We Do Not Conquer the River

Words and pictures provided by Brian Green, Chile trip participant from 2014.

We do not conquer the river

This is a phrase I hear often, and it’s one that have to agree with the most.  Too often, we feel comfortable on the rivers we paddle most and it can, in a way, give us that sense of conquest.  I’ve had this feeling at times, and I have to stop and remind myself of this before I get to big for my britches.

1531779_592040087534314_1061777192_oIt’s ironic that I found kayaking in the first place.  I’ve grown up with trepidation around water, and a pretty healthy dose of claustrophobia.  In fact, I only hopped in a boat because my wife liked kayaking and wanted there to be something for us to do together ….. especially since she hated my idea of playing Flag Football or Soccer together.  So, I hopped in that boat thinking that it would be enough to satisfy her that I tried, and I would never have to get in a boat again.  Well, a funny thing happened.  I had a great teacher that helped me overcome my fears around water and tight spaces, and I found myself thinking this could be kind of fun.  I practiced at the US National Whitewater Center, got better, and pretty confident in the familiar confines of my local playground.  With this confidence, my wife and I set off for the mountains, and for the past several years, we’ve had our thing we could do together.

I had to find my roll.  I use the words lost and find on purpose.  You see, they are the wrong words.  My roll never left.  I simply left my comfort zone

We started off easy enough, and worked our way up to the Ocoee, Chattooga, and more.  My confidence grew, and I started to do more than just the sneak lines, and found ways to push myself.  I thought I was getting pretty good, but I just didn’t know what I didn’t know.  I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t able to do some of the seemingly effortless maneuvers that I saw far better paddlers making look so simplistic.  With a healthy dose of humility, I tried to paddle with these better kayakers that were willing to spread their knowledge.  It helped me to learn other things and my kayaking progressed more.  Harder, and less familiar rivers started to present themselves, and I accepted that opportunity.  What I found was that familiarity can also breed complacency, laziness, and a false sense of self.  Then the river lets you know who’s boss.  It put me in one of those panic situations that resulted in “Forgetting” my roll.  That set me back, not because I actually forgot how to roll, but I let the fear take over.  I was no longer comfortable.

This phase passed when I returned to my familiar grounds.  Comfort set back in, and I relaxed.  It also brought home the phrase, “We do not conquer the river.”  So, I continued to work on my seat time, how to learn new things, challenge myself, and stay relaxed.  Through paddling with others, I met Chris Wing at the US National Whitewater Center, and we worked on some advanced boating skills.  Chris was very good about watching and teaching to me versus molding me to the “It’s Always Been This Way.”  After one of our coaching sessions at the Whitewater Center, Chris asked if I wanted to join a group of folks for a kayaking trip down to Chile.  The first thing that popped into my head was “Hell Yeah.”  When I got home, my thoughts were around the unknown, the unfamiliar.  Would I “Forget” my roll or another important aspect that could get me in trouble?  Then I started watching the videos, seeing the pictures, and I just got flat out excited.  It was full game on.


This is probably the part where I realized that I couldn’t have gone with a better organizer than Chris, Sam, Pablo, and Lydia.  I was having a really bad day, but they did a fantastic job of helping me to leave it on the river.  Plus, the next day was the Waterfalls that I so looked forward to paddling.  I had to find my roll.  I use the words lost and find on purpose.  You see, they are the wrong words.  My roll never left.  I simply left my comfort zone.  It was that level of discomfort that was causing everything to go awry.  It was talking with these folks that I realized, I just needed to relax and get my “Zen” back.  It wasn’t my skills that were holding me back; it was my fears that kept me from relaxing and doing it right.  Fear is a healthy thing.  It can keep you safe, but it can hold you back too.  It can tear you down.  I still say it’s healthy because you can learn to recognize it, to overcome it, and how to use it to make you better.  You just have to find your own way how to do it.When we got the Chile, the pictures and the videos of the scenery and rivers didn’t do it justice.  It’s more beautiful than that, and the words …… let’s just say “beauty begets beauty.”  Our first day on the lower Trancura was golden, and I felt awesome.  The next day, the Upper Trancura was equally rewarding, and I was feeling special … in a way cocky.  So as we discussed the following day on the San Pedro, I decided to switch from my favorite Nomad to a not as loved playboat.  What did I find on the San Pedro?  I found that I was complacent, and I had gotten REALLY lazy with my roll.  Playboats amplify mistakes.  The result wasn’t fun, and there was swimming involved.  That swimming brought back my fears of tight spaces and water, and it spiraled from there.  Suddenly I was more concerned about having “Lost” my roll than focusing on paddling, and I was feeling awful. and I was ready to get out of that playboat, FAST!

1523867_593922497346073_275979191_oYou can be accomplished in many things in life.  You can feel self assured and confident.  As you master whatever it is, it can also make you lazy.  You don’t know what you don’t know until the unknown hits you.  You don’t know until the unknown rocks you off your game and throws your world off its axis.  Kayaking, to me, is the same way.  Much as I try to keep challenging myself in other aspects of my life, I found that I needed to challenge myself in kayaking too.  I needed to get out of my comfort zone.  I needed to embrace the unknown to grow, to learn.  This is the most important thing that I learned in Chile.  You see, I never lost my roll; I just discovered that I needed to learn to relax in that unknown.  I wouldn’t have found this out without paddling with the H2O Dreams crew.  I would have thought that I took a step back or I was in a rut.  Chris said it best, “Remember, it wasn’t a rut, it’s called growth. There is no dominion over the river, as the river is always in control. We just get to dance on it.”

This is why I’ll always try to continue to grow with Chris, Pablo, Sam, and Lydia’s help.  It’s never about what you can’t do; it’s simply about challenging yourself so that you can find out just how much you are capable of.  That way we can always dance even when the music’s different.

1 thought on “We Do Not Conquer the River”

  1. Water makes it’s way through the water cycle, and we just get to enjoy the ride for a small part of that journey.

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