Lessons of Whitewater- Learning to Kayak

Rapids on the New River

Zach S. running the middle section of the Kenney Brothers Rapid on the Lower New River.
Photo by Kathie Green

For some, kayaking comes more easily than for others; like my friend, in the photo above, running a Class V Rapid. For me, I am still proudly in the “others” category. While I’m still very early on in my kayaking career, boating has been a continuous struggle for me. However, as with most struggles, this one has come along with lessons.  Before we go any further though, let me give you some back-story.

I moved to West Virginia in the summer of 2013, with the intent of being a video boater on the New River. The fact that I had never kayaked before didn’t seem like much of an obstacle at the time. I’ve always been the kind of person to easily jump into whatever was in front of me. I didn’t see why this would be any different.  As you’ve probably assumed already, I was terribly wrong.

Quickly, I discovered that kayaking did not come naturally to me. In fact, almost everything about it felt un-natural. Along with that struggle, I was completely new to the river. “Green tongues?” “Hydraulics?” “Undercuts?” It was a foreign language.  With each pull of my skirt and each long swim, I became more and more scared of my boat as well as the river.  Frantically, I would paddle away from any water that moved. To top it all off, I was alone. No one else at camp was learning how to kayak, no one I could relate to or vent to. Only experienced boaters that I kept comparing myself to. After about a month, I wanted to quit, to never sit down in a kayak again.

So here are where the lessons come in. I realized that I didn’t want to fail more than I wanted to quit.  So I reached out to those experienced boaters for help and guidance. With welcoming arms they showed me the ropes and taught be about the river. Slowly I became more comfortable on the river and in my boat. The joy of boating started to take ahold of me rather than the fear of boating.

Now, almost a year later, I am still in my boat. Does whitewater kayaking still scare me? Hell yes. Do I still struggle with kayaking? Absolutely. But I am still trying, still pushing to become a better boater. Because my whitewater lessons have been this: never give up, never compare myself to others, and to appreciate the life that I have. It’s crazy that something as simple as water moving downhill has taught me such vital life lessons, but there is no doubt that it has. So what lessons has whitewater taught you?

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