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 different 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.
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 Second Law... sort of).
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction (Newton’s Third Law).
Rely on yourself. Be there for others.
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 rivers—these things are special.
Enjoy the ride.
Always take a minute to look back upstream to appreciate what you’ve accomplished.
This article was originally published in Rapid, Volume 18 • Issue 3. Read this issue.