Swim Lessons

2013 hasn’t exactly been packed full of kayaking for me. Thus far I have etched 3 green runs. End of list. I suppose I have valid excuses for my lack of paddling, namely a giant documentary project that I just returned from, but they are exactly that: excuses. The lack of whitewater in my life permeated my being as I began to question who I am. Am I still the dirtbag boater I set out (proudly, thank you) to be? Could I still handle the pressure of running class V whitewater? Would my friends recognize me in my dehydrated state? All of these thoughts scrambled in my brain into a soup of thoughts hardly worth having.

Alas, I packed up to reclaim my pride and return to the Green River after many weeks off from paddling. The normal rush of excitement ran through my veins as I slid into the cold waters on a beautiful sunny February day. It’s like riding a bike. A really complicated bike. I was joyous paddling through the warm up. I felt great. I was grinning ear to ear as I paddled into Frankenstein. I paddled over the first rock and then something strange happened. Everything was so fast! I came screaming around the corner struggling to keep my paddle strokes in pace with where I was currently in the rapid. I felt like a giraffe on ice skates. I managed to dork off the main drop and into the eddy just fine. The one thought lingered, I forgot that class V is, well, class V. This moment lead me to my first lesson of the day: Kayaking is not riding a bike.

I shrugged off my less than stellar line at Frankenstein and motored on downstream. I was rusty out there. I wasn’t flailing down the river, but I was a hair off here and there. We made it to Go-Left. I didn’t think much of the first of the big three as I dropped in. I came in a little closer to slot than normal, failing to leave myself room to get more than one stroke in before working my way towards the left slot. I have one rule for running Go-Left: Whatever you do, just hold the draw stroke. I valiantly clung to my theory, not worrying about my lackluster drive out. Then I dropped into the hole. No worries I thought, I’m facing the left and I’ll just work my way out of this. My thoughts flashed to a video clip of Pat Keller pulling himself out of the hole on one stroke. I remember watching him absolutely beast himself out of the hole with an attitude saying “Excuse me Green River, I’m Pat Keller in case you forgot.” This lead to my second lesson of the day: I am not Pat Keller.

It’s like riding a bike. A really complicated bike

My one stroke to glory failed me, and I spun back into the hole, and my hopes of escaping my destiny of swimming were fading. I finally flipped and my paddle was seemingly wedged between some rocks, making rolling a fruitless effort. In my last ditch effort to save myself I let go of my paddle and hoped that would free me through the slot so that I could at least carp about 45 hand rolls before swimming. My hopes weren’t met. I accepted my fate and reached for my grap loop, ditching my faithful kayak to get some much needed oxygen. As I gathered up my things and got back in my boat, my final lesson from the day took shape. Sorry it’s so cliche, but it’s valuable: We’re all between swims.

I’ve long feared that taking a swim would dash the rest of my day. It could skewer my mind for the rest of the day making me into a sketchy basket case of a paddler for the remainder of the river. Luckily this fear didn’t come true. I realize that swimming is part of this game. It’s how we progress. It keeps us on our toes, which can also keep us safe from nonchalantly making a big mistake. Most importantly, it keeps us humble. I’ve run Go-Left hundreds of times. I’ve crashed just about every way there is to crash in that rapid, and on the same token I’ve boofed through without so much as brushing against a rock. Hundreds of lines without swims is far from a guarantee of never swimming out of it. We must remember to accept swimming to be as much a part of kayaking as needing to load our boat on the car, or buckling our helmet before putting on. It’s not a failure. It’s not an excuse to start walking a rapid. It’s a reminder that we’re human, and perfect lines aren’t a constant in this game.

Until next time, a gritty booty beverage awaits me…..

Sam Fulbright – Pilot Collective Media

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