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It is no secret that whitewater can be nerve wracking, even scary, at times, and anyone who says it’s not is lying. In the quest for glory and progression, one must learn to combat the nerves building up telling them to take the safe way. Over many many years of being in these situations, I have taught myself how to calm myself within the chaos of the river, and I am here to guide you in that direction so you can become a paddling Jedi.

The first, and maybe most important thing, is to know the difference between being scared and being nervous. After I’ve looked at a rapid and scouted the line, the first thing I do is do a mental check to see if I am simply nervous about the rapid or if I am scared. If there is any amount of fear in me that makes me doubt my ability, then I do not run the rapid. On the other hand, if I am nervous about running it, I pretty much know I can do it (this is my personal experience). This goes along with confidence; if you believe in yourself, the chances are you can pull it off. Do know that overconfidence is an issue, so please put your ego aside when doing things that could be life threatening.

You have decided that you are confident in your ability to crush your line. Now you’re at the top of the rapid, getting in your boat, and the nerves are really hitting you. What do you do now? At this point, all I’m doing is focusing on my line: the best, the good, and the worst. Why do I focus on the worst? Well, even though most people say don’t think about the worst that can happen, you always think about the worst that could happen. I always tell myself, “You have confidence that won’t happen so don’t let it,” and I’ll get more into that in a bit. I visualize the perfect line and how it can go wrong, and then I visualize how I can fix those mistakes in order to have a good line.

At this time, I still feel nervous even after going through these things in my head. This is the point of commitment and the moment nervousness reduces the most. The second I take my first paddle strokes, the nerves drain away, and I’m left in a trance that only knows one thing: make the line. This is possible by the fact that there’s no stopping water, and once you’re going, you either commit or don’t commit, and the safest thing to do is to commit. Going back to what I said earlier, if you followed the steps, you’re paddling into the rapid confident that you can nail your line. You shouldn’t be worrying about missing your line because you know you won’t, and the only way you will is if you let the nerves tell you, “You can’t do this! Bail! Bail!” Of course there are instances where you mess up your line, but you should always plan on messing up because it happens.

There are many different ways to calm yourself down. This is simply how I do it, and it works for me. The final step is the most challenging and is what most people struggle the most on. Your mind is yours alone, and no one can tell your brain how to be in the face of danger. In the end, it is what you want to do that is most important. Do not succumb to peer pressure as it can be dangerous. It also helps if someone runs the rapid first as this lets you see the rapid in action. Another, and probably one of my favorite things I have been told, is you will only know your limits is by reaching them, and the only way you will get better is by pushing beyond them. I hope this works for you as it has for me.

See you on the river!