Monday, August 31, 2009

Refreshing the Spirit with Al Bakker

As you know, this blog is about Life Enhancing and how to inspire yourself to live a wonderful life. To support this, I've been doing email interviews with people who inspire me and who I think live amazing lives.

This blog is also about what I call 'Life Enhancing Devices' (LEDs) - things that truly add value to our lives. And one of the key LEDs for me is kayaks. They allow us to go places and do things that are truly wonderful, inspiring and uplifting. They are a great form of exercise and can provide a very calming and meditative experience.

So today's blog entry is an interview with someone who I believe lives a wonderfully enhanced life, and who inspires me to get out and do more paddling, adventuring and living.

This person is Al Bakker, the founder of Southern Sea Ventures, a company that offers awesome kayaking adventures in some of the most beautiful places in the world.

I've been on a number of Southern Sea Venture kayak trips, and I think that what Al and his company does is fantastic and life enhancing. I'm always amazed at the new trips he is organising and the great paddles that he does. Al searches the globe for new and amazing paddling adventures and then opens them up so the rest of us can safely enjoy these life enhancing experiences. As Al says "Exploring the world’s beautiful places by kayak is a wonderful way to refresh the spirit. The quiet and unobtrusive dip of a paddle is a panacea to life in the modern world. I feel privileged to be able to show people different places and share skills that give them enjoyment."

Al has paddled whitewater and sea kayaks for 36 years in North America, South America, the South Pacific, Japan, Australia, NZ, Antarctica, South Georgia, the High Arctic and Greenland, Russian Far East and all across Europe. He has led commercial sea kayak tours for the last 21 years and developed sea kayak, rafting and cross country ski programs in many countries. Al is also a qualified SCUBA diver, Nordic ski instructor and examiner, swim instructor and examiner and holds swiftwater rescue and national lifeguard certification. He has worked as a helicopter ski guide, rafting guide and wilderness first aid consultant and is a keen photographer.

I caught up with Al via email as he bobbed across the Greenland sea heading towards the Arctic, and asked him why he felt kayaking and outdoor adventuring was so life enhancing.

* Hi Al, trust you are well and still out living amazing adventures!

Yep, enjoying getting to some lovely spots and feel privileged to be able to.

* What do you do to enhance your life? What is life enhancing for you?

I always try to balance work and play. It is easy to get overwhelmed with running a business and sorting out details but I find that getting out in the mountains or on the water is refreshing. It doesn’t have to be paddling but sometimes it is easier to get to some out of the way places by boat. Sharing some quality outdoor time with someone you care for is real important for me.

* What is so life enhancing about Kayaks and paddling? Why do you do it? What makes it so special?

Kayak tours are my business so that is part of it but my wife and I very much love to get out and paddle on our time off. Not so much for short paddles but on an overnight or week long trip.
It gives us a chance to leave the phone at home, breathe some fresh air and just live a simple day without distractions. Cooking a camp meal, setting up a tent in the wind, working out how to take the extra bottle of wine in the kayak is all fun.

For me, part of what makes paddling special is sharing it with someone. Whether it is going out for a surf or on a 2 week trip. I don’t paddle competitively and never have so it is recreation and work, and I like keeping it for that.

* You seem to fill your life with adventure and challenge... how do you motivate yourself to do the life enhancing activities such as kayaking in Antarctica and creating amazing new paddling trips?

Mate, one has to earn a living somehow! Seriously though, having the opportunity to paddle in the Antarctic and other places is not taken lightly. I very much appreciate how lucky I am to be able to do it. But it is equally enjoyable seeing others get the same enjoyment out of it. So. Making it possible for folks to get to some difficult places is really one of the most rewarding aspects about having such a tour business.

* Why do you think 'life-enhancing' is important? What's important about having dreams, goals and inspiring purpose?

I guess I would prefer to say it is important to take some time out from whatever job or stress you are in and do something that makes you feel good, whether it is playing music, taking pictures, hiking in the mountains, paddling a new river or seeing a new country or area in a sea kayak. I like the details of picking a trip, planning it, preparing but when on it, I don’t like to have every day structured and try and make it as flexible as time constraints allow so you can make the most of whatever comes up. From meeting an interesting fisherman, or a wildlife encounter or lazing around camp. Dreams or goals for me, make the difference of getting beyond the daily routine and commitments that just living can impose on your 24 hours.

* Who are your role models for 'life-enhancing'? Are there any exemplars that live enhanced lives that you look to for inspiration in your own life?

Many throughout my life, but my current hero is an 82 yr old who has been on a number of our trips. Started paddling 5 –6 years ago and get out of his kayak and climb back in upside down and roll it back up. He paddles 3 times a week and just loves to get out. I see many things in people I work with that is inspiring and constantly amazed at how families balance their work with being parents and still finding time to learn or play.

* What would you put on the list of the most: Life Enhancing Devices, Life Enhancing Values, Life Enhancing Beliefs, Life Enhancing Skills/Strategies and Life Enhancing Behaviors?

Enthusiasm, good humour, an interest in learning, curiosity, being aware of what is happening around you, and patience. One particularly rewarding pastime is watching wildlife. Simply being patient enough to watch, smell, and observe and see what the animal is doing can be fascinating.

Thank you Al for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

What Al says resonates with me. The experience, skill and flow of paddling a kayak, of moving your craft through the sea, of exploring amazing parts of the world, and sharing that with others are all so incredibly life enhancing.

If you've never paddled a kayak, then do yourself a big life enhancing favour and go hire one for a few hours, get some instruction and have a play. Better yet, book yourself on a kayak adventure trip. Most trips are suitable for beginners and will teach you the skills you need to enjoy the experience safely.

And if you are already a paddling aficionado then I encourage you to get into your boat and do some more paddling soon 'cause kayaks really are such wonderful LEDs.

Finally, let me point out that kayaking is not without risks. You should always wear and use appropriate safety equipment and take lessons from qualified instructors. Paddle thoughtfully and safely and you'll live to enjoy kayaking for many years ahead.

much happy paddling
smiles, Grant


  1. Thanks for the sterling interview. Al Bakker's reasons for what he does resonate perfectly with the life I know and love. Sea kayaking in Tonga has just taken on another positive dimension...


  2. Grant et al.,
    and there is some extreme dimensional kayaking happening right at the moment:



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