PADDLING LIFE LESSONS – Take That First Stroke!

5 Capes - Cape Seal - Peter Grantham Paddles Along Robberg

#MockeMaxims – Balance comes from Paddling. Take that first stroke!

When presenting the OCEAN ABC of PADDLING, one of the first lessons I teach is that “Balance Comes From Paddling”.  It’s like riding a bicycle.  You can’t stay upright on a bike without pedalling.  By pedalling forwards you find your balance.  It’s the same in a Surfski.  No matter how unstable you feel, if you just focus on taking one stroke after the other, you will quickly begin to find your balance.

Of course while I’m speaking to you on the lawn outside our paddling club, it sounds dead easy and straightforward.  You think:  “OK, got it thanks, next point please”;  but then something happens in-between hearing it and putting into practice.

It’s a scene I’ve witnessed countless times since starting our paddling school in 2002.  It’s a special moment when you sit someone down on a surfski and push them out onto the water.  But it’s over pretty quickly.

“The Squeal” then “The Lean”

It looks something like this: the elbows suddenly become rigidly bent and neatly tucked away, hands safely just below the chin, like a cute, begging puppy.  The paddle is dutifully held  up, not for one moment ever intent on taking a stroke.  From the girls you’ll hear a nervous little “Squeal” and from the guys you’ll hear a more macho “Whoa”, quickly followed by…a nervous little “Squeal”.

That’s when “The Lean” happens!  It starts slowly and gradually quickens to a full capsize.  Not one stroke is taken, still faithfully holding the paddle in the air, not daring to have it touch the water!

It’s the most interesting phenomenon to witness.  Someone has just told you what to do.  You know exactly what you need to do.  You have everything in your hands to do what needs to be done.  Still, there you are, in the moment, and you do absolutely NOTHING.  You’re literally just sitting there…and then you’re swimming.

Not one stroke is taken, still faithfully holding the paddle in the air, not daring to have it touch the water!


What happens?

Doubt gets in the way.  You “freeze”.  Because it feels foreign, strange and very different from what you’re used to i.e. terra firma, you doubt your ability.  You can balance on land when you’re walking, but this is different, this is floating.  This requires new balance and you’re not sure you can do it.  The thing is that you CAN do it, if you just start!  Finding your balance is simple, just take a stroke.  You must use the tool you already have in your hand – the paddle.

Life Lesson?

Achieving the “goal” of paddling requires balance.  Balance is a dynamic action.  You must take a stroke! You won’t just “know” how to balance a surfski; you must “learn” how to balance a surfski. Learning how to balance a Surfski starts by taking that first stroke.  Then you will achieve the “goal “of paddling.

So, in life, if you want to get somewhere and achieve your dream or goal, you MUST start DOING.  You must take action.

I have experienced this personally.  Apart from once losing my balance at the start of a surfski race because I froze up and didn’t paddle, I also have a dream of presenting inspiring talks and speeches.  But I never took any action until I met Lewis Pugh, one of the world’s most inspiring (and successful) speakers.  He encouraged me to take my first steps.  I also joined a local Toastmaster’s Club, to practice and perfect my speaking skills. With Lewis as a mentor and a dynamic club to practice at, I began speaking. I have now presented a number of talks and hope to do many more.

“…you MUST start DOING.  You must take action.”

Dawid Mocke Tasmania Presenting a Speech
Presenting a speech for the crew on the Friday evening.

How about you?

Perhaps you also have a dream, or have made a goal? How will you achieve it?

Well, step one:  it requires action, not inaction.  You have to take those first strokes.  Yes, your first few strokes aren’t perfect and the same goes in life too.  You’re not going to get it right the first time.  But you must start!

So, instead of doubting your ability to do it, and instead of doing nothing, perhaps it’s time to realise that you either have what you need in your hand to do it (your paddle) OR that you need to start using what you’ve got – Take Action – Take those first strokes.

Surfski School Expert Session

Dawid In Guadeloupe

I love to motivate! Please contact if you have an opportunity where I could share and motivate at your company or with your team, perhaps even take them paddling.


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