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Trying new things

W. Kenneth Medley II • May 19, 2019 at 12:00 AM

I recently decide to graduate myself from flat water kayaking to whitewater kayaking. Being in the water is me being out of my element, although I have whitewater rafted before. The mountains run deep in my blood and drowning in whitewater has been a fear since childhood.

When tackling a new hobby there are many ways to go about it. One can dive head first without taking risk management into account; that was me a decade ago. There is also the approach of crawling before one runs, even if self-taught. This was my approach to bicycling and mountain biking throughout childhood to present.

I am not completely new to kayaking. Navigating my fishing kayak or a canoe across a still lake has been accomplished many times in my past. Flipping a kayak in whitewater is something foreign however.

I now have my “in-my-thirties with kids approach” to new sports; find somebody that is a certified trainer and take classes. One may think that I am being over cautious, but one may not be putting their life on the line racing down a raging river either. I have learned after an injury or two that sometimes learning from mistakes can hurt and be expensive. Learning from one’s mistake on a river could be the last mistake one makes.

My fear of drowning comes from multiple close calls with the event. The first was when I was in diapers, the second was a display of pride in third grade reminiscent of the “Sandlot” movie scene, minus the kissing. The third time, but not the last time I almost drowned, was a misjudgment of distance versus muscle endurance. All that being said it is easy for one to surmise that I am not the strongest swimmer or first in the water.

I am nervous for the embarkation that has been set in my future. By the time you read this I will have made my first few runs through Class II/III rapids. I am confident that I will not die, but still nervous about rolling a kayak in a river with current. Up to this point the best I have done is the pools at Freedom Hall and Kingsport Aquatic Center.

I am confident in the training that I have received from the Appalachian Paddling Enthusiast. I know now that the thing I have to fear the most will be my own panic reaction. I experienced this in class the first time my kayak expectantly became inverted in a pool. I also discovered that it is a lot easier to exit a kayak than I expected. It did not change the fact I panicked worse than a deer hearing a gun shot during hunting season.

One may wonder why I would want to risk never seeing my children again for kayaking. The answer is simple; to learn something new and to get a little shot of adrenaline while I am at it. With proper training and preparation the river will not be the bedtime monster the two year old in me has made it. That is not to say the danger is gone.

If one wants to learn how to kayak, they should. It is a fun activity that is a great way to stay in shape and harbored by a community that is diverse and welcoming. Make sure, however, to look for a class with great instructors, preferably certified by an accredited or trusted entity. It is best to receive instruction from an experienced individual before starting any new activity. Especially one that can take your life as quickly as the Nolichucky.

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