Going with the Flow

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Kayak Trip

Slow Moving River

Going with the Flow

I thought I wanted to paddle down fierce whitewater rivers. It looked like a huge adrenaline rush. Perhaps, I should have taken I lesson from a professional. I did not. It was not “uncharted water” that changed my destiny to paddle down raging rivers. It was, instead, very charted water–a pool to be exact–that thwarted my dream to whitewater kayak. Since that moment, I’ve become a happy flatwater kayaker, searching for placid open lakes and slow moving rivers.

The moment occurred during my second attempt at learning how to perform a kayak roll, a necessary skill for those who whitewater kayak. My first attempt was when a friend offered to give me some tips. He had just taken a course to learn the fundamentals and wanted to share his newfound skills with me. He was very attentive and offered good instruction, but he was not a professional. I tried rolling. He kept working with me. I tried rolling again. It was evident that I needed to keep trying. By the end of that session, I got plenty of practice with capsizing the kayak, then wet exiting, but I never did a full kayak roll. A wet exit, in my opinion, is a failed attempt at a kayak roll, where submerged underwater, you pull the rip cord or the grab loop, to remove the spray skirt from the cockpit, then push out of the cockpit, and head for the water’s surface.

My next chance to try a kayak roll was in a pool. A group of acquaintances rented a local pool in the early spring to dust off their kayaks and get “stoked” for the upcoming whitewater kayaking season. Once again, I tried my roll. Once again, I was stuck upside down, searching for the rip cord to perform my wet exit. Unfortunately, I had left my rip cord inside my skirt with no way to access it. (The most important rule is to never, ever leave the rip cord inside the spray skirt.) My spotter, noticing that I was stuck, reached under my kayak, searching for the rip cord, in an attempt to help me wet exit. She did not know that I had not prepared properly and that there was no rip cord to pull. So, I doggy paddled—still submerged upside down with my entire torso stuck inside the kayak—to the side of the pool. Somehow I pulled myself out of the water, where I spent the next very long moments gasping for air. I’d never in my life gasped for air like that. Everyone in the pool area stared at me. They had no idea that I was even struggling a few minutes earlier. At that moment, when I was able to breathe normally again, I had absolutely no desire to successfully kayak roll…ever. And, no desire to learn any more whitewater kayak skills.

This pool episode happened years ago, before kayaking became main stream. During the last decade, recreational kayaking has grown in popularity thanks to the plastic kayak which is relatively low cost and easy to maintain. I bought a kayak that cost less than $400. I throw it on my car’s roof rack and head off to a nearby lake or a calm river. All I need is a life jacket and my paddle, and off I go.

The best way to learn a new sport, especially one that is challenging, like learning to whitewater kayak, is to take a lesson from a certified professional. Had I done that initially, I might be thinking about my next adventure in whitewater. But, I learned my own lesson, from not taking a lesson: taking the least challenging route, is sometimes just fine. I’ve had so many amazing paddles over the past five years. And none of them required me to perform the ever elusive (for me) kayak roll.
I discovered that my destiny is to go with the flow and paddle flatwater.


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