Words By: Danny Gariepy, AQ Whitewater Ambassador
The idea of riding a little plastic boat over a 45ft waterfall felt absurd at this moment. Water gently lapped the side of my craft, pushing me against the rock wall of the calm pool I sat in. Just beyond the edge of my boat the river current rushed past and over the cataract behind me.
I was halfway around the world, in a country whose language I didn’t speak, in a place where help was not close by. Despite the risks, this is something I had wanted to do. Trained for several years to do. I reached down and splashed water into my face, drawing my focus. Signaling to my companions that I was going, I reached into the current with my paddle and pulled my little boat out of the safety of the calm pool. Instantly the current grabbed my kayak and pulled me towards the edge of the abyss. I leaned forward grabbing the water at the edge and then I was airborne. The world around me opened, time slowed. Below me the pool was now fully visible, surrounded by jungle my paddling companions sat in the brown pool watching as I plummeted over the edge. Then it was over as quickly as it began, my little craft plunged into the pool below, disappearing beneath the white boils before quickly resurfacing upside down. I rolled up and whooped in delight. It always amazes me how in the span of a few seconds you can go from being so nervous and full of doubt, to feeling on top of the world.
That waterfall in Mexico was five years ago now. Everything about that trip had pushed me outside of my comfort zone, and yet it contained some of the most defining moments of my young adulthood. From the beginning, everything about kayaking can take you out of your comfort zone. The first skill I learned in kayaking was how to roll, and even in a pool it can be a uncomfortable and scary prospect. The feeling of being secured into an upside down vessel in the water can be unnerving. Once I mastered the roll however, I then learned how to kayak on a river and quickly realized that the roll I mastered in the safety of the pool was still harder to pull off in moving water. I felt as if I was back at square one. This seems to be a theme in kayaking. Take two steps forward followed by what feels like two and a half steps back. However, the more work you put into it, the easier the little things become. The act of simply kayaking becomes less terrifying and the joy you experience from running a rapid or even from hitting your first combat roll, far outweighs the doubt you ever felt beforehand.
I think kayaking is a perfect metaphor for life (there may be some bias here). Kayaking shows how the more work you put into a thing, the more you actually get out of it. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and opening yourself to new experiences can bring about your proudest and most accomplished moments. However, if you get too confident or arrogant, the river will quickly correct your hubris in a sometimes violent and jarring way.
When we aren't dodging work to go kayaking, I feel like the lessons we learn from the sport have positive impacts on the rest of our lives. Perhaps you are thinking of moving to a new city, applying for a school or a job, taking a chance on a relationship or maybe even starting a family. Putting yourself out of your comfort zone in a moment could become a defining action in your life. Personally, I feel that kayaking has made me more confident in taking risks, and putting myself out there. I truly believe that my life is better because of the time I have spent sitting in a little plastic boat.