It hit me as I was paddling three miles across Magothy Bay. With each turn of the blades pulling my kayak through emerald water towards a thin line of marsh on the horizon, I asked myself, what am I doing out here? Then it hit me: freedom. As long as my arms don’t fall off or lightning strike my kayak, I can paddle anywhere I want to go. I am free.

I’m not talking about flag-waving, life, liberty and pursuit of happiness freedom, I’m talking about the eagle sailing the thermals into the sun freedom. I’m talking about the buffalo on the plain and blue marlin in the Gulf Stream freedom. Natural freedom.

the freedom gang. | PHOTOGRAPHER: Rob Choi
The freedom gang. | Photo: Rob Choi

How many people can say they are free like the wolf? Golfers? Haha. Runners? Yes. Cyclists? Yup. Ball players? No. I’m not judging other athletes, many kayak anglers aren’t concerned with open horizons and endless possibilities. I’m just saying, I’m in the game for freedom.

I often obtain a higher understanding on long paddles, probably caused by the rush of adrenaline and lack of oxygen. I usually recover when I return to the launch and real life crowds out any revelations. This time, I couldn’t stop thinking about the depth of freedom attracting me to this sport.

As my paddle blades sliced and the kayak gently sloshed side to side, I continued to reflect. The longing for freedom goes back to my youth. Every day after school, I would pull on my great grandfather’s old hunting jacket, my L.L. Bean boots and disappear into the woods.

Later, when I got a bike, I was always riding it past the extent of my boundaries. As far as my legs would take me, I would ride. Then, a skateboard carried me places and gave me a reason to go there. I would kick and push miles into town, hitting favorite spots and discovering new ones.

As I paddled an hour to my fishing spot, I couldn’t help notice the similarity. Just like monarch butterflies migrate thousands of miles on wings weighing less than a paperclip, my paddlings have a purpose.

I’ve come full circle, again. After suffering through a motorboat phase, when I spent more time working on my ride than riding on my ride. Heck, just last week, I was heading offshore on a buddy’s half-million-dollar sportfish when I heard the engine RPMs drop and the captain come off the bridge. One of the thousand moving parts was not moving. On our way back to the marina, I couldn’t help thinking this wouldn’t happen in my kayak.

Hey, I’ve got a real life, too. Swirling through deadlines, payments, obligations and meetings. When I get an opportunity, I don’t want a blown head gasket to hold me down.

I’m not alone. I have a few friends who are in the freedom gang. It seems the human version of wolves and lions are mostly loners. But a few die-hards will matriculate into a tight crew with a common drive. The only reason we don’t fish alone is a wingman allows us to go farther and adventure further.

So, four decades after I pulled on Pop’s hunting jacket and disappeared into the woods, I’m still suiting up and heading out on my own power. Nothing to hold me back. Free, like the vulture or the chickadee.

The freedom gang. | Featured Photo: Rob Choi

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Ric Burnley
“Thank God my dad wasn’t a podiatrist,” jokes Ric about following in the footsteps of a famous outdoor writer. After graduating from Radford University and serving two years in Russia with the Peace Corps, Ric returned to Virginia Beach and started writing for The Fisherman magazine, where his dad was editor. When the kayak fishing scene exploded, Ric was among the first to get onboard. His 2007 book, The Complete Kayak Fisherman is one of the first tomes to introduce anglers to paddle fishing and hundreds of articles and seminars have brought countless anglers into the fold. When he’s not chasing every fish that swims, Ric teaches English at a school for at-risk teens.

1 COMMENT

  1. The saying “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey”, while true enough, can be tweaked to perhaps suggest that with kayaking, whether it’s for fishing or a vehicle for extended paddles to remote ocean islands is that every inch of the way is a destination. The “journey” IS the destination; each shoreline explored; each cast and catch along the route is the destination of the moment – within that ongoing, ever-present journey. I think that spirit has been in every person who’s ever gone to sea – or river – or lake. The kayaker, no matter how attached to technology and evolving gear, still feels that essence in every paddle stroke (or even pedal push) when out on the water.

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