and how he capsized several times and had to endure the applause of little old ladies when he was towed to shore.  All kayakers should think back to their first excursions on the water and remember the awkward and embarrassing moments.  Fat Paddler has a knack for self-deprecating humor that really tickled my funny bone.

Fat Paddler moseys down the coast (photo by Jim Kakuk)

He had a strong desire to paddle among ice bergs and so traveled to America with a folding kayak and paddled here and there until he finally reached Alaska, his ultimate destination.  Since Australian waters are comparatively warm, he had no idea about drysuits, which are essential in the frigid Alaskan seas.  He wrote:

“It’s hard to describe the discomfort of a drysuit in a manner that gives the full sensory experience.  The rubber suit doesn’t breathe and it is immediately lined in sweat.  It becomes clammy and slippery on the inside, even as the cold outside air freezes your face and hands.  The neck gasket feels like a rubber garrotte, maintaining a constant pressure as each breath fights against your crushed windpipe.  I was having flashbacks to hospital and the respirator tube in my throat and struggled with the rising fear of being choked again.”

He started his famous website, to share his adventures and learning experiences and to help beginners with their trials and fears.  He also used his website to promote charitable causes.  One of these causes benefits leukemia research and features a 111-kilometer night paddling race called the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic.  Sean decided to enter the race and trained for it.   After weeks of preparation, the Classic happened and Sean went for it with everything he had.  Here is an excerpt from THE FAT PADDLER which indicates how tough the race was:

“When I passed the final checkpoint, almost eighteen hours had passed since the start of the race.  My pelvis was screaming, my hands were blistered and my hips now streamed blood into the boat from the pressure sores.  But I could see the finish line only a couple of kilometres away, and my pace picked up to full sprint, racing along the final stretch.  My Greenland paddle sang as it whirred through the water.  This was it, the final burst of energy before achieving the goal I’d set several months before.” 

Does the Fat Paddler finish the race?  You’ll have to read the book to find out.  After finishing the book, I discovered that Sean Smith, aka the Fat Paddler, is a wonderful human being, the kind of bloke you’d want to paddle with, to share a brew and a sausage on the barbie with.  He is unpretentious and a straight arrow.  He still loves to have a good time, but is now on the high path of a life worth living.  His inspirational writing style makes you feel good, like talking with a good friend.

In my office next to the creek, I devoured THE FAT PADDLER in 2 days

I read THE FAT PADDLER over a couple of days while sitting in the shade next to a beautiful little creek. It was an easy read, full of adventure and fun.  Filled with tribulations and triumphs, the book was a delight.  Erik the Red says, “Check it out!”


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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Fat Paddler August 10, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Hi Eric,

Thanks for the review, and glad that you liked my book. Looking forward to that sausage over the barbie.

Cheers! FP


Moulton Avery August 10, 2011 at 7:15 pm

The Fat Paddler is excellent; it’s a great story, and I highly recommend it.

To say that this is primarily a book about sea kayaking, however, would be doing a disservice to Sean Smith’s lovely, candid, and moving story, because The Fat Paddler is about a whole lot more than paddling. It is, more than anything, a very personal account of loss and redemption, and will speak volumes to anyone looking for insight and a leg up during a period of personal loss and adversity. Pain, injury, trauma, suffering, tragedy, loss, depression – they’re all here in good measure, but they’re more than offset by warmth, courage, tenacity, elation, love, personal discovery, and the kindness of friends and strangers.

This isn’t just average loss that we’re talking about, mind you, but near-catastrophic loss; the kind that drags a lot of people down so hard and fast that they never really recover. The path to Sean’s redemption prominently features a sea kayak, but there is much to be learned from his book whether or not one is a paddler. It spoke to me personally in a way that few books have in recent years, due in large measure, I suspect, because Sean and I share that same path to redemption. Sea Kayaking has been my harbor of refuge during a period of personal hardship that threatened to drag me down as well, and I found his book very moving and inspirational.

