We go through life, hopefully living it to the fullest. Every day is an adventure and every day is as good as you make it. There are ups and then there are downs, but for the most part, how we deal with those ups and downs are the most important.
Break those ups and downs into specific aspects of your life and you can examine even further how you deal with things, and how specific events can influence other parts of what you deem important.
I have been thinking a lot over the past few days about the ups and downs of my kayaking experience. Life can be compared to river flows. Sometimes the river levels are high, and sometimes they’re low. It’s how you get yourself (and your team) down the river in one piece and how you grow from the experience that really matters.
Last week, I drove up to Salida, Colorado for a Whitewater Instructor Course. I’ve been volunteering with Team River Runner now for two years but never had any formal instruction on how to teach. I wanted to help my local chapter more than simply being a safety boater and photographer.
The five-day course was challenging. Jenny Right-Side, who used to paddle almost full-time, traveling the world in search of prime whitewater had experienced a lapse. That full-time kayaking experience went into hiatus in 2008 before I went overseas for work, and never really re-manifested itself. Life got in the way.
I found myself on the first day of the course sitting among other instructor candidates who could be up to 22 years my junior and who paddle nonstop. This almost 40-year-old definitely had a hard time keeping up! It turns out kayaking (like most sports) is like riding a bike. You don’t lose the ability to rediscover the essential skills, but without the muscle it can be an extremely challenging experience.
The whole week forced me to look within myself and determine how badly I wanted this certification and how badly I wanted to redevelop those ace skills I once had, more than seven years ago. It made me think about my river experiences. The people I met, the rivers I paddled and how I continually pushed myself to become a better paddler.
I decided to go back and look at some of my notable surfing experiences, and note how I continually pushed myself to try bigger and more challenging waves on the river.
One of the first photos I found of myself was of my surfing a wave on the Black River in Watertown, New York.
This was in October 2005. I had been paddling for four months, when the river levels in upstate New York went off the charts! The surf wave, Inner City Strife was incredibly intimidating to me! It only formed at super high levels. There was a low-head dam just downstream from the feature. This meant mad rolling, ferrying and eddying skills were required to surf here.
The next photo I looked at was taken in the Spring of 2006. For my one-year anniversary of ever climbing into a kayak I decided to do the unthinkable and enter a surfing competition at one of the biggest and scariest waves on the Ottawa River, Ontario.
This wave was much bigger than Inner City Strife and aptly named Big Kahuna. Getting on the wave was a challenge and staying on the wave was a challenge. But I thought, what have I got to lose? Worst case, I flush off the wave and have to roll downstream. I think I got about five seconds on that wave…
A year later in 2007, I decided why not go even bigger? I know what you’re thinking. How can there be anything on a river that’s bigger than Big Kahuna? Enter Buseater. This wave comes in at some of the highest levels on the Ottawa River and could literally eat a school bus. You need to use a tow rope just to ferry onto the wave and then, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you just hang on for dear life. The water was so powerful, it snapped my paddle in two.
This trip down memory lane truly reminded me of what attracted me to whitewater kayaking in the first place and why I keep coming back to it. I’ve probably said this before, but when you’re on the river, the only thing that matters is each moment. How you’re going to manoeuvre a challenging rapid, making sure your mates on the river are safe, what is coming up around that river bend. There is no worrying about your mortgage, no trying to figure out what you’re going to make for lunch tomorrow, none of that. Simply: Every. Single. Moment. Matters.