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Zen and paddling

Developing paddling skills is all about attitude. Making paddling an ego trip is a cul-de-sac. An egoistical approach can of course initially create enthusiasm and perseverence, but is desctructive in the long run. Every quest aiming to glorify the self is doomed, sooner or later. The paddler who paddles far, fast or in heavy conditions just to show off, will seldom achieve anything worthwhile. Even reaching the goal it is a hollow triumph. To maintain the glory you have to prove yourself over and over again - ever farther, ever faster, ever bigger waves or higher falls - constantly forced to live up to a basically flawed self image and constantly afraid of being exposed.

Zen och konsten att paddlaIt is not about physical strength. Strength and stamina can initially compensate for and cover flaws in technique. But that path is not very long. Not even the most persistent work in the gym can improve your strength for ever. But most of all - inefficient paddling is mentally depleting, be it fast or not.

It is not about motivation either. Motivation often becomes a kind of arrogance, where the water, the kayak and the paddle is used for selfish purposes. The self is the end and the paddling is reduced to mere means.

The self supportive mental training that athletes often rely on in periods of setbacks is a kind of sophisticated self-deception - a shortcut to maturity - that in the long run is counterproductive. One step forward and two steps back. Like other forms of addictive manipulations it must be repeated in increased doses and with shorter intervals to have the intended effect.

The difference between ego paddling and egoless paddling may seem minute. Both dip alternately left and right paddle blade in the water. Both breathe in and out in about the same way. Both take a break when tired. Both continue when rested. But still the difference is huge.

The ego paddler is like a fine instrument that is slightly out of tune. He puts the paddle in a fraction too soon or too late to get the best out of the paddle. He paddles a fraction too fast or too slow to use the rythm of the waves. He waits a fraction too long before taking that break. He does not see the light playing in the spray. His thoughts are at the next point or the next island. He is here but still not here.

His here is without quality. He wants to be there. But when he gets there he is still impatient because the there turned out to be just another here. What he yearns for is all around him but he does not want it because it is all around him. He is toiling, physically and mentally.

He does not understand that the goal is within himself and the satisfaction here and now. He does not see that if the paddling is to be more than a shallow showing off, the mind must be emptied of all self-absorbed thoughts and emotions. He does not realise that he must forget all he has learned - meaning that the skills and knowledge is there, but he is consciously unaware of them. First then, the paddling can be automated, effortless, free of the paddlers busybody control. First then, the barriers vanish.

This achieved, when all knowledge is secluded, when the conscienceness is unaware of its activity and the self is not interfering, then there are no limits. Then the paddling can be perfected.


Hi! I'm bery glad if you translate in English the test! It'always interesting to confront our technics around Europe and the World too! Thanks Ciao Luisella fron Italia (Genova)

Translation is underway but it takes a lot of time, a commodity which to me is in depressingly short supply...

Summary: It´s the journey that counts, not the destination...

Zen och Paddling var en helt underbar text, mitt i prick. Jag har åkt en hel del långfärdsskridskor och upplevt just detta du beskriver. En fullständig närvaro där det tänkande, analyserande, bedömande och utvärderande sinnet är frikopplat. Det är en ren upplevelse av själva upplevelsen.

Nu har jag "blivit med havskajak" och efter en nybörjartur runt en sjö insett att detta är samma form av meditation. Nu vill jag lära mig mer och då hittar jag den här artikeln! Underbart.

Min vision är att kunna släppa rädslan, genom att behärska den nödvändiga säkerheten, så att jag bara kan ge mig hän, oberoende av väder och vind, bara vara ett med upplevelsen. Jag föreställa mig att även klättring är en liknande upplevelse.


Tack Björn. Kroppsmeditation är bra uttryck för den sortens aktiviteter.

Jag ser att du arbetar med yoga, och kan nämna att yoga enligt min erfarenhet är en synnerligen bra förberedelsen för att snabbt lära sig rolla kajaken - bra kroppsmedvetande innebär att man har lätt att förstå och kopiera en komplex rörelse, som är svårt att greppa intellektuellt. Det tar ofta inte mer än 10 minuter tills koden är knäckt....

Halleljua, det är ju precis därför jag gett mig på det här med paddling! Artikeln bekräftar det jag misstänkt, hoppats och dessutom upplevt i sommar!

Välkommen i gänget, Monica...

Thanks for translating to English. Although not perfect, consider using "Google translate" for the rest of the site, it will give a good starting point.

I think that the views on the people who gain satisfaction through achieving goals is a little harsh. I think that people roughly can be divided into two groups 1) Those who just enjoy being out there and who don't care about miles, technique or what other think. and 2) Those who are competitive, result oriented and likes to toil physically and mentally. To condemn the latter (2) as being “sophisticated self-deception” and “counterproductive” is degrading to that group of people. I understand the point that you are making, but please keep room for diversity and accept other people’s motivation.

As it can be said about anything, it is seldom optimal to be extreme in any way. If you strictly belong to group 1 then you will most likely not have a good paddling technique and you might get in trouble if the weather gets rough or unforeseen problem occur. You are not prepared. On the other hand, if you belong to group 2, then you won’t be living in the moment and experience the ‘Zen’.

So, what group am I? Neither and both.. and I believe most people paddle the “aurea mediocritas”. I have spent numerous hours enjoying my fishing trips without catching anything. Likewise I can enjoy a day on the water without looking at my watch or caring about the miles I have paddled. Just enjoy paddling.. and feel good doing it. I guess that is the Zen that you talk about, right Björn? But could I have enjoyed my trip as much if I wasn’t sure that I had all the safety in place? If I wasn’t sure that my stamina and technique would bring me back without being too exhausted? Because it is not harmless, I have to have some sort of intellectual approach to kayaking.