And also funny. Like the time he’s on the brink of exhaustion, struggling in to one of the checkpoints on the grueling Hawksbury Classic and his ground crew is yelling stuff like “paddle faster you fat bastard”. No one survives alone, and Sean is no exception. He has the love and support of his lovely wife and daughters and a bunch of really fine Aussie mates, the sort that any of us would be lucky to count as family and friends.


Eric Soares August 10, 2011 at 9:22 pm

I heartily concur with Moulton’s sentiments about THE FAT PADDLER. My review skimmed the surface; those of you who have suffered as Sean has will relate to this book, that I know. As Moulton said (and I didn’t in the review), Sean had the love and support of his wife and kids–and his good friends. Since in life, Everything Matters, it’s significant that he gets by with a little help from friends.

On another note: readers Down Under can get FP’s book at the usual bookstores. Americans may have to go to FP’s website to figure out a way to order the book, as it has not yet appeared on Amazon and other internet outlets. Perhaps we’ll get lucky and sea kayaking retailers will carry it.


Fat Paddler August 11, 2011 at 8:33 am

Yes, indeed a bit of a problem! What I can say is this – print editions at this stage are only being printed in Australia, so if you want a hard-copy edition you’ll need to order from an Aussie online bookstore (there’s a list of them on my website). I’m aiming to release an eBook version in the coming month on iBookstore (iPad, iPhone etc) for all international markets. After that is done, we’ll take a look at Kindle/Amazon and other possible options to get it into the US. Cheers for all the kind words everyone! FP


Jim Kakuk August 11, 2011 at 4:22 pm

I just started reading “The Fat Paddler” and can say it is a compelling true story of perseverance and triumph over difficulties that most of us, fortunately, have not had to experience. I know that the book has a positive ending in that I had the pleasure of meeting Sean when I was in Sydney recently and stayed with him and his wonderful family for a week. During my stay we went kayaking in the rock gardens and Sean, a big guy, was nimble in his boat as he lead us along the surf rebounding off the rocky cliffs along the Sydney waterfront. Watching Sean paddle he is a natural in his kayak and his unbridled enthusiasm on and off the water permeates all that he does and I am sure contributed to his recovery. ” The Fat Paddler” is a great narrative of a personal journey and a good read.


Fat Paddler August 11, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Thanks Jim, the check’s in the mail. 😉


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Nancy Soares August 23, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Just finished The Fat Paddler – thought it was great! Very inspirational – FP has great spirit! And I love a good cook! Can’t wait to try the recipes, but what I really want is the recipe for penne amatriciana, the tomato, bacon, onion and chili pasta dish!!! FP, can you provide me with that recipe? I’d sure appreciate it:)


Fat Paddler August 28, 2011 at 11:09 pm

Penne Amatriciana

8 ounces penne pasta
4 ounces pancetta or good-quality bacon, cubed
2 large brown onions, cut into strips
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1-2 teaspoons brown sugar
Finely diced red birdseye chillis or similar (heat up to you, I like it HOT!!)
1 large can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes
1 pinch salt
1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
1 bottle fine chilled Italian Chianti.
Chopped continental parsley
Good quality olive oil

Over a low heat, heat oil in pan and add garlic, chilli and onion. Sweat slowly until onion is transparent, then add pancetta/bacon and stir occasionally for another 4-5 minutes. Pour a glass of Chianti and take a good sized drink. Add tinned tomatoes & stir through. Once gently boiling, stir in a little brown sugar (to temper the bitterness of the tomatoes), and season with salt & pepper. Keep heat low and allow to simmer. In a large pot of salted water, cook pasta until al dente. Add sauce to pasta and serve with good quality grated Parmesan cheese and freshly chopped parsley. And another glass of Chianti of course. Buon appetito!


Eric Soares August 29, 2011 at 8:09 am

Your recipe sounds scrumptious, FP. It’s late summer here, and we have a shipload of tomatoes in our garden. Can we substitute fresh, sweet, delicious tomatoes for the tinned version?


Fat Paddler August 29, 2011 at 10:43 pm

Fresh tomatoes are MUCH better!!!!!!!! Definitely substitute, but make sure you peel them first (cut a small cross in one end of the tomato and soak in boiling water for 5 mins, the skin will almost fall off).


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