A lot of people, kayakers and non-kayakers alike, often see whitewater kayaking as a dangerous and overall extreme sport. But the truth is that if you are honest with yourself and if you have enough knowledge, you can practice this sport relatively safely at all levels. On the other hand, lack of knowledge can lead to accidents on water that is barely moving.
When people ask me why I risk so much, I normally tell them that I don’t. I honestly don’t like taking big risks. I see rivers like puzzles and I like being able to put pieces together without any big flaws. I like challenges, but I don’t like the unknown. I remember my first years of creeking. Being a slalom and freestyle paddler before, I didn’t understand using rocks for my advantage. And even seeing somebody run a rapid that I didn’t understand often didn’t help. After a few times trying to run those kind of rapids I saw there was no point. I had to take a step back and start learning again. Step by step I was soon able to successfully run rapids that I didn’t think were runnable just months before and with this newly gained knowledge my confidence grew and my fears started to disappear.
I am writing this because after years of kayaking smart, kayaking in my comfort zone, I had a big swim that was caused by me consciously making a decision to run the rapids that I wasn’t nearly sure enough that they were good to go. Don’t get me wrong, I do end up swimming sometimes and I do run rapids that can easily make me swim or injure myself on purpose often. But I always take in consideration the probability for that to happen and the consequences. In this case me and my friend read and ran rapids that were too big, too long and too continuous for that type of river running. We both knew it but something kept us going, pushing our limits and putting our safety at risk.
I surprised myself by doing such a stupid mistake after so many years of experiences and it made me wonder why I did it. Like people often do I could blame it on coincidence, I could blame it on time pressure, peer pressure or even indecisiveness. But the truth is that there was something that was fueling my will to proceed. A clean and fast descent would have been a big ego boost for myself and an ego boost is like a drug that makes you feel high and makes you do stupid decisions to stay high. Confidence has nothing to do with it but it is instead closely related to low self-esteem and insecurity. I wonder why we have such a big need to identify ourselves as something distinct and why it is so hard to just let go and enjoy the game, play, whatever it may be, without a need to come out as a winner. I admit it is hard for me and media and peers constantly feeding into a cult of sports heroes does not help.
I don’t have big answers and I sometimes don’t listen to my own advice and instincts. But if you keep an open mind, you eventually progress – or evolve, since it is hard to say what progression in one’s life is. I find it incredible how I’m often able to translate kayaking experience into life lessons and vice versa. Looking at the video of Rio Suarez descent, I see I could have swam in many other holes before that. I am lucky to have gotten a chance to learn and walk away from it with a bit more knowledge, even though I was bruised and limping for a while. Kayaking has once again helped me grow and I am very thankful for that.
Here is the video of our beautiful Colombian experience. I had no plan when I was filming so I just put some random shots together to make for some great memories, while the GoPro shots are all from the amazing Rio Suarez. In the end you can see my swim. And remember that you can run the same rapids safe if you are patient and if you find a right way for yourself to do it.