We caught up with Anastasia Mylona, a member of Isis Canoe Club in Oxford. Anastasia took up paddling during the pandemic. She shares with us how learning to kayak has significantly improved her mental health. It has also allowed her to connect with nature.
I have always lived near the water so it has always been a big part of me. I grew up by the sea and learned to swim before I learned to walk. As a kid I found being in or around the water an adventure. Even now as an adult I find it really peaceful and calming. For the past fifteen years I have lived in Oxford, which is probably one of the furthest paces from the sea. Instead, Oxford has a complex system of inland waterways that run through the heart of the city. Depending on the season, there are always people walking, running, cycling, swimming, rowing, punting, paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking! Even more so since the pandemic.
As I live very close to the river, I often went for walks and cycled along on the towpaths. But I never ventured into water. Like most people, it wasn’t until the pandemic that I had a chance to slow down and try things I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I discovered there were a couple of canoe clubs close by to me, so I decided to take the plunge and get in touch with Isis Canoe Club.
Fast forward to spring 2022 when the club sessions restarted again. I began going to kayaking sessions every week for nine weeks. I learned and practised the basic strokes, how to rescue myself and others if we capsized, and how to navigate our inland waterways. It was freezing but so exhilarating. After the sessions, we would go to the nearest pub to warm ourselves up and talk about kayaking adventures.
While paddling around the Oxford canals, I enjoyed seeing the city from a completely different perspective. But the real pleasure came later when I had mastered the strokes and started participating in the weekend away trips that started later in the summer. As a member of a club you get to enjoy all the activities and trips the more senior and experienced members organise each year. The summer of 2022 was ideal for being on the water. The dry, sunny and hot weather was enjoyed. We paddled the really busy stretch of the River Thames from Wargrave to Maidenhead, with stops for swimming, also the more quiet routes of the River Severn and the Basingstoke Canal. We even had fun going down the chutes of the River Medway.
It has been a difficult year for me and being on the water has helped me cope mentally and physically. Each time, soon after I had been on the water, I found myself in a state of what I can only imagine is similar to meditation. The combination of water, nature, and rhythmic strokes would just quieten my thoughts. It brought a profound sense of tranquillity that I never experienced before. The comradery between the paddling group members, the campfires, and waking up next to the river with a hot cup of coffee and porridge, just enhanced the whole experience.
Paddling gives you a unique perspective of your surroundings, you become one with nature. Because of the slow speed of travel, all kinds of animals, ducks and birds, come close to you. Either to investigate you or to race you. Also, when you paddle, you see how nature changes throughout the day and throughout the seasons. For me autumn is such a fantastic time to paddle, the colours of the trees are just spectacular. A lot of the club members continue with white water kayaking throughout the winter but I think I will leave it until next year to try it out. In the meantime I can’t wait until spring to start paddling again!
Thank you to Anastasia for sharing her story with us. We’d love to hear all about your paddling journey, experiences and the great work happening in the paddling community. You can find your local paddling club using our tool here and start your own paddling journey.
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