Go For It!!! Commitment in Sea Kayaking

by Nancy Soares on January 13, 2014

Charge!!! Breaking the wave barrier at Sniveler's Row

Commitment. Breaking the wave barrier at Sniveler’s Row.

by Eric Soares

Be there
Scope it out
Wait for the opportune moment

Commit with abandon
Ride the grooveline

Go ballistic
Stay tuned
Ambient to change
Sense the crash
Save yourself
Be there

Without commitment
There is no fulfillment
The venture fails
The flower bears no fruit
The love fades away
The wave passes you by

Eric’s poem exemplifies his ideas about commitment, especially related to sea kayaking. Note the repeated line “Be there”. What’s it mean? Being there is being in the present moment and abandoning oneself to the stream of events with deep respect for the real in whatever new form it may present itself (thank you, Thomas Merton). And no mind-chatter. Instead of the inner whiner shrieking “That big wave is going to kill me!!!” you simply note the event: “Hmmm, a big wave.” And charge.

"That big wave is going to kill me!"

Charge!!! TR Misha Dynnikov commits to saving himself.

Speaking of being there, one of the things I appreciated about Eric is how he seemed to have eyes in the back of his head. Once we were hanging out at Maverick’s on a mild day when Eric said, “Paddle right.” There was no particular urgency in his voice, but it was a command and I obeyed. I paddled to where he told me and just as I got there I began to go up. Up and up and up. To my astonishment I found myself on top of a wave as big as a house. The wave passed under me and I went down and down and down as I watched the back of the monster roll away and break ponderously onto the reef. Had I been in the wrong place I would have been toast. We carried on without remark, but I will always remember how I had no idea that killer wave was coming and Eric did. Because he was there.

Maverick's on a smooth day by Steve LIdia

The monster rolls away and breaks ponderously onto the reef – Maverick’s on a smooth day by Steve Lidia

So commitment is paying attention and maintaining constant vigilance even on a mild day. Commitment is more than being present, though. Reading this poem is kind of like surfing or rock gardening in extreme conditions. First, you “be there”, you “scope it out”. You note the trend of the sea change. You “wait for the opportune moment” and then you “commit” to the stunt or the move. And you “commit with abandon”. In jujitsu, it’s called sutemi. Basically, sutemi means sacrifice. The true nature of commitment lies in one’s ability to abandon attachment to self and to outcome.

Commit to the stunt - Eric seal landing on the Southern Oregon coast

Commit to the stunt – Eric seal landing on the Southern Oregon coast

“Ride the grooveline/Go ballistic/Stay tuned”. There is a grooveline, and if you commit with abandon you’ll find it, whether it’s the line down the face of a wave or the sweet spot behind a rock in huge breaking surf. Once tuned into the grooveline, “go ballistic”. Again, what does it mean? It means paddle, broach, spin, backpaddle, flip, roll, recover, paddle. In ten seconds or less. I had a chance to see Jeff Laxier go ballistic on Nick’s Nightmare last September. It was great! Changing tactics moment by moment like a warrior fighting multiple opponents, without time to think you simply respond, plastic in an uninhibited response to each new movement.

John Lull riding the grooveline at Steamer's

John Lull riding the grooveline at Steamer’s Lane

“Ambient” is an interesting word, meaning “encompassing on all sides”. The air is ambient. So is the ocean especially in extreme conditions. The mind, reaching out through the senses, must be all encompassing as well. In extreme conditions things change fast. Consequently when going ballistic you need to stay tuned, ambient to change. Then you can switch tactics in a smooth flow of adjustments.

Pitchpoling backward - go ballistic!

Pitchpoling backward – go ballistic!

“Sense the crash.” Kayaking in extreme conditions implies the looming specter of a crash. It’s in there somewhere but you want it to miss you. Tuned in and ambient to change, you sense the crash before or as it manifests and save yourself.

TR Don Kiesling - the crash is in there somewhere...

