It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are paddling, there will always be those rapids with the power to make you shutter at the mere thought of running them. Some of them will remain that way, but as your experience and talent progress you will slowly start tickin’ em off the checklist. Fear is often what keeps you from running the rapid in the first place, and eventually what can guide you down safely to the bottom. Check it out as Shane gives a few pointers on how to conquer your nemesis.
Fear probably has your back more than anything else on the river. It is often the voice of reason and can prevent you from getting hurt and making lots of bad decisions. However, one of the greatest things about our sport is that it gives you excellent practice in dealing with fear and learning how to control it. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner sitting above Grumpy’s on the Ocoee for the first time or a seasoned veteran about to put on the Linville Gorge at high water, fear will be there. The key to using it to your advantage is to be confident in your skills and decision making abilities, so when you’re skeered you can tell your brain “It’s cool, shut up, I’ve got this.”
First things first, be safe. Make sure your buddies have your back and you have strategically placed ropes and rescuers where they need to be. You can never be too safe on the river. Along with this, know your skill level and don’t run something just because you saw someone else do it! Too many people get in over their heads, and while they may make it most of the time this technique isn’t very sustainable.
Another tip is to have a solid routine you go through above a big rapid. We are creatures of habit. Just like you wake up, drink coffee, brush your teeth, etc. every morning, employ that tactic in your river running adventures too. This will help make you more comfortable, gar-on-teed.
Be sure to visualize what you want to do. Run the rapid in your mind over and over, concentrating on good lines (not bad ones!). You may have to do this for months or years before you actually run the rapid, but the point is familiarize yourself as much as possible so that when you are in the midst of it you can remain calm. I get cold sweats and quite an adrenaline rush thinking about running Gorilla at 200% just about any time I think about it.
So, get out there, get scared, and learn how to get over it! Not to say everyone enjoys pushing their limits, but it doesn’t hurt to push just a little bit every once in a while. Have fun, be smart, and as always, be safe.