For many, the call of the wild begins and ends on a winding forest trail, the crunch of leaves and gravel beneath their boots echoing the rhythm of their heartbeat.
The great expanse of wilderness speaks a language that resonates deeply within the hiker’s soul, a dialogue of silence and serenity that needs no words. Yet, the vast repertoire of Mother Nature’s whispers extends beyond the woodland trails and mountaintops.
Having said all of that, I became a hiker because of the low barrier to entry. There was no requirement for expensive gear before I could get started. I was a nature lover, and my soul craved the outdoors, but all the other types of outdoor adventure seemed difficult, expensive, or scary (or all three).
But more recently, I’ve discovered there’s another realm, fluid and ever-changing, where adventure dances to a different rhythm – the rhythm of the water.
Imagine trading the secure footing of the forest floor for the gentle sway of a paddleboard, the towering majesty of mountains for the vastness of a cerulean sea. Picture yourself gliding across a glassy lake at dawn in a kayak or floating down a meandering river on an SUP, carried by the languid current.
It may seem daunting – a leap from the familiar to the unknown – but don’t forget that’s where the thrill of adventure lies, on the cusp of the new and exciting.
So, fellow hikers, I invite you to broaden your horizons. Many adventures of the water-based variety are more accessible and far less intimidating than you might think.
Still not convinced? Let’s see if I can twist your arm…
Why should I try a water-based outdoor adventure?
The answer to this question lies in the very essence of adventure itself – the quest for unique experiences that broaden our horizons and enrich our lives.
Water sports offer a perspective of nature that is wholly different from what you experience on a hiking trail. Instead of learning to experience a forest as a living, breathing entity, you’ll learn to understand the rivers, lakes and oceans. Instead of looking down from a mountaintop at its surrounding bodies of water, you’ll be able to feel how the body of water shaped those mountains and other landscapes.
Water sports can offer a distinctive blend of exhilaration and peace, whether it’s the tranquil meditative rhythm of paddling a canoe at dawn or the thrill of riding a wave on a bodyboard. They challenge our balance, coordination and strength in new and exciting ways, not just providing a different kind of workout but also a new way to be present and immersed in the natural world.
Okay, so you can’t just set off on most water-based adventures with your Dunlop Volleys and whatever old bag you have lying around – as I did when I decided to get into hiking – but for most water sports, there are options to cheaply hire the necessary equipment before deciding to buy or join a Meetup group or club that will allow you to borrow equipment. Failing that, there might be affordable options for lessons or guided tours, or you might have to start with the cheapest equipment that will do the job.
Are you starting to come around to my way of thinking? Read on for more detail on your options for some specific water-based adventures.
Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP)
I always feel amazing after a nice long SUP, and I don’t just mean mentally but physically, too – it’s a full-body workout that’s awesome for strengthening the core and improving balance.
I’ve convinced a few friends to give my board a try, and none have had trouble standing up on the board and paddling fairly confidently within the first five or ten minutes.
I got started by hiring a board while on one of our Sussex Inlet summer holidays, and I immediately loved it so much that I had my own board within a couple of weeks. The board hire wasn’t much over $100 for a weekend (or $35 an hour). Obviously, the cost will vary, but there’s no denying that it’s an excellent way to try before you buy.
When it comes to buying an SUP, there are a million factors to consider, but after a lot of research, I decided to go for the cheapest option – an inflatable SUP (iSUP). Many SUP enthusiasts will tell you that you’re silly to buy an inflatable and that you’ll want to get a solid board so soon that the inflatable will be a waste of money. I’ve had my iSUP for a few years and have no plans to buy a solid one. Apart from the fact that it meets my needs, I’m not interested in the extra expense of the roof racks I’d need to carry a solid board. If you like that idea, you might want to check out another article I wrote about the best SUPs on the Australian market (and what to look for when you’re buying). Keep in mind that, as well as a board, you’ll need an air compressor to inflate it. You’ll also want to invest in a lifejacket.
Once you own an SUP, you start to realise just how many places there are nearby to hit the water. In my case, Melbourne is surrounded (and intersected by) more places for an SUP than I can poke my board at.
Most major cities and holiday destinations on the water will have SUP hire, lessons or tours available. Head to TripAdvisor, Get Your Guide, Viator, or Klook and do a search for where you are (or where you’re going) – Disclaimer: These are affiliate links, so a small percentage of anything you spend after clicking will help to keep The Bushwalking Blog alive.
If sitting down for a change seems more appealing to you, maybe kayaking is your next outdoor pursuit.
Apart from the sitting down – although, trust me, it’s not as low effort as it might sound – kayaking has a lot to offer. As with SUP, you’ll see nature from a different angle. Imagine cruising slowly downstream at dawn on a warm summer morning while watching the wildlife on the riverbanks – not to mention the upper body and cardio workout when you’re paddling upstream or trying to get anywhere in a hurry.
While I haven’t kayaked anywhere near as much as I’ve paddleboarded, my few adventures have been incredible – sea-kayaking through caves to the ‘hongs’ of Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay, river kayaking in the Belizean jungle, and tackling the rapids on my home city’s Yarra River are the first ones that come to mind. These are all perfect examples of how water-based adventures will take you where hiking won’t and present new and interesting challenges.
