Kayaking is a pretty demanding sport. Physically it is challenging and the amount of time you need to put into learning to kayak is mighty. But mostly I think the hardest part about kayaking are the mental challenges – whether that’s how confident you feel, how much self-doubt you experience or the fear that you feel. Learning how to deal with these challenges can help your kayaking improve so much more!
One of the biggest obstacles that I struggle with above a big waterfall or scary rapid is how I deal with the nerves and the fear that always comes with it. More often than not, these emotions overwhelm me. I soon start to overcomplicate what should be an easy sequence of moves. This train of thought snowballs towards me questioning whether I am capable of kayaking the rapid that I’ve been dreaming of for so long and then almost convincing myself that I can’t. This is what dealing with fear in a negative way looks like! This could happen to you regardless of what stage you are with your kayaking. It could come with learning to be comfortable with going upside down, or at any stage throughout your own progression as you paddle more things that put you out of your comfort zone.
One of my personal goals is to be able to show up to a rapid and be able to lead the way by being the first of the group to go down. I definitely find comfort in taking a step back and seeing how someone else approaches things first – inspire confidence within me after seeing my friend crush the line. However, if you are feeling super fired up and good to go, don’t hold back to lead the way!
Talking about your line of choice always helps. Don’t just shut off and go into your own head, seeing what others are thinking and feeling is really important, as it can give you the confidence that you are choosing the right line or help you adapt your line to something easier!
When dealing with park ’n’ hucks, if you are already feeling nervous before you get there, I think it’s a good idea to get changed into your kayaking gear before going to have a look. Once you finally see the rapid in person your mind can start to wander to places that might make you want to run away. However, if you are already in your gear it decreases the chances of you convincing yourself that you can’t do it. It’s sometimes easier to get out of your gear if you are not feeling it than it is to convince yourself to gear up if you are overwhelmed with nerves.
Once you are in your boat, take a moment to close your eyes and take some deep breaths to relax your mind and slow down your heart rate. Practice a few rolls even. Paddle around, catch a few eddies and visualise your line and then go for it!
More often than not I find myself sitting at the bottom of rapids feeling surprised with myself. Surprised that I 100% had the ability to do what I just did. I find myself thinking ‘why the heck did I put myself through all of that stress and almost walking away when if I had put full faith in my ability from the beginning it would have been sweet!’ It’s a never-ending battle. Maybe one day I will be able to harness the excitement and nerves as I hope you, who are reading this can do too. But in reality, it’ll be something that a lot of us will always have to deal with. It’s how you deal with it that matters most!
The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.Nelson Mandela