Kayaking! Skills Drill!

OK, so short and sweet this time.

Today was spent kayaking with a friend. There wasn’t as much as I’d have liked, owing to weather (it turned out to be windier than expected, and clouds were looking a bit on the ornery side) but… skills! Notably, “What happens when things go sideways?”

When you’re hiking, the risk of getting utterly soaked are fairly low unless it’s pouring with rain. But when you’re kayaking, it’s ever present — I mean, just on the other side of the gunwales “present.”Some of my readers might think kayaking is of the recreational variety, where you’re always going to stay dry, and that’s awesome. But some are interested in going further afield, and might be thinking more along the lines of “performance oriented.” Either way, speaking to this…

I got into the sport, and fairly early on decided to rent a lot, try out a lot of different boats, and then come to an opinion regarding what I wanted to buy. I don’t regret that at all. Indeed, it’s the advice I give to everyone. Get your butt in a lot of different boats, and then go from there. My first love was a Perception Carolina, 14.5 feet. I’ve taken her into the ocean, in and around Cape Ann and vicinity. She’s been a stalwart companion.

More recently, I got a Necky Elaho, which is a touch more than 16 feet long, and narrower in beam by a couple inches. And she’s also been in and around Cape Ann. But both my boats have been in freshwater, including Squam, Newfound, and Sunapee Lakes. (I’ll also add the Concord River in MA, amongst other waters.) So they’ve proven themselves quite well.

And to this, I’m going to speak again about risk management. Yep, that old chestnut.

When I hike, I always ask if I should be where I am, when I am, or if it’s smarter to turn around. Heck, I was looking back at my day on Mt Washington, and even now, I can still feel the hairs on the back of my neck…

Kayaking? Same thing. I can remember a time, not long past Wingaersheek Beach, when I and the friends I was paddling with were asking the same question. Confused seas, a crummy headwind… Neptune was clearly telling us to turn around. And so, we did. We went the other way, the tides were much more favorable, and it was a hell of a day at sea. Seriously, when Neptune gives you hints, listen. Don’t annoy King Neptune. He always wins. (And as tirelessly as you’d do for the trails, make the seas tidier for your passage; pick up any garbage you see. Neptune appreciates this.)

Sidebar: A few years back, I was paddling around Marblehead, and on the return, a friend capsized at the put-out. No kidding she shouldn’t have. But that’s how things went. One moment dry as a bone, the next, she was a drowned rat. And the funny part is that she’s a very experienced paddler. One you’d never expect to get wet like this. But there it was.

When I hike, my skills are there. Ditto for boating.

And so today. We never made more than 200 yards from our put-in. But instead, we did other things, like practicing wet-exits, and stuff like that. Not as much as would have been optimal, but at the same time, enough to realize that if things get weird, we have options. Most of the afternoon, we were in water where we could stand comfortably. No rocket science. Things got weird, standing up solved the weird right quick. But we practiced stuff that doesn’t get called on much. Stuff that can make a difference when the chips start to fall.

I’m going to put this in simple terms. Practice. And do that practice at home. Wherever home is, practice. Often.

For us, today, “home” was a local lake. The weather was pleasant, and the waters pretty calm. Chance of things getting weird were essentially nil. But when things do get weird, muscle memory becomes paramount: your body does what it knows. Calm is achieved by having a past memory of “Oh, I did this, and things went well.” Calm means you can think, plan, execute.

So, get out there. Practice building a fire with minimal stuff. Put the sprinklers on full, and practice pitching your tent. “Fall” out of your canoe or ski boat. In short, create challenging situations, and respond to them. Because when you need this stuff, you’re not going to be the one calling the shots. (And yep, kayaking on the most amazing summer afternoon? Take a few and just do a drill or two. Give it over to the fact that the weather was amazing that day, and what else were you going to do? At the worst, you’ve cooled off, and in the summertime, that’s not a bad thing.)

The more you do this, the more you create resiliency in yourself. The more you’re able to respond favorably when things go sideways. The more you’re able to survive, and indeed, thrive. The less you fear the unknown, because you’re meeting it on its turf, armed with the knowledge that you’ll be OK.

As always, stay safe out there.

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