Buying a kayak is even more complicated than buying an SUP, so here’s a guide from Outdoor Gear Lab to get you started. The type of kayak you choose will depend on where you’ll be kayaking and what you’ll be using it for. For beginners, recreational kayaks are generally stable, comfortable, and easy to steer, making them a great option for calm lakes and rivers. Whitewater kayaks are shorter and more manoeuvrable and thus, better for navigating rapids and obstacles. Sea kayaks are longer and more streamlined for efficient paddling in open water. Once you’ve got your new toy, you’ll want some advice on places to kayak.
Again, just like with SUP, kayak hire opportunities and tours should be available in most places you’d expect. It might be worth heading over to TripAdvisor, Get Your Guide, Viator, or Klook and searching in your required location – Disclaimer: These are affiliate links, meaning that a small percentage of anything you spend after clicking will go towards The Bushwalking Blog’s costs.
For those willing to take the plunge, there’s another dimension of adventure that exists beneath the water’s surface – a world teeming with vibrant life and spectacular landscapes unseen by those who don’t want to remove their hiking boots.
Picture it: You’re floating weightless, suspended between the sky above and the depths below. Beneath you, a coral garden sprawls teeming with fish of every imaginable shape and size, and with colours more varied and vivid than anything you’ve ever seen.
Snorkelling is more than just a water sport – it’s an immersive nature experience that opens your eyes to the diversity and complexity of our ocean ecosystems and allows you to witness a world that exists just beyond our reach, hidden beneath the mirror-like surface of the sea.
As for barriers to entry, snorkelling is remarkably accessible. All you really need is a mask, snorkel, fins, and a body of water worth exploring. Oh, and naturally, you need to be able to swim, so if you can’t do that, there are swimming lessons available just about everywhere. You should do that even if you don’t want to go snorkelling because you never know when it might save your life.
When it comes to choosing equipment, quality matters. A good mask should fit comfortably and provide a clear view without fogging up, a quality snorkel will make it easier to breathe and minimise water intake, and well-fitting fins can significantly enhance your underwater mobility.
Most coastal destinations offer snorkelling gear rental services – it might be the last thing you’d expect, but there’s even good snorkelling in Port Phillip Bay – and guided tours are also available for those who prefer to explore with an experienced guide. For beginners, snorkelling tours offer not only the safety of numbers and the expertise of a guide but often a few basic lessons in technique as well.
As with the other water sports I’ve mentioned, a quick search at TripAdvisor, Get Your Guide, Viator, or Klook will be a good start if you’re looking for what’s available in your desired area – Disclaimer: These are affiliate links that as you probably read above means a small percentage of anything you spend after clicking will help keep these articles coming (and it won’t cost you an extra cent).
Safety Tips and Environmental Considerations
No matter which water-based adventure you choose, your safety should be paramount. Keep in mind that each activity brings its unique set of risks, so here are some general tips to ensure you can enjoy the wonders of the water world without undue worry:
Wear appropriate gear: This might seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget. Always use safety equipment such as life jackets, helmets (where appropriate), or wetsuits. Make sure your equipment fits well and is in good condition.
Know your limits: Not all water sports are created equal. Some require more skill and fitness than others. Be honest with yourself about your abilities, and don’t push yourself beyond your comfort zone.
Check the weather: Weather conditions can significantly impact water sports. Always check the forecast before you head out, and remember that conditions can change quickly, especially at sea.
Never go alone: Always engage in water activities with at least one other person. In case of emergency, it’s essential to have someone who can call for help or provide assistance.
Take lessons: If you’re new to a sport, consider taking lessons from certified instructors. They can teach you the proper techniques, and safety procedures, and help provide you with the confidence you need.
While your safety should be priority number one, it’s also essential to remember that we are visitors in these natural habitats. Our presence can affect the environment and its creatures, so here are some guidelines to ensure we leave no trace:
Respect wildlife: Always observe animals from a safe and respectful distance. Never feed, touch, or disturb animals, especially in their breeding or nesting sites.
Protect the environment: Try to avoid damaging the environment. Don’t break off pieces of coral while snorkelling, don’t leave litter, and avoid eroding riverbanks while canoeing or kayaking.
Leave no trace: The “leave no trace” principle applies to water-based activities just as much as hiking. Carry out all trash, and leave natural and cultural features as you found them for others to enjoy.
Remember, these tips are general guidelines. Each sport has its unique set of safety rules and environmental considerations, so do your research or speak to a professional before embarking on your new water adventure. Let’s make sure we can enjoy these amazing experiences while keeping ourselves and the environment safe.
Sometimes, the call of the wild ripples across the surface of a calm lake instead of echoing from the mountain peaks. Your adventure boots have served you well, but be bold and trade them for a paddle (or a snorkel) and see nature from a different angle.
Remember, adventure is about new and different experiences.
Have you dipped your toes in yet? What’s your favourite flavour of water-based adventure? If you have any stories, updates or corrections, please let us know by commenting below.
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