Mountain Mama: Are We Obligated to Help Beginners?

Dear Mountain Mama,

Some of my friends and work colleagues have asked me to take them kayaking. While I want to encourage them to learn, my river time is sacred. Do we have an obligation to help beginners in the sport? Or should I just tell them to take a lesson?


Don’t Want to Bother


Dear Don’t Want To Bother,

Of course you want to paddle rivers that challenge you. Your time on the water is limited and if you aren’t a professional kayak instructor, you’re out there to have fun. But unless your friends have really deep pockets, they probably rely on other recreational boaters like yourself to help them progress as a boater. Suggest they pay for the first few beginner lessons, and then offer to safety boat and provide pointers a few times.

After my first summer paddling, I signed up for a trip to Panama. We were on a continuous Class III stretch that was the hardest water I had paddled at the time. The river gorge was bordered by steep cliffs. The skies opened up and an onslaught of rain poured just after we put-on the river. The river rose fast. The water was muddy brown and full of debris. Rocks fell from the unstable banks. The trip leaders gathered us in an eddy and gave us a pep talk. They urged us to paddle as fast as we could so that we could get off the river before the flooding became too intense. I was scared and started to feel wobbly, even there in the eddy. I grabbed the closest person around and hugged him. He was a safety boater who had tagged along from the States, a big burly former professional rugby player and motorcycle racer. He wasn’t exactly the teddy bear type, and seemed a bit put off by my sudden hug.

But then a funny thing happened, he took me under his wing the rest of the trip. When we learned that we lived less than a half hour away back in the U.S., he offered to paddle with me regularly. About three years later we were eating burgers after paddling and I asked him why he had been so kind to me and had helped me to progress as a kayaker all those years. He replied that the surest way to becoming immortal is by teaching others. In turn, his students would help newbie paddlers, passing his spirit and love for the sport to future generations.

Don’t Want to Bother, we should always spend time to help our friends and colleagues. Even if you don’t buy the fountain of youth theory, you’re own skills will get better from modeling strokes and explaining moving water. Besides, you’ll come out of the season with another paddling partner or two.


Mountain Mama


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