Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design


Punting isn't kicking

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

Until I got to Cambridge, the only punting I knew was in sports. In England, it's apparently a peaceful recreational activity where one makes the like the gondolier of Venice and steers a flat-bottomed vessel across a quiet river.

Punting basics. Photo by: Cathie Jao-Sevilla.
My former professor assumed his teaching role once again in this instance and took me, my two sisters and his friend out on the River Cam, to teach us the finer points of navigating this boat.

Punting didn't seem difficult. As we stood by the port where many boats were moored, I saw many tour guides expertly chat and let their poles slide down to the riverbed, steering the punt in the process. As with many things in life, first impressions aren't always the right ones.

A punt up close. Photo by: Cathie Jao-Sevilla.
Part of learning to punt is going against your gut. The designated driver stands at the back of the punt with an hollow aluminum pole in his hand. To move the punt, the driver has to let the pole slide through his hands until it reaches the river bed and then push off. To steer, the pole then has to float in the water in the opposite direction he would like the punt to go. It's counter-intuitive, I know, which is what caused so much trouble in the first place.

Figuring out the right way.
At first, I was too hesitant. I feared falling off the punt by applying too much energy while pushing off the pole. Thus, we moved at a heartbreakingly slow pace. It was arguably fun for my passengers; they could sit and watch the idyllic scenery. It wasn't as satisfying for me to see the snail's pace I've set. Eventually, I got the hang of it and added a bit more energy to it, but the end of the river trail was still so far away in my mind.

The other problem was figuring out which direction to go toward, and telling my arms to maneuver the pole appropriately. Because the procedure was opposite of what came naturally, I inadvertently let my pole wander in strange directions, setting us off in new paths. Sometimes, we would create traffic jams and we brushed passed other punts with punters in training. At that point, my passengers would just give the nearby boat a good heave-ho to untangle our mess.

By the end of the short, but internally thrilling ride, I was sweating and my arms were tired from picking up the pole from the river. It was quite a workout.

If I weren't driving, it would have been quite peaceful. The punts are perfect for small picnics. As the punt moved gently across the water, it afforded us views of Trinity College, the Bridge of Sighs and the Mathematical Bridge we wouldn't have been able to see on foot.

Approaching sights from the River Cam.
The Mathematical Bridge is arched but is made up of straight timbers.
Gliding along the water, I realized how important pace was to life and how it colors every experience. Walking would have given one time to appreciate details, but gliding gave us time and also a strange experience of constant movement. It was unsettling in a way that made me appreciate the same view in a new way.

Have you ever experienced an old place with new eyes just by changing the way you encounter it?


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