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Those Occasional Angels

Posted Jan 16 2006 12:00am

Huh, please don’t you rock my boat’
Cause I don’t want my boat to be rockin’ anyhow
Please don’t you rock my boat, no’

Cause I don’t want my boat to be rockin’ – b. marleySometimes I think the hardest thing for people to do is to remember when they didn’t know something. Something in us tends to take new knowledge and incorporate it in such a way that over time we feel it’s genetic. The fact that we struggled to learn it is easily lost or at least buried in our memory. However forgetting how we learned tends to make us less patient and understanding of others. Certainly something be have to be careful of.

As an instructor myself now, i’m always trying to remember my first attempts at learning new things. I can remember how nervous I was when I first tried a low brace in an ‘intro to kayaking’ class. Of course those first attempts were pretty silly when you look back on it. I couldn’t possibly get it right when I didn’t want to lean the boat. How can you keep your paddle low and parallel to the water if you are on a calm pond and not edging a bit? You inevitably end up lifting your inner arm and angling the blade to reach down to “slap” the water. Over time as we become more confident and start leaning a bit, the low brace begins to make a lot more sense. But hey, that’s where most of us start.

Another thing we often forget is how 8 inch waves can look like 6 footers and a bit of a breeze can seem like a gale. You don’t want to forget what that was like if you are paddling with folks who may be less experienced. While you’re truckin’ along happy as a clam, they may be starting to stiffen up and feeling like they are losing control of their boats. Without mitigating that fear a bit you’ll soon find yourself practicing your rescues. Keeping your own experiences close will help you recognize them in others. We’ve all seen the self-acclaimed super kayaker who is always 10 miles ahead with zero group awareness. They’ve buried their learning experience and assume they were born god-like on the water. They feel others should just, “keep up”. You don’t want to get in trouble with this guy. By the time he notices you’re not there, you’ll be drifting halfway to Spain. Let alone the humiliation and criticism he’ll dish out if he did come back.

I can remember one of the first times I was out a bit of wind, and I could not keep my kayak straight to save my life. It weather cocked all over the place as I battled to keep it on course. Then at the same time, I was worrying I’d go over in those mean looking 8 inchers. My gyro was off and I could tell I was going to dump it any second. It was pretty serious to me at the time. I know I had to have stiffed right up and just made it all worse. As soon as you get stiff your braces and sweeps go to hell and the spiral just keeps spinning. By the time I’d paddled a couple miles and slid up on the beach I was exhausted and my shoulders, wrists, and legs were alternating between numb heat and pain. I really had to get up some courage to go out in waves again.

Over time 8 inchers and a little wind became if anything, an irritant. But that’s not the end of learning. Next it’s two footers, 4, 6. . . Each step along the way you tend to re-visit those early days. Luckily it seems I always had someone nearby who would notice my nerves. Inevitably they paddle up and start a silly conversation that is akin to throwing you a rope and allowing you to climb back out of the hole you’ve been digging. This in turn allows you to keep growing. These days I’m really into waves. I enjoy the ride. But it could have been much different without those occasional angels saving me from my head.

Today when I am out paddling with less experienced folks I do my best to remember those feelings. Now if I just go up to them and say, “loosen up”, “concentrate on torso rotation” or whatever, they’re going to just look at me blankly. They may try mentally to do what I ask, but within seconds they’re just back to fighting the wind and waves. Fear will maintain control. I know it would for me. So many times, depending on the person of course, I just concentrate on checking in. Chatting and being sure they are not too far over the edge. I slow my cadence down to match theirs. I don’t push or nag them to keep up. Feeling like you’re falling behind just adds to the pressure. I know as well this is not the time to teach “skill work”. But I also know I can have an effect on building confidence. It’s amazing how much better you feel when someone by you demonstrates calm. Another boat near by and easy mindless conversation can do a lot to help you relax. Then as you relax of course, your boat begins to feel “less tippy”. You become more confident, and more focused on paddling and not the niggling fears of going over.

I think as we grow in this sport, personal memory is something we need to really work to hold on to. Staying close to our memories and experiences help us to better understand and truly assit others as they learn and grow. Building confidence is one of the great gifts we can give others. With that confidence in place their skills will come along, without it they’ll be too busy fighting their head to master skills. Just my nickle!

- d

Here’s a picture us Wisconsinites will relate too.

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