This Blog

This blog is dedicated to explorations of spirit, life, adventure, and people. I hope that it encompasses much more than the actions of people, but rather creates a more complete picture of what it means to be an athlete and a person in the outdoor community.

Monday, May 23, 2011

UCSC Kayak Club Trip: a celebration on all levels

This was the 5th annual spring kayak club trip. Each year the trip brings the spectrum of boaters together to celebrate where we came from and where we can go. Several people put themselves in the current for their first time, including Darrow Feldstein, Devin Peyton, and Meggan Wenbourne. Many others brought a wealth of knowledge and skill to those beginning their kayaking lives.

Graham Giving an excellent safety talk to get everyone on the same page. 

Learning to kayak is hard, and it is a testament to the human spirit that we endure the hardships of learning whitewater kayaking. The mental crucible begins immediately with swims, lack of oxygen, rocky flips, and uncomfortable boats. Beginning to kayak is always hard because the gear never fits, helmets are too big, wetsuits are hot, all the boats leak and have missing parts, and the rivers are typically too high or too low for beginners to enjoy safely. At this level you can't really go by yourself unless you already know the run and have all the gear, which is why the kayak club trips matters so much for beginning kayakers. I remember my first time in a kayak in a current. I swam 7 times in a quarter mile. I quit before the end, switching to an IK. I remember thinking, "I am never going to make it in this sport, currents are crazy and  water doesn't make any sense". And yet you press on, admiring your teachers and always looking for mentors and lessons, and thanking them for keeping you safe.

Teresa teaching rolls, he almost had it. A few more roll sessions and he will move onto the next thing to learn: paddle strokes and perhaps other roll techniques. 

Then there are people who have made it past the initial hardships of the beginner. They flounder in the lack of community for class IV, because those who are really passionate have normally made it to class V, so finding dedicated class IV paddlers is difficult. You have enough skill to run some class IV safely but maybe not all class IV, class III is fun but not challenging enough to get you to the next level. Here you stay unless you are able to find a mentor that can safely guide you to appropriate runs to hone your skills and keep you safe and excited about kayaking.

Ben, a long-term member of the club, hitting a hand roll.  We had roll sessions and hand roll sessions, challenging anyone out there on the water to better themselves. 

Once you pass the class V threshold a world opens up to you, you can boat with almost anyone, but the exchange is that you now have to endure real danger and fear. You may think that you have dealt with the worst by the time you get to this level but now brushes with death no longer seem unrealistic. They seem to happen a few times a season. "If this had changed I would have been gone, or if I hadn't rolled at just that spot things would have been so bad". Perception and reality are hard to distinguish at this level because people do hurt themselves and have serious accidents. The payoffs are that you have very few limits as to what you can paddle and see. It becomes even more mental at this level. The sweet thing is that class IV is still really fun and there are many easy class V runs that are enjoyable without much fear.

Galen enjoying one of the rewards of making it to class V: clean waterfalls. 

The Kayak Club trip has all these different levels come together to share an experience and each year it reminds me how much I respect anyone for trying. This sport is hard and the solidarity that comes with seeing everyone at there own unique level is inspiring. We are all in this together. This post is about gratitude towards the sport, the humility it brings, and struggle that it is. I am grateful to be able to help those just beginning, that they remind me of the journey I have made. I am grateful to have the kayaking community, the passionate people it brings together, and the river as the venue to share our personalities and fire.

Darrow showing the fire. This is what kayaking is all about, on all levels. 

The Kayak club has come a long way, the first year or two felt like the instructors where just there just trying to keep it safe, and now there is so much experience that everyone takes care of and enjoys everyone else. Congratulations to the UCSC kayak club and all involved for putting themselves out there.

Spread the skill, spread the joy.

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