Most sports have a degree of error. Whitewater can have a degree of catastrophe.
For whitewater if you fuck up you are likely beat down, exhausted from fighting a hydraulic or dangerous situation, and then all your gear goes downstream. The better the kayaker you are, the worse the consequences. When you get in the situations where things are going to bad, well, it goes really bad.
There is also the mental game. Truth is, sometimes I feel that is 80% of what it takes to be a really good kayaker. There are a lot of ‘good’ kayakers out there, but pushing through with that mental side can get you to the next level.
I have always struggled with that but find that makes for the challenge and draw to this sport. Take a recent bad day I had as an example. I ended up running a bad line on Go Left or Die on the Green Narrows. The river was a really juicy 200% making the rapid much harder and consequential especially given the fact that the river had changed some.
I was not in a good headspace that day. Due to a number of external circumstances I was not making good decisions. I always feel no matter the situation I can fall back on my years of skill and experience but there is always a day where your shit gets handed to you. This was that day for me.
In the end, I almost lost a camera, paddle, and maybe even could have left the river in an ambulance. I did however destroy a boat and the majority of my confidence.
There is a certain embarrassment that goes with taking a big beatdown especially when better decisions could have been made. That is the sting that sits with me as I write this right now.
I spoke with Pat Keller about this stating that there was a voice in my head that day that was saying to chill. His response, “that voice can be hard for all of us to hear.” I personally consider Keller to be an admirable paddler and he often writes about making good decisions on the river.
I have had some of the highest highs on the river and times like this it can sometimes feel pretty low. However, the really cool thing about a sport like this is that you always have the opportunity to take a step back.
I joked around that it was kind of like a market crash. All the signs were there that there was something on the horizon. I had a number of months of paddling extremely well and confidently. Having a confidence set back can be a good thing.
I think taking this concept into all aspects of life can be really important. After a bad situation take a big step back and get back to where you once were with even more confidence and skill. Just to jump back in and keep charging may not always be the best approach.
In my situation I know that in a couple weeks I will be back in Ecuador on rivers that I feel very comfortable on. I will rebuild my flow and get back out there.
As I look downstream to a new career in film work I see this as a lesson to gain from whitewater. I feel a lot of the lessons above can be related to adventure film work. When things go bad, they can go really bad and like any aspect of life, there will be bad days and set backs. Take them with stride and improve from them. Listen to that inner voice and let it shine through beyond the ego and pride. Sometimes it can be the wisest voice you have.
I have a lot to learn from those days.