Dear Mountain Mama,
One “thud” and I fell out of love with whitewater kayaking.
When I flipped and hit my head on a rock, the primal urge to be right-side-up consumed me. All my friends who kayak have progressed and now paddle harder rivers than me.
I want to start kayaking again, but from the seat of a kayak the top of every rapid looks chock-full of rocks. Everywhere I see the potential for getting hurt. How do I conquer my fear of rocks?
Got the Kayaking Itch
Dear Kayaking Itch:
Hitting your head on a rock is terrifying. The sound of the impact echoes as you remain underwater, unable to breathe and unsure whether to risk rolling onto a rock or waiting.
Most hard-boaters have at least one I-hit-my-head-so-hard-I-considered-quitting-kayaking-forever story. Those who don’t are either liars or have hit their head too many times to remember.
The saying “look where you want to go” applies aptly to whitewater.
When looking downstream, if you focus on every rock, eddy line, or hole, the river will appear dangerous and difficult. Instead of focusing on all the spots to avoid, keep your gaze fixed on all of the water moving downstream. Some people call these “V”s as the water often resembles the letter when looking downstream. When you look at all the water instead of the hazards, most rivers are full of possible good, clean lines. Keep your eyes glued on where you want to go.
As your paddling progresses, take another look at rocks. Some rocks guard exquisite eddies that provide a break in the middle of a chaotic rapid. But in order to access those sweet eddies, you must be willing to confront your fear of rocks. Paddling close to rocks might be the best line on some creeks, so it helps to start exploring on mild stretches of water where you feel comfortable.
Many say kayaking is a metaphor for life. In life, we often attempt to avoid the hazards — the difficult conversation, the long overdue financial decision, or the number of fast food stops. We ignore the difficult to cultivate joyful and fun-filled lives. Sometimes what we ignore festers, spilling over into bad days. When we’re willing to cozy up to difficulties instead of shirking away from them, we learn — both on and off the water.
In the beginning, paddle clean lines. But once you’ve got some dry-hair runs under your sprayskirt, befriend a rock or two.