Advice From the Hammock- Hygge

It strikes me, as we flip the calendar to March, that the first day of Spring draws near, and this is my last chance to convince you, if you haven't already, that you really should try winter paddling. And I want to start by talking about the word hygge. Have you heard of this? 

Of course we've heard of it Aaron- 
you're thinking-  hygge is so 2017. 

Well, in case you're like me and social trends arrive to you a little late, let me explain. Hygge is a Danish word that loosely refers to a state of being super cozy. This might involve snuggling in with heavy woven blankets, big sweaters and sweat pants, or indulging in hot chocolate, decadent sweets, or anything else that gives you that feeling of "ahhhhhh". (An aside: Hygge is not, as I had assumed, pronounced like "higgy", but is instead pronounced "hoo-gah". This is a super bummer to me because I had previously pictured myself wrapped up in a giant blanket and explaining that I was "Getting higgy with it. :) ). It's become a wide-reaching cultural phenomenon, appearing in stores, tv shows, magazines, and blogs around the world. 

Let me assure you: Winter paddling is not hygge. In fact, on the surface, it’s the exact oppositeBut that's the crucial thing about hygge, at least in my eyes.  It didn't originate in the warm, sunny tropics, where a double-layer of wool blankets would be redundant if not torture. Instead, its roots are in the cold North, where Scandinavian winters are long and brutal. See, it's not the feeling of cozy by itself that generates such happiness, but the warmth and comfort it provides when juxtaposed with the cold, harsh winter. 

We are fortunate that in our daily lives, most of us never need to feel dangerous cold. We insulate our bodies in our homes, offices, and even clothes, moving from one climate controlled environment to the next, only briefly needing to feel the sting of winter on our faces. It's almost like we're in a constant state of hygge, except that rather being comforting, it becomes monotony, like spending too long in a sensory deprivation tank.  But a brief foray into the cold is good for us; allowing our bodies to experience these temperature changes, to literally get outside of our comfort zones, and reignite some of the evolutionary adaptations that allowed us to survive cold environments before we had modern comforts. 

And while we embrace it, the cold is still cold. When we winter paddle, we dress as warmly as possible, but by the end of the paddle, we're usually all looking forward to that burst of warmth. And that's where we find our hygge. It's in the truck on the way back to the shop, heat blasting, and favorite song turned up. It's at the shop, getting out of the wetsuits and into our favorite hooded sweatshirt and jeans, because although on the water we say "Cotton Kills", once out of the wetsuit, it's heavenly. It's heading to the bar afterward with your fellow paddlers, sharing a pint and a laugh and stories from the adventure. Or, on quieter days, it's the bowl of hot soup that warms you from within while you flip through pictures from the trip. All of these are wonderful experiences on their own, but are made all the more rewarding after paddling in in sub 40 degree water and air temps near or below freezing. 

But let me not paint the wrong picture. We don't winter paddle just because it helps make other things seem better.  While true, the reality is that winter paddling is great in its own right. For most paddlers it's the scenery that draws them back: Paddling by snow-capped rocks, watching a raft of winter ducks take flight as you pass silently by; floating through a salt marsh at high tide where summer parking restrictions usually prevent access; drifting in a loose flotilla of boards and kayaks, a thermos of hot coffee filling waiting mugs as easy conversation flows. It's these moments where I find my hygge on the water. As humans, we find comfort in connecting with others, and for me, there's no better way to connect than sharing an experience that so few people ever get to have. On every trip we run, whether everyone knows each other already or are just strangers meeting for the first time, this connection happens almost instantly. 

We hope that, in these waning weeks of winter, you'll come "get hygge with us" and give winter paddling a chance. Of course, we'll continue to run weekly destination paddle tours into Spring, but you don't want to miss the chance to say you Winter Paddled. 

Aaron Mearns