I recently had my first swim in nearly 15 months. My last swim was on the Middle Fork of the Salmon at high water. My most recent swim was much less exciting.
I was playing at the spillway in a rapid called Romans Playground. Yes I swam in a rapid that's named after me. I was absolutely exhausted and decided to head for shore to rest and rehydrate. I was working on a move called a screw up (seems fitting in retrospect), so I did a stern squirt with the intention of flipping. A wave caught my stern and flipped me right, instead of left, so I had to setup for a regular roll. I went to my setup position and quickly tried to roll up. Something just didn't feel right, but I ignored it and setup again. I didn't really have a breath, so I lifted my head for a breath. This caused me to fall back over. I could have just as easily rolled up completely, but I resorted to bad habits. There were people on shore watching and I didn't want them to worry, so I made a final attempt and then pulled my skirt.
So why didn't my first setup feel right? This was a lesson Ive learned in the past, but I haven't experienced it in a while. I was trying to roll on the upstream side and I was moving slower than the water. That resulted in my paddle being pushed down as I started to sweep out. The simple solution would have been to wait for my boat to get up to speed, but I could have just as easily rolled on the other side. This is why many people will never try a second roll on the same side. They use their momentum as they fall back over to setup on the opposite side and roll up. So the first lesson I took away from this experience was to: Slow Down.
Why was I worried about the people watching me? That goes back to my early days in kayaking. If I knew people were watching for me to roll, I worried about what they're thinking. Do they think I'm going to miss my roll? Are they coming over to give me a bow rescue? I hadn't missed a roll in over a year, but these concerns still lingered in the back of my head. If I was alone, I have no doubt that I would have stayed in my boat and rolled up. Im a rolling instructor and I know the common mistakes people make rolling. I especially know the mistakes that I make rolling. I would have concentrated on doing the right things and ensured I rolled up. That brings me to my second lesson: Stay Focused.
The final lesson is a simple one, but one that applies to every aspect of whitewater paddling. You know that in most situations the safest place to be is in your boat, but that's hard to remember when the carbon dioxide is building up and your lungs are screaming for air. Nevertheless, at some point you're going to find yourself alone and the only one that can save you is yourself. You have to dig deep inside and unleash your primal instinct to survive. You have to stay in your boat and just: Keep Fighting!
Ive got a long winter and then a trip down the Grand Canyon in the spring. The only thing I can do to get ready at this point is to continue to bombproof my roll. If I swim in the Canyon, it may be a mile before I'm able to get out of the water. The mantra that Ill be repeating over and over in the coming months is a simple one.
Slow Down - Stay Focused - Keep Fighting!
ACA River Kayak Instructor
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