TR Don Kiesling – the crash is in there somewhere…

“Without commitment there is no fulfillment.”  This line speaks for itself. “The wave passes you by.” The failed venture, the fruitless flower, the faded love, the passing wave, all these are tragic. With each missed wave, an irretrievable opportunity for fulfillment passes.

Eric’s commitment to sea kayaking helped pioneer a new frontier. His commitment to work led to his career as a beloved university professor. His commitment to deep and lasting relationships led to the formation of the Tsunami Rangers.

"Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm." - Emerson Tsunami Rangers marching at sunset

Tsunami Rangers marching at sunset. You’ve got to have a lot of enthusiasm to get a bunch of grown men to act like this.

Eric gave a lot of himself to the people and situations he encountered. That had a price. Not everyone shared his level of commitment and he was sometimes disappointed. But more often than not his enthusiasm was so great it drew others along and memorable things happened. Commitment is no guarantee that an undertaking will succeed, but it gives you a better than fighting chance and if you tank you tank with glory. This is true in kayaking as well as in life and in my opinion WAY better than suffering the emptiness of a life without commitment. In the spirit of the Wave Warrior I encourage everyone to commit to whatever you wish to manifest. Happy New Year!

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill Vonnegut January 13, 2014 at 6:38 am

Nice article Nancy


Nancy Soares January 13, 2014 at 7:37 pm

Thanks, Bill!


Nan January 13, 2014 at 11:14 am

I enjoy these articles so much. I like to grasp the words and use them in other ways in my life. Eric must have been a very wonderful and adventures man. Take care


Nancy Soares January 13, 2014 at 7:39 pm

So glad to hear you’re enjoying the posts, Nan. I sure have fun writing them and putting the photos together. Eric still has a lot to offer, and would have put it out there himself if he’d only had the time.


Fat Paddler January 13, 2014 at 4:52 pm

Ahhh, it is so good to have Eric continue to mentor and inspire, even from Valhalla!


Nancy Soares January 13, 2014 at 7:40 pm

I’m glad you think so, FP. Eric had a wealth of offerings and I’m glad I can get his stuff out there. I’m sure he would have liked nothing better than to know we’re all still talking about him 😉


Tony Moore January 14, 2014 at 7:53 am

Great article, Nancy, with superb photos. The idea of commitment and the right mental attitude are essential in extreme sea kayaking (as well as life, in my estimation!). I like when you said at one point, “Oh, a big wave.” It reminded me of having to have the same attitude when spearfishing. When a big fish appears, you’ll probably not even get a shot if you get excited, as the fish can sense this. You must nonchalantly say to yourself “Oh. Big fish”, then calmly take the shot. Of course, with this spearfishing scenario, life and limb are not at risk, just losing a big fish, but the principal is the same. Thank you for keeping Eric, and his great spirit, alive!


Nancy Soares January 14, 2014 at 10:48 am

Thanks for your comment Tony. Your spear fishing analogy reminds me of Jim Kakuk’s approach to that activity. His practice is to dive down and swim around “Just sayin’ hi”. As you point out, fish sense your excitement and if you’re just sayin’ hi they won’t be alarmed. And Jim always gets his fish.

It’s hard to stop the mind chatter. When anything happens our minds immediately start qualifying, judging, telling us a story about the event: “This is good; this is bad; this is scary; this is dangerous; I like this; I don’t like that…” The trick is to ignore all that and focus on what’s actually happening. If we can practice this during our daily lives, while spearfishing or doing any other activity when life and limb are truly at risk we’ll be up for the challenge. For example, whenever I’m talking to people, I try to stay open and alert and keep my mind quiet – I’m sure we’ve all experienced the tendency to start a mental commentary as soon as anyone starts telling us something. It’s a real challenge to shut that commentary down, but I’m sure it’s a valuable effort and it’s definitely more respectful to the person I’m talking to. Thanks again for your comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.


Patty Soares January 15, 2014 at 7:42 am

Inspirational, Nancy! All of it.


Jeff Hansen January 15, 2014 at 11:58 am

Thank you. I miss my best jujitsu Brother. I feel him at times. Jeff


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