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Gear Up and Get Out - Connections and Kayaking

Posted: 07.09.2018 by Ben Coleman


Paddling is about relationships. Every paddler has to begin somewhere, and though
these early days can be fraught with challenge, obstacles, and failures, they often create the
conditions for some of the most significant and formative memories of our paddling lives. I
studied whitewater paddlers for four years, exploring the dimensions of their reported
experiences in contrast to common portrayals of adventure sport. Though there are many
examples in the paddling world that showcase depth, connection, relationship, and adventure,
there are plenty of examples that create narratives of conquest, heroism, and egoism. This can
create a disconnect in our community. Often, it might not be intended, but the ways in which we
collectively choose to portray the sport we love, influence the people that have yet to form a
relationship with the river or with their kayak. So, I think it is good for everyone in the paddling
community to think carefully about their choices on and off the river and the way our lives
intersect with each other and the more than human world to which we relate when we are out

I suppose my main point is that we should consider these things so deeply, the question
of why we go and what we are doing on the river, because we have so much to gain, and at the
same time we have so much to lose, possibly our lives, and at least for me, as a father of three,
each decision matters greatly because when I became a father, my life was no longer solely my
own. It is not just for our loved ones though, it is for the planet, and for the collective something
that so many of the paddlers I interviewed claimed connection to in our time together. This
something greater is significant, and I think we have a responsibility to safeguard our
experiences on the water, the lands, places, and spaces that shape them, in order to be in
service to the pursuit of bettering ourselves, those around us, and ultimately to become better
stewards of the planet gifted to us by time, and not guaranteed in perpetuity. The act of paddling
is a widening experience. It opens us to new possibilities and ideas, and through time, paddling
is shown to move our experiences in nature away from consumptive experiences and toward
the appreciative. In my mind, it would be great if this conversation can live wholly in our
community, so we might mobilize our collective stoke for the preservation of all we hold dear, for
all of those that follow in our footsteps, when we are but ghosts in the cavernous mist.

Key Points:

● Key point: developing a relationship with the river over time
● Not about accolades, achievements, and superlatives, but having the opportunity
to travel through amazing terrain that few people get the opportunity to pursue in
the same way. It is a privilege.
● How you feel about the river today, is not necessarily going to be how you feel
about the river tomorrow.
● People can change over time in relationship with the river. Younger paddlers
should think about this when they first start paddling. There are no heroes out
here, and the river is not something to be conquered.
● We can learn a lot about ourselves if we treat our adventures on the river as
opportunities to learn, instead of another arena to prove ourselves. The river
does not care how good you are.
● Take the time to slow down and notice your surroundings. You will get a lot more
enjoyment out of each day.