A New Kayak Team.
The Boof Storks had just come into existence. The kayaking team, whose creation was merely an esoteric reference moments before, quickly blossomed into a team that had a manager, a marketer, recruiter, and four loyal members. We consisted of a 31 year old PhD Student, Helen, a self-proclaimed libertarian tech wizard from the bay, Lauren, and a 15 year old boy whose dry top consisted of no more than one fully functioning gasket, Louis. As Lauren adjusted the velcro visor she had attached to her WRSI helmet, Louis, the 15 year old practiced throwing his paddle and tucking, in preparation for the 50+ foot waterfalls he would be running in 3-5 years. We were about to run the South Fork of the American, Chili Bar section. “Hand of god me please?” I was asked as someone prepared to practice their roll.
Louis paddled hard over a current between two eddies while one of the girls waited for her turn. Back and forth they went, occasionally having to paddle hard to catch the eddy and climb back in. “Kayaking is the only sport that truly allows you to go to new places as you get better” Helen mused as we floated down. Helen wanted to see rivers, see canyons that you can’t explore except through kayaking. Though a smiled also graced her face as she slid across a wave to make it from eddy to eddy.
“What a sick boof!” Louis turned his boat downstream and charged over a rock about 3 inches out of the water. He took a stroke and then quickly pulled both of his arms up to about head level with his wrists cocked down, as if waiting for the impact of a perfect boof off a 20 footer.
We pull over to surf an eddy made by an underwater rock, the front edge of which you can practice surfing. Lauren pulls onto it and practices drawing herself across, turning down stream. She flips and her hands pop out of the water. Her blades both are out of the water, she has a false start, then tries again. The paddle jerks across the water but her hips roll the boat over and she is up! “Whooot Whoot!” The boof storks cheer as Lauren has just combat rolled for the first time. This is her 4th time down chili bar.
Louis pulls up to me “What is the biggest drop you have ever run?”. I think back to the years of kayaking, of chasing rain, or snow, reading trip reports, and meeting people at put-ins I had never met, of being in different countries and cold hands, hands that could barely put on a skirt. “Don’t know, sometimes things go easy and I guess it doesn’t seem that big anymore, and sometimes things go wrong and it seems harder than it looks” I say. “I have been injured on class II and on the shore more times than on class V” I pull my knees out of my thigh braces wishing the next rapid was closer.
“What is the biggest drop you have ever run?” I ask, referring to his skiing. He says something but it is a name of some move I have never heard of. “Funny thing is that some of the hardest things I have done is when it is just me, Paul, and Hallie”. Funny thing, you would think you would do the toughest stuff when it mattered most, on the biggest trips, in other countries, when people are filming or something is on the line. II thought back and all I could remember is when it was me and two friends just looking at a drop, a lot of trust in them, and a rare opportunity. “I quit my job to kayak more” he says. I smile a little and lower my eyebrows, and let out a little laugh “Oh, yeah, is that what you told your boss?” he isn’t paying attention anymore, paddling away to catch an eddy.
“We are at trouble maker” Helen says nervously. She sees an umbrella, which is normally the signal we are at something important, because there are photographers. It turns out it is just a person sitting on a beach, we still have a few more bends. I can sympathize with the nervous itch, the waiting for it to be over, to have the success, and yet we live for that opportunity, the one we simultaneously don’t want to do.
“Should I go direct?” She asks. “I think so, kayaking is a fine line between fun and progress, and sometimes you have to learn where your skills end to know what to work on”. She peers around the corner and I peel out to catch the eddy. She peels out once I am in the eddy. We always talk about failure, about letting people fail in order to grow. Put it into practice and you get judged, you look like you are making poor decisions. It is the aftermath of those choices that leads to the real gold of failure. It is the recommitment to the weaknesses that were exposed.
She flips as she rounds the corner, bashes her shoulder and swims. She pops and looks at me. “Can I run it again” She says. “I think I know what to do now”. Every kayaker has a list of failures, of swims and flips, and bumps and bruises, but what do we get out of those things? Are we more wise? What do you get out of failure?
Maybe more than you think...