A very long time ago, in a place not so far away (here actually), I used to river kayak. One spring I took a series of lessons and by that summer I was cruising down class 3 rapids – mostly upright. There were 2 main instructions that were drilled into me that summer:
- Don’t look at the rock!
- Dont Carp! (Carping is defined as gasping for air while trying to roll yourself upright once you’ve capsized, your head comes out of the water for a brief moment…you gasp…and then you fall right back to your upside position.)
These two instructions sound simple enough…sure…but to actually put them into practice you must ignore your initial instincts and trust that if you do the opposite, things will work out perfectly.
1. Don’t look at the rock!
Here is how it works…when you are cruising down the river and there is a obstabcle (usually a rock) right in front you, your instinct may be to look a the rock, focus on it intently, and as you approach the rock you may lean away from it because you don’t want to hit it. Well, a couple of things happen very quickly when doing this in a boat on water. When you look at the rock you are pointing your head at the rock, in kayaking your head determines where you body/boat are going to go, so by looking at the rock, you are pointing your boat directly at the rock! As you get closer and try to lean away from the rock, your boat edge will catch on the current coming downstream and flip you over. Exactly the WRONG outcome!
What you are supposed to do; locate the rock but LOOK WHERE YOU WANT TO GO, focus on the path of raging water right beside the rock and your boat will head that direction. As you do come closer to the rock you actually lean towards the rock, the water coming downstream will slip harmlessly below your boat edge as you effortlessly pivot around the rock.
Easy Peasy right? Wrong…this was a hard leaned lesson for me…often times I ended up tipping over at the 1st big rock and taking the rest of the rapids upside down or “sans boat”.
Which leads me to the next lesson….
2. Don’t Carp!
Ok, so you’ve tipped over, no big deal right? You’ve trained for this and can roll back up in pool practice with no problemo. But, rolling back up in raging water, while you are spinning around hitting things is a slightly different scenario. You are also “trapped” in your boat by your spray skirt, and there is that pesky little issue of being under water and not being able to breathe – which sometimes can cause a wee pit of panic.
All your instincts are telling you to get your head out of the water – fast – but that is exactly the wrong thing to do. Your head should be the last thing that comes out of the water. I won’t go into all the physics involved…but you basically need to trust that if you focus on rolling your hips out of the water first the momentum of your lower body will carry the rest of you right side up, with your head coming out last.
I don’t river kayak any longer, but I do think of these 2 instructions often when dealing with the everyday obstacles in my life and when I find myself focusing on the obstacles instead of the paths around the obstacle. Also, when I feel like I’ve been capsized and I’m desperately looking for air, and I keep trying the same old move over and over and not getting the desired outcome.
- Sometimes it’s best to ignore your initial instincts and rely on training to achieve a different outcome and lean new instincts
- Look where you want to go
- Sometimes, when dealing with a sticky situation, your head needs to comes first…sometimes your head needs to come last