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Alchemy


EVERYTHING I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KAYAK SCHOOL


I


’ve spent a solid quarter of my life teaching kayak school—the kindergarten of whitewater. Just like grade school kindergarten, there is a Zen quality to immersing oneself in the very basics of


anything. A seemingly complex and dynamic activity like navigating a little boat down a moving river can really be boiled down to just a few key elements. These elements become the rules of whitewater paddling, and may also become the rules by which to live one’s life. I propose that all you really need to know about life you already learned in kayak school:


Everyone feels awkward putting on a skirt for the first time.  Wet exits are good for you. Practice makes perfect.No, these boats are not


supposed to go straight.  Say you’re sorry when you bump somebody.  The butterflies you feel before you get in your boat will never go away.  You will grow to appreciate them.  Always make sure your spray skirt tab is out.Water shouldn’t be forced up your nose. Your head always comes up last.  Swimming is a part of paddling. So is walking. Smart people know this.  Even though all whitewater boats look the same, some people will argue for hours about their subtle dif-


ferent qualities. Stay away from these people. When in doubt, scout.  Throw rescue ropes to friends in need. Don’t let go. Thanks to the


late, great William Nealy, scouting and spitting will forever be related.  Look where you want to go.  Always pack a healthy lunch. Stay hydrated. Always have a plan. Always have a backup plan. Don’t over-think it. But don’t under-think it either.  Going with the flow is all hippie and cool, but at some point you have to take control and impose your will upon your direction (Newton’s First Law).  When you are unsure of what to do, lean forward and paddle (Newton’s Sec- ond Law... sort of).  For every action, there is an equal and opposite


reaction (Newton’s Third Law). Rely on yourself. Be there for others.  Point positive.  Eddies are the calm spots, but at some point you have to get back into the current.  You get to decide for yourself the meaning of success.  We are all between swims.  Take care of riv- ers—these things are special. Enjoy the ride. Always take a minute to look back upstream to appreciate what you’ve accomplished. 


Jeff Jackson is a professor with Algonquin College’s Outdoor Adventure guide training diploma and is the co-authour of Managing Risk: Systems Planning for Outdoor Adventure Programs.


32 | RAPID


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