Learning to Whitewater Kayak: A Comic

The past 2 summers I’ve taken some whitewater kayak lessons on the Nantahala River. The first lesson was a 1-day class to get you acquainted with the boat and have some confidence to paddle down the river, which was fine. I did well and I felt pretty good in the big old boat that they put beginners in. However, this year’s lesson ended being an emotional rollercoaster.

Since last year, I’ve purchased a river runner/freestyle boat, so it is significantly smaller than the boat I had learned in. I chose it because one of the hardest things for me was being able to carry the boat around. I’m not very strong, so these boats are rather heavy. Fast forward to this summer, when it was time for our 2-day lesson.

I didn’t quite realize how little confidence I had just based on the size of my boat. I didn’t have confidence anyway really, but I think my uneasiness was exacerbated by my choice in boat. I felt flippy and did a couple of swims over the course of 2 days. On day 1 of the lesson, I recovered from those swims pretty easily¬† and kept going through the day, but at the start of day 2, I had started to really have some hangups about going down the river, probably as a result of how poorly I felt I did on the previous day. It’s amazing how people can be so incredibly positive about your performance and growth in skill and you can still beat yourself up about it, want to quit, or think it’s hopeless when you keep messing up (even if it’s your 4th time in a kayak on a river with rapids).

I decided to chronicle this adventure and try to get some of my thoughts out on paper. While this certainly isn’t an all-encompassing log of what happened, it has helped me explore how I was feeling during those moments of uncertainty and the following breakdown. Our poor instructor probably was overwhelmed by my breakdown, but he didn’t show it. So, he was definitely awesome. Everyone I was with was actually very encouraging, so the only hangups were my own.

As a side note, after I had a bit of a breakdown, the instructor decided to put me in his river runner while he hopped into my boat. So, that would explain the change of boats you see in the middle of the comic. This honestly might be where some of my confidence came back, even though I did have 1 more swim after swapping. I still need to get more confident in my boat, obviously, but that will come in time and practice.

Large (wide) comic beyond the cut.

Whitewater Kayaking Comic

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