All Photos by Allie Meagher
How to maintain a healthy relationship with whitewater kayaking
I’ve been dating the sport of kayaking for about five years, and I have to say, I think I’m in love. I don’t actively chase the craziest Class IV+ rapids or tallest waterfalls, but it’s something that has brought me a lot of joy and empowerment in my life. Just like all relationships, mine with kayaking has presented many ups and downs but mainly, vital life lessons about myself and relationships. From a paddler who is still learning day by day, here are some of my biggest takeaways on how to maintain a healthy relationship with the sport.
- Take things Slow, Build a Foundation
We’ve all experienced the honeymoon phase. It’s new, it’s exciting, you’re ready to dive in and commit! You buy all the expensive gear, you watch all the crazy kayaking videos, and you’re thinking about getting on your first Class IV within the year! SLOW DOWN. It’s a beautiful thing to be excited and passionate. But if you get too ahead of yourself too fast you may get hurt and scare yourself out of it entirely.
If you were learning how to ride a bike, would you go riding down a cliff before learning how to pedal, turn, signal, and stop? Of course not! (I also really hope not!) You would ride it up and down the street and then work your way up. It’s important to build a sturdy foundation of paddling and safety skills before rushing to the bigger stuff. Taking classes, going out with experienced paddlers, practicing on the little stuff are all ways to help you build up your confidence and skill to better apply it later as you grow. Which brings to my next point:
- Make Time for it (Fun Time!)
Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! Failing is just as necessary in building confidence as success is. Even if you are paddling the big rapids, make time to get out in low-consequence situations/surroundings and mess around. Putting in that time is so valuable to allow you to fail and get to know what works for you and what doesn’t without the heighten fear of being in a more dangerous situation. The more you paddle, the more experience you’ll gain which is also a key factor in confidence! Don’t underestimate a quick 1-3 hour session just because it isn’t exactly “hardcore.” That’s still time invested in the relationship.
- A Healthy Challenge
A healthy relationship is one that empowers you while also challenging you. As you grow in whitewater, you’ll be amazed by what you are actually capable of! Create short term and long term goals for yourself so you are constantly being challenged and earning a sense of achievement. Your short term goals can be ones you set every time you get on the water like catching ten eddies, getting a combat roll, ferrying before the rapid, or even just simply having fun. Long term goals can be things like working towards paddling a certain river or waterfall.
- Know Your Boundaries
It’s excellent to have big dreams and goals! But it’s also important to know your own boundaries. Maybe you’re out paddling with your friends and they all want to hit a huge boof coming up that you don’t feel ready for. You don’t have to be! Maybe make it a goal for next time or just accept it’s a move you just don’t need to make for yourself. If your goals aren’t running the biggest and baddest Class V rapid one day, YOU ARE STILL A PADDLER. Paddling is up to you to decide what you want out of the relationship and to respect that.
- Express Your Needs and Wants
Celebrate what makes you, you in the relationship and what you want out of it! Are you looking for a way to get closer to nature? Wanting a fun and unique way to get a workout in? Hoping to spend more time outdoors with your friends? Craving a thrill or challenge? ALL OF THE ABOVE?! It’s entirely up to you! Once you decide what you want out of this relationship with paddling, you will better assess and achieve your goals. As long as you are happy with what you are getting out of it, then you are an accomplished paddler.
As you move up to bigger rapids, make sure you communicate with yourself and the ones around you if you feel challenged vs. in over your head. Just because you probably could do it doesn’t mean you have too. You never have to paddle anything that doesn’t feel right. Honor your ability!
- It Might Not Work Out
We’ve all had moments where we questioned whether or not this was the right relationship, and that’s okay! You come back to it because you want to and it’s worth it to you, not because you feel like you have too, because you don’t. Maybe whitewater kayaking isn’t for you, and that’s also so okay! You don’t know until you try, and when/if you do know, it’s important to respect yourself if it doesn’t feel right.
- HAVE FUN
As long as you are happy with what you are getting out of it, then you are an accomplished paddler. Respect and educate yourself on the dangers of it and practice safety always, but also make sure you’re having fun with it.