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Why I love to race kayaks!

Posted: 04.08.2013 by Jason Beakes

Racing Kayaks

“Flow” is a state of mind – achieved when athletes feel completely engaged in their performance, lose their perception of time, concentrate on the moment (without distraction or dilution), and, perform at extremely high levels.

Essentially, these are the moments in sport that we as athletes, coaches, and consultants are all striving to accomplish. Not only has the Flow state of mind been linked with outrageously positive accomplishments in sport, it is also the state of mind that has been shown to offer us meaning in our lives.”

Racing kayaks down hard whitewater is one of the finest ways to achieve a flow state. Why? Because to do it well you have to achieve a “flow state” that is more than a frame of mind or an elusive theoretical construct. To race down whitewater you must physically enter and blend with the flow of a rushing river. When done well – levitating over waves and holes, shooting out of rapids propelled by the force of tons of water in motion, perceiving “ the line” the way Neo perceived reality in The Matrix, kayaking transcends sport and becomes one of the most authentic experiences you can have. Only a kayaker knows the feeling and it’s awesome! With a body and mind shaped by responding to moving water the flow state follows us off of the river and into the rest of our lives. Conflicts and setbacks start to be seen as nothing more than being temporarily “off line”.

My personal reasons for training hard for whitewater racing have evolved over the years. Races for me are less about proving I’m fast and more about maintaining and testing the skills and fitness that paddling class V in remote, beautiful, and dangerous rivers demands. The most dangerous things you will ever encounter in the great outdoors are middle aged men with eroded skills and strength, and delusions of possessing abilities they had at age 20. I will never be one of those guys – and yes they are almost always men. For me kayak racing is a way I can build and maintain most of the skills needed to kayak at a high level even though I have the normal responsibilities in life that preclude kayaking 8 hours a day . Because I race I don’t have to guess if I can make technical moves in my kayak under pressure, I know I can. I don’t have to guess if I have the speed and stamina to help a friend in trouble, I know I can do that too. Real confidence comes from testing your skills regularly with meaningful challenges.

People who appreciate authentic experiences and work hard to experience beautiful places tend to be beautiful, authentic people. This past weekend at the Top Yough Race in Western Maryland I was reminded of how lucky I am to be part of the whitewater community. I was moved to hear the sincere and earnest tributes to Isaac Ludwig, our departed friend who’s life the annual race commemorates. It was moving to see people doing a fun, beautiful, and difficult activity simply for the love of doing it and for the sake of enjoying each other’s company. I’m grateful to the sponsors of the Top Yough Race for being so generous even though supporting the race is not necessarily going to increase sales and market share for their brands. The owners and employees of those companies genuinely care about the paddling community because they are part of it. The global whitewater kayaking community is small not because of anything being wrong with our sport and community, but because so many things are great about it. In a modern world that favors instant gratification, phony - status driven pseudo accomplishments, and commercialism, kayakers value challenge, beauty, community, and flow. I love our sport and our community and I’m proud to be making my living introducing as many people as I can to the rewards of paddling.