When I picture myself kayaking, in my happy place, it usually involves a playboat, my family, and a great wave or hole to try a bunch of tricks. I picture myself falling on my head a lot and laughing, but also nailing the moves I am trying as well…
While this may be how I picture it, it doesn’t mean kayaking is always like that for me. My winter home is Rock Island, TN where when the water isn’t flooding, I do have a great wave and hole to try freestyle tricks. But when the water is flooding… my paddling changes.
This winter I have done endless amounts of “Boat Ramp Runs.” It’s a 15 minute paddle (sometimes 5 minutes at REALLY high water) from below the power plant to the boat ramp at the state park. This run has very little play at high water but has big breaking waves, and lots of them. Splashing into these waves with little care in the world has become one of my happy places with kayaking. This run reminds me that no matter what is going on in my life, I can make time for kayaking. I have raced this run with close to no daylight, I have put my son in the car seat and asked my friendly neighbor, Clay Wright to drop me off and pick me up. I have paddled it in Slalom boats, playboats, long boats, fishing boats, funs, zens, karmas, and so forth.
The most inconvenient days have turned into some of the best for paddling. When I get back into my car and my hands are burning from the cold (because I’m too stubborn to wear gloves) it sucks at the time, but it is a great reminder of being alive and doing something you’re passionate about.
Being nervous in my kayak is not something I experience as often as I used too, mainly because I often say no more often then I should for trying new runs. But this winter I have already had several paddling experiences that I was originally nervous about. Running a new creek, Crooked Fork, paddling slalom boats to the boat ramp at 60,000 cfs (we had to seal launch them too) and paddling over horizon lines. While being in these situations I remembered a few things that really help me when I feel out of my element, not in my happy place, or simply just lacking confidence.
1) Trust your paddling group.
When I jumped on the Tellico with Nick, I hadn’t been in my creekboat in awhile, at first I felt like a fish out of water. But by taking a step back and remembering who I was with, and what run I was on (one that I had done several times) I suddenly relaxed and was able to put my kayak wherever I wanted and enjoy every second of it. I wasn’t nervous anymore, and knew that should I mess anything up, my group was there for me 100%.
2) Breakdown the River
Often I will say no to a new river run because people say it’s a class 4, with a couple class 5’s or a class 3 with a couple hard class 4’s. I get so caught up on the few hard rapids, it hard to remember that there is a whole river flowing between those few harder ones. I know that there is a good chance I will say no to the harder rapids, but that usually doesn’t mean I have to say no to the whole river. Ask your guide or group if the harder rapids are easy to portage and if they aren’t, what your options are for walking around. When I ran Crooked Fork the other day, I was so caught up with the concept of all the harder falls, that I really didn’t want to go on the run. After talking about walking potential, and options for me if I didn’t feel comfortable on the run, I realized I could technically walk everything, scout anything and didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to. Knowing this made it easier for me to put my gear on and get on the run when the time came.
Once you’re in the river, look to your next eddy or destination, don’t visualize the take out, but visualize you next move. By taking each rapid, eddy by eddy, boof by boof, you will feel much more comfortable in the current situation. You can ask yourself: Can I run the whole river? I don’t know, but I know I can make it to the next eddy. By having that mindset you will be at the takeout before you know it. If you aren’t sure about getting to the next eddy, then stop, scout, or walk if necessary. Baby steps!
3) HAVE FUN!
Last but not least try to see the beauty in the situations you are in, remember how alive you feel in these situations. The trees, the streams, the wildlife, the feeling of the water beneath you, are all elements we tend to overlook when focusing on running the river. By looking up away from the rapids themselves and soaking in the wilderness or scenery around you, it helps remind you that kayaking isn’t just about going downstream but enjoying the place you are in. Be goofy, challenge yourself on easier rapids and try to smile as often as possible. By having a positive mindset and a happy attitude, it will help you be calmer and see rapids and moves more clearly.
I hope these 3 pointers help you get over any humps you may be facing and improve your paddling. I have certainly seen an improvement in mine and look forward to more paddling days with my family and friends.
Happy Paddling and Have Fun!