I have never seen the sea do that before.
For 5 days during the march holidays, I set off on a kayaking sea expedition in the Seribuat Archipelago in Malaysia from the 15th to 19th of March. I have to say this was possibly one of the most unexpected trips I’ve had, in that so many things did not go according to plan, but it was, definitely, also one of my best trips.
I have to say, it was on this trip that I felt more helpless than I’ve felt in… perhaps ever. But this was only at a few points and ultimately I’m immensely grateful for the experience and having gone through it with the various people who were with me.
For the purpose of CAS, I will be organizing this (and subsequent Seribuat reflections) according to the various learning outcomes, the 3 that I will be covering in this reflection being:
- Undertaking new challenges
- Show perseverance and commitment
- Develop new skills
Undertaking new challenges
Seribuat really was a series of one new experience after another for me. Firstly, this was one of the few activities I participated in without taking up a leadership role. Secondly, it was also expected to be intensely physical, along with a 5 day camping component, something I’ve never done before!
During the very first meeting for Seribuat, we were asked to volunteer ourselves for the various leadership positions if we were interested – Leader, Co-leader, Navigation and Logistics. Despite having picked Anthropology over Geography as my group 3 subject for the IB, I still do love Geography very much. Physical Geography especially, in its exploration of the world its various natural features that seem to encircle us everywhere we go is something that has fascinated me since I was a child – it was not uncommon to see me hidden behind a fortress of little encyclopedias for children. Hence, the notion of being able to understand how waves work, tides, currents etc. was very exciting for me. With that in mind I volunteered myself for Navigation. Eventually I was assigned as Second I/C for Navigation but I later found out that another team member had actually also volunteered for Navigation but did not get a slot so I decided to let the Leaders know that I wouldn’t mind pulling out and giving him the opportunity since I’d already been given a number of other leadership opportunities.
And in some ways stepping out of a structured, provided leadership position was very refreshing. And it gave me the opportunity to lead in other smaller more specific areas, such as teaching people how to tie the knots for the boat lines etc. It was a really good experience taking a step back and watching the different ways in which people lead as well. I personally really admired Na Won for her very charismatic leadership style. Despite the situations sometimes being very tough, I felt she was able to convey her instructions in such a way which was enjoyable for the rest of the team.
Even more though, I felt this trip challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and, being more a part of the team instead of leading the team, re-asses my own style of leadership. I think I sometimes have the tendency to get quite stern in messy situations and perhaps I could think of ways to be able to be clear but not overly aggressive instead.
And of course, on a kayaking expedition, undertaking new challenges would not be complete without addressing the challenge that the waves posed. Before leaving for the expedition, I never expected the sort of waves that we went through when we were out in the open seas. We encountered waves that were about 3m tall and just the realization that we were out in the open was… wow. I’m really glad that we managed to make it as far as we did. Although I have to say I did wish we tried to paddle forward in the open seas a bit more because honestly I really enjoyed it. It was about the most exhilarating thing I’ve been through and while we were actually paddling against the waves I didn’t get hit by seasickness yet so there wasn’t an overwhelming sense of discomfort or anything. It was only upon rafting up and going back that sea sickness started to kick in when we were no longer quite going against the waves but along with them on a diagonal. In that journey back, it really felt like we were going nowhere. Or even worse because we had to turn back. While I do understand the rationale behind turning back because the waves would only have gotten stronger, I did feel like our team was strong enough to keep going for a little while more at least!
I guess this brings us to the next learning outcome…
Show perseverance and commitment
It was so daunting when we first hit the large waves. I distinctly remember the first time a wave collapsed over our kayak, and me turning around to look at my partner Sim See as our kayak tilted about 50-60 degrees upwards. We honestly honestly thought we were going to capsize right then. The relief when we didn’t flooded our faces (and our kayak hehe) upon getting through that wave. After that, it was just a series of waves after waves but I’m so proud to say that we kept trying.
For me, the hardest part to get through was definitely the journey back to the island of Acheh. Sea-sickness washed over me and there was just this feeling of dread and emptiness, the waves tossing us around like weightless bobs. There were so many times that I really really wanted to give up and just collapse in my kayak and give in to sea sickness. But at the same time, the understanding that we really had to depend on ourselves and be strong in order to keep going on dithered at the back of my mind. Right there in the open sea, though our friends were just a few metres away, we were all so drained and it was all we could do to keep ourselves moving, even if it felt like we were going nowhere. Continually pushing towards the island while we waited for refuge that came in the form of the safety boat, that period of time that passed in the kayak passed in a hazy blur clouded by sea sickness and destitution.
Emotionally and physically, there were definitely points where it did feel as though we’d given up. When a large wave hit us from the back, threatening to flip our kayak over, there came a point where my partner and I really had no energy to try to prevent it from happening anymore. Thankfully we stayed afloat because I do doubt either of us had the energy to get back onto the kayak. However, I’m glad that each time we gave up a little, we would get back on our feet again and keep going on a few minutes later. There were lapses but in the end we held on and eventually made it near the islands and onto the safety boat.
As a team, I think our morale really did drop somewhat after not making it to seribuat because without that part of our journey, the rest of our trip was completely derailed. And after the experiences of the second day I think many of us in the team were slightly afraid just thinking about going back out to the open seas again. While I do wish we got the chance to attempt waves like that again, I am glad that our team continued with the trip and pushing on in order to try to make the most out of what we had around us, whether screaming our heads off with laughter in the middle of breaking waves, taking the time to enjoy the area around us or attempting to snorkel even in the midst of murky waters. Despite the circumstances, we made the best of it.
I’m not sure but I think in some senses perseverance isn’t always about fighting our way against the currents (in this case literally) but it’s also watching the circumstances, adapting and persevering in order to make the best out of the situation we had at hand, which is something I believe we did and I’m glad we did so.
Develop new skills
And of course through all of this, we grew, developing new skills along the way. Kayaking in an environment that was so different from the reservoirs and calm seas that we’d trained in before taught us things about kayaking that we didn’t know before. Paddling into the waves for example, we learnt that to keep moving on and not capsize it was key for us to stay low and just keep paddling into the waves, pushing our paddles into the waves and pulling ourselves over them.
One particular set of skills I picked up over this trip was also that of tying knots! When I was younger my dad used to teach me how to tie knots because he used to be a scout but over the years I’d forgotten. But over the course of this trip I slowly begun to pick it up again! Some of the knots I learnt how to do:
1. Fisherman’s Knot – taking the two ends of string, hold one running into your fingers, your thumb sticking out. Take the second end of the string and wrap it around your thumb about 3-4 times before pulling it through the loops from the back to the front, tying to secure.
2. Clove Hitch – mickey mouse knot! Make two loops on the string and cross them in such a way where they do not undo themselves but are instead interlinked, allowing the knot to tighten
3. Half hitch – hmm hard to explain but basically pull one end of a string over and under the other end of string, pulling it through the loop created and then repeating many times down in order to secure string while making it easy to unravel.
So glad I had the chance to learn all these new knots over the course of the trip!
And with that ends my first Seribuat reflection, see you guys in a bit for Part II!