Let’s just get this out there: We all swim. As a general statement of what I see, guys generally give each other a hard time when this happens, calling each other beaters, etc. and females tend to lose confidence and doubt their skills. I fully believe that swimming is part of the process of becoming a better kayaker. When we do start running hard rapids, the goal certainly is to not swim as the consequences of a swim are usually increased. However, when we are learning, swimming is part of the game. We seem to understand this. My question is why does this change as our skills progress and we correlate swimming as sucking?
I am completely guilty of this from time-to-time. This is a situational thing for me and let me explain. The other weekend I took my long boat to the Tallulah on the higher release day. I have never taken my long boat out there before (mainly due to the fact I didn’t want to carry it down 600 stairs). I also hadn’t been in my long boat in a while. I knew this was going to be a challenge but to my surprise, it was far more of a challenge. The flow certainly kicked me around and keeping it straight posed to be much harder than I am used to in this boat.
I will fully admit that I had my first swim on oceana. For those of you not familiar with this rapid, it is a large slide that all the water pushes into “the thing,” which is a large rock and the slide finishes in a stomping hole. I have never been a huge fan of this rapid because my personal belief is there is not a ton of skill in this rapid and rather, luck. You come over a rooster tail at the top, rudder on the left, lean into the thing and hope you are taking strokes coming out of the thing to pull yourself past the hole (I say hope because you are in a complete whiteout and most people are not taking strokes through the hole).
I did just this in my longboat but before I knew it, I was getting chundered. I went for a roll and quickly realized I needed to bail. Reaching for my grab loop proved to be difficult due to the turbulence (a feeling I am not use to). Upon bailing, I popped up in the corner pocket with all my gear right there. I grabbed my paddle with my left hand and starting kicking and pushing my boat up against the left wall to get out of the hole. No one was down at the bottom as the person I was kayaking with was walking the rapid and we were early enough a crowd had not yet formed to spectate the sh*t show that can go on here.
I feel 100% okay with my swim and honestly, feel good about my self-rescue. So why would I feel okay with this swim and not others? Here is why: I was challenging myself while still keeping myself and my crew safe. In all the swims I have had, this was not terrible. I don’t want to do it again but the odds are it’ll happen again if I continue to run this rapid, which I fully plan to. I believe that each swim up to this swim helped me stay calm enough to still be in the hole, out of my boat and still grab all my gear. I also believe that the self-rescue was actually confidence-inspiring and will help me for a future swim.
Why would other swims then bother me? When I am not challenging myself and I get lazy and passive and then I swim, I get upset with myself. Even in this though, it is a learning moment and I just have to remind myself of that. All these moments allow me to self-reflect to make myself better for the next time I get in a kayak. I want to take accountability for myself and have learned to listen to that internal voice that tells me to walk something. To kayak at a higher level I fully believe you have to detach yourself from your ego and do what is safe, which is many times walking something or running “the sneak” which can be an extremely hard aspect to the sport, especially if you are competitive with yourself.
So instead of beating yourself up, having negative internal talk, think about how that swim can make you a better kayaker. Learn, grow and improve!
Video of how to properly run Oceana!