Kayaking for Change

When you read a byline like “World adventurer and educator circumnavigating Oz for education” in a kayak solo no less, one can’t help but be curious about the woman behind the headline. So we tracked down Teresa Diehl to find out more about her inspiring kayaking adventure. 

When you are not out in the Kayak, where can we find you?

SCUBA diving, hiking, biking, reading, Yoga and just recently SUP Yoga, doing something fun and laughing with my friends or family. But my very favourite place to be is inspiring students to achieve more than they ever thought they could!

Have you always been a kayaker?

No, I started training for sea kayaking when I decided to circumnavigate Australia four years ago. It is part of my repertoire of comebacks for the infinite reasons everyone makes up about why they cannot do what they wish to achieve. Not knowing how you are going to do it is easily overcome, LEARN!

What is the attraction to Australia and the ocean?

I have always wanted to live in Australia deep into my earliest memories. I grew up around four fishing lakes and my brother and I would go out and catch frogs, toads, fish, snakes, and be around a multitude of other wildlife such as deer, bobcats, cougars, and bears. Australia has the some of most unique and spectacular wildlife in the world and warm oceans! People and animals seem to spontaneously come right up and interact with me. Although I grew up inland, my heart always called me to the ocean. I love everything about the sea. I love being in it, on it, around it, listening to the waves lapping the shore or lapping whatever craft I am in on it. A peace descends when I am in the ocean and complete elation comes over me when its creatures approach.

What was the inspiration to circumnavigate Australia solo in your kayak?

In Trinity Beach, just north of Cairns, I met a character named Mel Patterson. He was sitting next to his open canoe. A canoe, mind you, not a kayak. I walked up to him and said, “G’Day, mate. Where are you from?” He replied in his beautiful Aussie accent, “Oh, I just came from Darwin, and I am heading for Sydney,” and gave me a warm inviting smile. I ran home, got some tea and bikkies, a notepad, and ran back to the beach. We talked for three hours and I decided this would be a great way to revisit the Whitsundays. By the time my Permanent Residency was bestowed upon me a year later, it had turned into circumnavigating Australia.

What is the plan? How far have you travelled so far and how far have you got to go?

I do not want to circumnavigate Australia just to circumnavigate Australia. I want to make a difference. In sharing what I am doing, I have found it inspires just about everybody to at least consider doing something they did not think they could do. I have a goal-setting program I deliver as I travel, in which I use my expedition as an example of what one can accomplish by setting goals. I can deliver it to any age group, and I have never once finished my program because the students get so excited asking questions and setting goals!

I have travelled a whopping 500km so far! While it was quite discouraging at first, all the obstacles I have overcome have given me an arsenal of responses to “reasons” why someone cannot reach any goal they desire to achieve.

What have been some of the biggest obstacles to this journey?

When I arrived at Magnetic Island Queensland after conquering 30 knot headwinds for six hours, I found my front compartment nearly completely inundated with water. So much for $1,000 worth of electrical equipment!

What have been some of the highlights?

The best highlight has got to be my final paddle from Townsville to Magnetic Island to put my first kayak PlatypusYank, into indefinite storage. (I have been told if you modify 10% or more of a boat, it is your design and you can call the model whatever you want. I modi ed well over 50% of that kayak so it is an original PlatypusYank.) I was feeling a little morose as this was my first kayak and I had put so much of myself into it. I was certainly not in a hurry and I was enjoying the changing colours of the sky as the sun was setting...BAM! My kayak was knocked hard and I turned around to see my stainless steel rudder flipping in the air and a huge splash behind me. I was elated! My PlatypusYank was officially christened by a Tiger Shark on its last paddle. It may sound silly that I was excited about being hit by a shark, but I have talked to numerous kayakers who have been hit by sharks, done my homework, and I go by the motto “Sharks make mistakes, too.” They are curious and will check out something in their territory. For the most part, they swim by, see a 5.5 metre kayak is nothing to eat and are on their way. When the water is murky and the rudder is giving o a slight vibration they check it out with their teeth or sometimes give the kayak a nudge underneath. I have a high degree of respect for large predators and I am certainly going to be bracing rather than rolling my kayak when they are in the area. However, the biologist in me is like a kid in a lolly store when wild animals interact with me. Just like domestic animals, they all have personalities, idiosyncrasies, and absolute magnificence. The highest high for me is seeing and interacting with wild animals in their own environment. It is an absolute privilege to be graced with their presence. Perhaps because I possess awe and respect for all creatures, they sense this and approach me without fear.

What do you hope to achieve through this journey?

If I had a say in it, every 18 year old would be required to enrol in university, enlist in the military, or do overseas volunteer work for at least two years. I think it is so important for young people in Western society to experience and witness firsthand how the majority of the world’s population live. I also believe that an educated populace is a requirement for a successful society and democracy. If our youth spent the time they spend in front of the TV, educating themselves, contributing to society, or becoming involved in what our elected officials are actually doing and holding them accountable, can you imagine the changes in our communities? What if people actually treated others like they would like to be treated? The possibilities are limitless.

How do you stay mentally strong when you are out there in the ocean alone?

I am sure the rough times on the ocean will come, but so far it has been absolute heaven. Even in the three to four metre swells from all directions, in whiteout conditions, where all there was to do was keep the kayak upright and paddle, that is what I did. I have a great ability to assess a situation, quickly determine the best course of action, and execute. I also learn from mistakes and learn from others’ mistakes. I see no reason to reinvent the wheel.

What are your favourite words to live by?

Take the Road Less Travelled.

To find out more about Teresa and what she is up to now, head over to her website. www.platypusyank.com 

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