Point Hut to Pine Island – Murrumbidgee River
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Caleb paddled hard up-stream from the river’s edge, then forced his way onto the stopper wave. Surfing back and forth, sometimes spinning his paddle above his head. Turning round and back-surfing in the hole. A thumbs up and smile in my direction. Not showing off. Just in the zone. In his element. Almost on the edge but somehow in control. Delight writ large on his face and in his fluid movements. Action packed. At this level the river is strong and his reactions sharp. In tune with the power and force of nature. Riding and playing in the flow. He drives the nose deep then pops back onto a rail and flips over. Eskimo roll. Paddle back up for another go.
“Be back home by 5.00”, Mum would say when I was a primary school little fellow in the afternoons after school. A friend and I would launch into games of cricket, touch footy. Around athletics carnival we’d dig out a long jump pit or make a high jump in the back yard. Or alone I’d tear around a track on my bike. Grass never had much of a chance. Climb a tree. Make a new tree house and sit up there spying on the neighbours or look out across the valley. Later I’d explore the bush, making cubby houses with branches and rocks, wander along the creek, climb in the small sandstone cutting looking for quartz pebbles, make tin boats to paddle across a pond, venture through the drains underneath the suburb. We had fun. We pushed our limits. We developed skills and awareness of what we could do. I grew to love the bush and feel at home in it. I shared time with best mates and in solitude. Burned off energy.
“Play is considered so important to child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child. Play — or free, unstructured time in the case of older children and adolescents — is essential to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.” Marie Hartwell – Walker. http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-benefits-of-play/
When we play and flow in the zone where our skills and experience are challenged at just the right level time and the rest of the world are left behind. Our best play is where our mind, body and senses are totally focussed. As our skills and experience develop we seek out higher level challenges that are necessary to take us into this zone. We are challenged at whatever level is right for us. Edgework is play at our threshold.
My skills are nowhere near those of Caleb. I surf in smaller waves, practice skills, easier tricks and enjoy the exhilaration. Refreshed. The cobwebs are blown away, washed away. I feel energised. Together we share the journey, watching out for each other, chatting down the slow pools between rapids. Appreciate patterns of ripples, the trees, the weather, the water.
The benefits of play for adults are evidenced in research. The overall effect on our wellbeing (depression, hurt, worries, feeling foggy, sadness, anger, insecurities, anxiety – can be left behind for a time and our perspectives on them changed) is huge. All of this is multiplied if our play combines the health benefits of physical exercise and being in the natural world.
For me adventure is my primary form of adult play. Now I call up my friends and ask if they want to go climbing for a day or skiing up on the main range, or for a paddle on the river or to hike in the desert for 10 days or cycle down the Danube in Germany or do some via ferrata in Italy. Am I not just saying as I used to when I was a child, “do you want to come out and play”? The playground is bigger now and the games are more challenging.
“How about a second run down?” Caleb asked.
As we paddled down and played just for the pure joy of it I wondered as an outdoor ed. teacher how many students he’d shown how to do this, how many had learned wholesome adult play ways – climbing, paddling, diving, hiking, caving.
“You can reclaim your inner child by setting aside regular, quality playtime. The more you play, joke, and laugh—the easier it becomes.
By giving yourself permission to play with the joyful abandon of childhood, you can reap the myriad of health benefits throughout life.”