So, in conclusion I must admit that I’ll take the best of both worlds. I can enjoy just being ‘out there’ and I can enjoy winning the “who circumvented Venø (denmark) the most times” trophy. My advice is to embrace both of the above mentioned groups… I assure you that the table can be round and square at the same time (Yin and Yang).

Thak you for making this inspiring website Björn!


I am a little disappointed that my thoughts could be interpreted to divide paddlers into groups and even rank the groups. Maybe something got lost in my translation...

It is about a frame of mind that may trigger a development of skills and a deep satisfaction from paddling - whereever and whatever you paddle.

On translation: my experience of Google is that it is quite satisfactory for getting the gist of written content (and often slightly better than Babelfish and the likes), but falls way short for presentational purposes - and that transforming a googled text to readable language is more work than writing in english from the start (which for me is not a translation per se, but rather rewriting the content in english).

Hi Björn,

I'm the one dividing paddlers into two groups (which is a rough grouping I added)... not you. I did this to emphasize my point. I also stated that, "I believe most people paddle the “aurea mediocritas”.". By this I mean that most people complex.. and not belonging to either of the two groups.

I really do think that I understand what you mean by, "he must forget all he has learned - meaning that the skills and knowledge is there, but he is consciously unaware of them. First then, the paddling can be automated, effortless, free of the paddlers busybody control. First then, the barriers vanish.". As I understand it, it is a matter of simply enjoy sliding through the water, enjoying the sounds, smelling the air. Not worrying about time, technique or what other people think of ones achievements.

I just think that in order to be free of 'the barriers' one must go through a development, where he learns to paddle a kayak. While doing this it is still possible to enjoy being out there. Maybe I interpret things wrongfully, but do you think that it is possible to become a paddler with good technique just by emptying your mind and paddle? I see plenty of experienced paddlers who lack technical skills only because they never learned it properly and have gotten used to paddle this way. I assume that these paddlers are in their Zen. They paddle several time a week and paddling is a treasured part of their life.

I sometimes burden myself with 'the barriers' because I want to gain experience. For instance I have just bought a greenlander paddle (while searching for technical advise I found your site) and I want to learn how to paddle it properly. In this process I put a lot of effort into doing it right.. and I become , "...a fine instrument that is slightly out of tune. He puts the paddle in a fraction too soon or too late to get the best out of the paddle. He paddles a fraction too fast or too slow to use the rhythm of the waves.".

At these moments I'm getting more tired when paddling and I'm not enjoying it in the same way as when I'm 'just out there'.

If I'm missing a deeper understanding of what your point is please let me know. I find this subject very interesting. I am just a rookie when it comes to kayaking. I've been at it almost 3 years and I certainly haven't regretted starting :-)


Thomas Michelsen

What I am suggesting is not getting stuck on technical skills, physical strength and stamina, but taking the paddling to the next level where mind matters - just as in most east asian arts: martial arts, archery, ikebana etc.

Please do not mistake my thoughts as a comprehensive guide to paddling mastery - it is just meant to suggest a way forward for those interested...

I think we agree. I guess I'm over interpreting and just giving too much thought into your statement on "Zen och paddling". The point is as you say, "...not getting stuck on technical skills, physical strength and stamina". This does not exclude the need (and joy) of learning/gaining it.



Min första kajaksommar har gjort mig helt såld. Både att paddla i stilla vildmarkssjöar och i hög sjö i havet är helt underbart. Meterhöga vågor ger en otrolig närvaro där glädje och lycka bara väller upp från hjärttrakten. Det finns så många underbara fasetter i den här diamanten.

Jag har läst igenom allt du skrivit i din sajt och det är otroligt inspirerande. Ditt skrivande är verkligen övertygande och guidar mig osökt in på grönlandspaddling. Nu i vinter hyvlar jag till en eskimåpaddel. Till våren bygger jag mig en "snickarbod" och där skall jag bygga mig en Black Pearl, "figursydd" och utan skedda. För att inte missa en säsong av inuitpaddling och rollning så har jag köpt kompromissen Greenlander och en Tuiliq så jag kan börja direkt efter islossningen.

Tala om att bli passionerad! Detta är det mest fascinerande som hänt mig - och ändå har jag hunnit med en del under mina 67 år.

Tack Björn Thomasson för ditt helhjärtade engagemang för paddlingen.

Björn Welin


Det gläder mig att du funnit inspiration i mina skriverier. Välkommen i gänget och lycka till med paddel, kajak, rollande mm.

Trist forespørgsel: Besværlig udstigning:

efter at have fået en blodprop og med 80 år på bagen kan jeg ikke mere løfte mig op med armene på cockpitkarmen i min Nanok, og cockpittet er ikke stort nok til , at fødderne kan hjælpe til. Så jeg har et problem med at komme ud af kajakken nu. Jeg sidder dog ikke stadig i den, men vred mig om på maven. Så gik det. Har du et bedre råd, en bedre metode, så jeg forhåbentlig igen kan komme ud at ro til sommer? (Skulle have bygget med nedsænket sarg)

Hilsen Bjarne

Bjarne, det var mycket tråkigt att höra! För att vara efterklok, så skulle du kanske ha byggt kajaken med ett större cockpithål – eller kanske byggt en surfski i stället (sådana är mycket lätt att komma både i och ur ;-)

Men en lösning kanske kan vara att du köper en stor sittbrunnssarg från Petruskajak, sågar upp hålet i däcket och limmar i den nya sargen...