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Finding meaning in kayaking

The reasons why we kayak shift over time. I have met and talked to many people who have “retired” from kayaking, people for whom kayaking has lost meaning. I have also been known to threaten retirement, basically every time I go kayaking. Something always lures me back. Is it the challenge, the places, the people, the highlight experiences, the nostalgia? These past two years it has been mentorship. The river is an ideal place to teach leadership, communication, care, and risk management. If you paddle in a quality group, there is always consideration of how information will be disseminated, who is paddling with who, and what rapids are important to look at.

Not everyone has these skills, not all groups consider what is important when on the river. Groups can be poorly defined, skill levels unknown, and approaches not discussed. The best people on the river establish who the leader is and check in with each member about what they need to feel comfortable when on the river. Everyone has to agree to these terms otherwise group cohesion and togetherness is sacrificed and you end up feeling like you are kayaking alone in a group.

These skills are so important to teach our new paddlers and this process is not automatic. It takes a commitment to the people you are with and a compassion for the paddling community to develop these skills and pass them on. The learning curve for technical whitewater skills is steep, but so is the learning curve for soft skills. It takes dozens of trips to establish the norm of communication, care, and safety with new paddlers. These skills are just as important as being able to boof, carve a ferry across a wave, or transition through variable current. These skills also earn you your way into good groups of paddlers(though being able to just send probably helps too).

This is part of the reason why I keep coming back, to see how paddlers are communicating, creating safe environments, and to be able to teach these skills to the next generation.