SINGAPORE – Wind in my hair, paddles slicing water, seawater flecking legs and shoulders. I taste salt on my lips and feel a delicious burn in my arms. There is something about physical rigour that makes one feel alive.
Perched in an inflatable kayak, paddling across the gulf of water separating Labrador Park from Sentosa, it strikes me that I have not felt this way in a while.
Kayaking, along with other rugged, outdoorsy activities such as trekking, diving and rafting, are not things I normally associate with Singapore.
Today’s expedition with Ninja Kayakers, a small outfit founded by Mr Clarence Chua, 37, looks set to debunk that.
Our first stop, a rocky beach called Tanjong Rimau on the western tip of Sentosa, beckons as we approach, stroke by laborious stroke.
Once there, a scramble over mossy rocks gives way to a secluded beach bookended by World War II gun turrets, repainted a cheery blue and yellow.
We pick our way across slippery rocks and shimmy up a steep dirt slope to the towers, and are rewarded with a postcard-worthy view, more precious because there is no one else around.
This is the eternal paradox of travel – we seek to discover under-the-radar spots, yet are loathe to share them with the masses.
“This is the best brunch spot in Singapore,” declares Mr Chua, handing out ham and cheese sandwiches for our first break of the day.
Places like these are exactly what he sought to discover when he bought his first inflatable kayak in 2010.
“Many years ago, I was kayak-less and on a bumboat to Pulau Ubin. I saw this guy just kayaking solo, close to the shoreline. It was like a vision out of a dream. There were no roads, and he was free to go anywhere he wanted,” says the father of two, who is also the general manager of landscaping company Country Cousins.
Having explored numerous rivers and reservoirs over the years with friends and family, he set up Ninja Kayakers in July after being approached by friends to run a tour for them.
Two types of routes are available – rural ones around Pulau Ubin and Coney Island, where you “don’t see a single building”, and urban routes like the one we are on, which offer an alternative view of familiar sights.
Full-day and overnight adventures are available, and the more gung-ho can even customise their own expedition.
Inflatable kayaks, no less stable than the hardshell variety, offer more flexibility. They are more easily deployed and can be packed away at the end, so there is no need to make the return journey with jelly arms.
We face no such risk as our 2.5km Secret Sentosa route is the shortest one available.
Even so, there is plenty to see, including the manicured gardens of Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa Resort and Spa and beaches dotted with inflatable slides, volleyball courts and bikini-clad sunbed loungers.
From afar, I spot a brave soul dangling by the ankles on the AJ Hackett bungee jump. My companion and I make a pact to return and do it together.
With the wind at our backs, we arrive all too soon at our penultimate stop, an islet breakwater opposite Siloso beach. The water is clear and the sand waves pristine on the semi-circular beach we can make out in the rising tide.
So many times, I have stared at these breakwaters and wondered if it was possible to swim across from Sentosa. As it turns out, they are yet another tiny slice of paradise.
I scramble up some rocks onto a plateau to find Mr Clement Chua, 31, Clarence’s younger brother who helps out on tours, already stirring two pots of pasta on outdoor stoves. He has even brought along condiments, parmesan cheese, cold drinks and beer.
After the morning’s exertions, the simple fare tastes grand. It has been hours since I last looked at my phone.
Behind us, the island thrums with man-made activity. But looking out, the view is all sea and sky.
The name Sentosa translates to peace and tranquillity. In seeking out the island’s secrets, I have experienced exactly what its name means.
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