Everyone has their special thing. The one activity that never fails to inspire that individual. There is no right or wrong for this choice, it’s entirely dependent on each person’s preference. Cooking, soccer, carpentry, sky diving, whatever; it’s what you want to do most when you’re at work or have other responsibilities.
My special thing, and my happy place, is whitewater.
I recognize that ‘whitewater’ is a very broad term, but it normally doesn’t matter to me why I’m on a river, as long as I can hear the roar of cascading water falling over rocks, feel the breeze churned from the plummeting water, taste that cool water splashing in chaotic patterns, and smell each unique river. If you have ever heard of fractals, the fluid turbulence of whitewater is a mesmerizing and continuous fractal. The patterns, at once, seeming random and chaotic; however, upon closer inspection, moving in predicable structures in which a motivated individual can navigate with the proper tools and skill.
The challenge is the risk, and the reward is a unity between paddler and river. Ever dangerous, moving water is well known to kill those who do not respect the raw power (e.g. tidal waves, rip tides, whirlpools, hydraulics etc.). When I enter my craft, be it kayak, canoe or raft, I require myself to enter a singular state of mind. There can be no distractions outside of the river because if I lose concentration, a possible consequence is death.
That is on the extreme side of the spectrum, fatality. In whitewater from Class I – III, the recovery to a mistake most often is a quick roll back upright, or a quick swim to the bank. A pre-river safety talk outlining how to avoid major hazards like foot entrapment and wood strainers will avoid almost all incidents.
It’s when a paddler stretches into the Class IV – V rapid range when whitewater becomes truly dangerous. Where a single mistake can lead to disastrous consequences, often in remote gorges where rescue from third parties is difficult, and you are dependent on the friends with you. To the outside perspective this usually sounds like madness. Why willingly risk life and limb? To me (and I’m willing to bet other paddlers feel this way) this extreme difficulty zone is where I find the most peace.
Whitewater is where I want to be every day of the year, and it does not matter the difficulty. Taking beginners down Class I – II helping them learn to love the sport; taking intermediate paddlers down Class III – IV as a safety boater; finding challenging Class IV – V rivers to risk it all for a few miles of freedom. I know how to make any rapid fun for myself, and while I’m on the water, nothing else exists (not even the rare spectator). There is no worry about who will be president because I need to focus on setting safety for my buddy. For those few hours I have no concern for the amount of money in my bank account because if I don’t make the next move correctly I might get injured, or worse. While I’m on a river, I do not care if the world ends because I am at the peak of happiness.
It is my sincere hope that everyone finds their A.O.C. (activity of choice). I found mine in college and it has become an addiction continuously growing, largely in part to the never ending ‘next-step’. In whitewater there will always be a challenge to surpass the one just accomplished. So while I bask in personal glory about that rapid I just ran, I start to think of what I can do next to challenge myself further and push my limits to my own next level.