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Whitewater Kayaking is a lifelong learning sport. Many other sports have a fairly static field of play (or practice) – generally soccer pitches, volleyball courts and basketball courts are always the same. This stability means that the participant can spend their time working towards mastering the technical skills required for the sport. Although every game has variety within it, the technical skills can generally be applied in a consistent manner.

Rivers are never the same, even one day to the next. This means that whitewater paddlers are having to both develop their technical paddling skills and also constantly develop their ability to apply those technical skills in an ever changing landscape. This puts a great deal of weight on a paddlers ability to make quick judgement calls regarding what skill to use when.

Some days this can feel really frustrating, especially when you are on a learning curve and just want to get some time in working on a particular skill. Or even worse, want to replicate that amazing surf session that you had on the wave yesterday but the river has gone up or down and the feature has changed just so slightly (or disappeared entirely!).

There are many ways to engage in lifelong learning in this sport:

• Take lessons from qualified instructors to help you maintain progression and move through the plateaus
• Paddle with a diverse set of paddlers so you are exposed to different paddling styles and approaches
• Paddle with paddlers that are slightly better than you to stretch your comfort zone (in a safe way) and give you something to chase
• Set paddling goals for specific skills and/or rivers and then ask those you paddle with to help you achieve them
• Find a local community competition and try your hand at competing, which will help grow both your mental and physical skills
• Learn different whitewater paddling modes – try out Stand-Up Paddleboarding, Whitewater Canoeing or Whitewater Rafting to get a different perspective on the river
• Take a swiftwater rescue course to learn more about whitewater dynamics and how to keep yourself and your paddling buddies safe

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a Level Three Swiftwater Rescue Course that was geared towards Search and Rescue Technicians. These are the people that get called in when we are really in trouble and have not been successful with our self-rescue techniques. Learning about swiftwater rescue from an organized search perspective gave me a whole new perspective on the different approaches to managing safety in whitewater. It validated the information that I knew, helped me add new tools to my toolkit and was one more piece of my lifelong learning related to whitewater paddling. As an aside – the course was fantastic so take the opportunity to connect with Chris Armstrong of Kootenay Swiftwater or Rescue Canada to learn new skills!

What can you do to learn something new this week?

Don’t forget to check out to ensure you are being smart and informed when out on the river!

Vincent Family