Whitewater wisdom

Published 11:44 am Tuesday, May 2, 2023

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If you would have told thirteen-year-old me that I would not whitewater kayak for a span of ten years, I would have called you a liar. Well, I may have not called you a liar to your face because I was raised better, but I probably would have thought you were crazy. It turns out that I haven’t whitewater kayaked since 2010, and some of my friends stopped that streak this weekend. 


Friday’s kayaking trip all started when I met up with the man who taught me how to kayak over 20 years ago, Chris. In the beginning, Chris took me all across southern Appalachia chasing waterfalls and dodging crazy river hippies. Watching the rain pour down last Thursday, we wondered aloud how high the Chattooga water level would get. 

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Right around that time, a lifelong friend, Nate, called Chris and started persuading him to kayak the next day. Chris and Nate have been constantly asking me to kayak for the last ten years. The fact that I haven’t been isn’t from their lack of trying. 


After Chris and I left each other on Thursday, the rain kept pouring down and the desire to kayak kept going up. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to go kayaking. 


The next morning I met up with Nate on the GA/SC border formed by the Chattooga River. He chose a calm section for us to paddle. Nate is wise in this decision. I was ready in my mind to tackle some difficult whitewater, but I needed a warmup. 


Sliding into the water, I felt like a teenager again. I wiggled my hips back and forth rocking the kayak and making waves in the eddy. The trick to staying upright is to keep your head steady and balanced, focusing on your path ahead. Turns out, that piece of kayaking advice is also good life advice for a teenager. 


Then came the time to try a roll. Not the bread kind, the kind where you intentionally flip yourself upside down and attempt to roll back above water. I told Nate to be close in case I couldn’t do it. I took a deep breath, then tipped upside down. 


In my mind, I could hear Chris’ lesson from years ago, “Philip, your head needs to be the last thing out of the water!”


With a snap of the hips, my body slinked back upright and my head broke the surface last with a gasp. A common mistake is to lift your head up too soon on a roll. It is counterintuitive and seems illogical. But learning the right way is better than struggling and not listening to the advice of others. That sounds like good life advice for a teenager also. 


At the end of the trip Nate and I started planning our next one. I thanked him for getting me back out on the water. Although I haven’t kayaked for a decade, I realized the lessons I learned while kayaking have helped me through life. Those days in the past with Chris and Nate have influenced my current life for the better, so I might as well start learning more lessons with them on the river for the future.