On the 5th August we flew to West Sweden, a pristinely beautiful place that seems to be having a ‘moment.’ With long summer days, over 8,000 islands to explore (stretching from Gothenburg all the way to the Norwegian border) and a plentiful supply of fresh sea air West Sweden is becoming an increasingly popular travel destination. One of our days was spent undertaking a challenging Sea Kayaking Certificate course…
“They say you haven’t seen the Bohuslan coast, unless you’ve kayaked the Bohuslan coast”.
So said our guide, Torbjörn, at Nautopp Kayak in Lysekil, on Sweden’s west coast. And seeing as his name translates as “thunder bear” I was inclined to agree to anything he said. Well, that and the fact that he’s a qualified kayaking instructor and I’m claustrophobic under water. In fact, although I’d been sea kayaking several times before (most memorably in Venice last year), and feeling fine above water, doing anything that involved being submerged under water was not something I’ve ever felt comfortable with. So this 1-day course, accredited by the American Canoe Association (recognised the world over), was especially appealing as I could see some of West Sweden’s stunning coastline and push my comfort zone at the same time – my long, gangly legs are a hindrance at the best of times, so my visions of looking like a drowning giraffe as I struggled back into my vessel needed to be addressed.
We got instruction in how to paddle efficiently without using too much energy, safety techniques, how to maneuver sharply, and how to steer in a straight line – always one of my biggest problems. I assured them I hadn’t sneaked a beer onto my kayak, despite my swerving and zigzagging that hinted otherwise. Torbjörn also explained about maps and navigation, safe areas to kayak in, and which routes to take. Like many things, the most fun way to learn all the techniques was to play a game – so we divided into two teams and raced around playing water polo, trying not to capsize.
Half of us didn’t quite manage to stay upright, which we realised was kind of the point – we stretched and lunged and raced for the ball, and inevitably ended up upside down. This meant we could do a “wet exit” (the technical term for falling out of the kayak under water) and then learnt how to rescue and be rescued by a fellow kayaker – just when I thought I’d got the hang of it, congratulating myself on a successful rescue, I realised a moment too late that I wasn’t holding my companions kayak tightly enough and I ended up plunging in myself. So much for my heroics!
This green-living part of Sweden is ripe for exploration under your own steam – not just kayaking the coastline, but also cycling on car-free South Koster Island (part of Sweden’s first and only National Marine Park), and taking a hike over the pink boulders in Smögen. A bit of physical exercise in such fresh, clean air should be rewarded with some equally fresh seafood, of which there is an abundance in the region – you can’t leave here without trying the signature shrimp sandwich at Göstas at the end of the Smögen boardwalk (though “mountain of shrimps on bread” would be a more accurate description).
If, at the start of the day, someone had told me that I’d be volunteering to do extra wet-exits by the end of the day I would’ve said they were crazy. It’s testament to the coaching skills and trust I had in our “thunder bear” that I was doing exactly that – and I was reluctant to finally haul my kayak out of the water and head home. Luckily though, a night at Villa Sjötorp beckoned, the very embodiment of rustic charm, with its melt-in-the-mouth crayfish casserole, poached halibut and locally brewed craft beer, and watching the sunset on the nearby fjord from their terrace soon made my day in the kayak a pleasant memory. And I didn’t even have nightmares, despite sleeping in the supposedly haunted “white room”…
All words by Lee Hubbard (photos by both Lee and Becky) we want to say a huge thank you to the West Sweden tourist board for arranging the trip.