Thursday, February 26, 2015

American Canoe Association - California Council

I've been talking about the American Canoe Association (ACA) a fair bit on the blog recently, and partly that's because I've started a new role within the organization. I'm the Clubs Director for the ACA's new California state Executive Council, part of a program with councils for every state. It's a volunteer position, as are all positions on the council, and we're all in the process of defining what it really means. Here's what we've come up with so far.

The Executive Councils are a way for the ACA to have a local focal point in each state. We're here to help spread the word - actually, lots of words - as well as listen to the what the community has to say. We want to let the world know what the ACA is and what it does, but also we want to help paddlers connect with one another. To accomplish this, we've set up a Facebook page that we will use to communicate.

What will we communicate? First, information about the ACA and it's many great programs, like instructor certification, Paddle America Clubs, insurance offerings, public safety education, and paddler advocacy. The ACA has been around for one hundred and thirty-five years, always a non-profit devoted to paddle sports. It's main goal has been one of safety, with the motto of education not regulation. It offers a lot of great resources and we hope to highlight them through the Facebook page, especially the things most pertinent to our great state.

We also want to help paddlers connect with each other. We want to let the paddlers know about cool things like the Cal100, or how SUP paddlers are welcomed at the Santa Cruz Paddlefest. And maybe some sea kayakers would be interested in learning about river slalom races, like the Moke Races, or rafters wanting to get involved with adaptive kayaking programs like Team River Runner in San Diego. We want to help new paddlers find out about their local clubs, like the Los Angeles Kayak Club, so they'll find more people to paddle with. This is a large state, and while paddlers make great communities, it's often hard to connect with those communities if you don't know they exist, and it's hard for the communities to connect to each other when they're far apart.

In that vein, we want to hear from the paddlers out there. What would you like the ACA to do for you? How can we contribute to the kayaking/rafting/SUPing/rescue world? What does California paddling need? One of the goals of the state council initiative is to have a local face on the ACA so conversations are a little more immediate and personal. Once again, it's all about communication.

As the Clubs Director for the council, my goal is to help the clubs that already exist in a variety of ways. I want to make sure they know about the insurance options that the ACA provides, which can be invaluable for putting on events where a certificate of insurance is needed. I want to make sure they're aware of the CFS grants which offer money to organizations doing public service, like cleaning up a beach or river bank. But mostly I want to help clubs reach out to new paddlers, to help them find each other and get more people into our great big paddling community. The ACA has a lot of history and a long reach already established, and we're happy to use it to help out the many little (and not so little) clubs out there. Let's make this an even bigger party.

So if you're a paddler in California, we want to have something for you. If you're not seeing it, let us know what you want and we will try to get it. If you're not from Cali, you're welcome to stop by too - we know that you all plan to come visit at some point since we have some of the best paddling in the world no matter what type of paddling you're talking about. So go like our Facebook page and say hi when you're there - I'm one of the administrators. Happy paddling!


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Stepping Back

This is a very personal post for me. It's not a reaction to anything in particular, but something that's been on my mind for the past few years and I'm writing this not to prescribe or advise, but to help me crystallize my own thoughts and feelings. I've stepped back my paddling, both in quantity and difficulty, and I'm no longer an extreme kayaker by any measure. It's been a conscious choice, but with a number of unconscious elements involved.

I don't think I ever really paddled on the edge. Sure, I run class V, but not the gnar. I've done some serious sea kayak trips and played in some rough conditions, including solo adventures, but I've never felt like it was at great risk. Adrenaline was never my goal, and I'm a pretty conservative person, more of a control freak than a free spirit. But there has always been danger involved in what I do and I am well aware that risk is a part of challenging paddling. I've had my share of injuries, and while I haven't lost any close friends to the sport, I do know people who've been seriously injured or killed while kayaking.

I accepted those risks and had a few close calls over the years (like this), but I never considered my life so precious that it needed to be held back, safe in a protected box, for fear of scratching it. I used my body like my gear - hard and with purpose, treating it with respect but knowing I pushed it to its limits and failure was a possibility. My life was my own and I made the payments on it. I didn't answer to anyone else and I would be the one to deal with its loss.

But I'm married now. I have a partner who shares my life with me, on and off the water. When we paddle together I feel more concern for her safety, even when there's no significant risk, than I ever cared for my own. When she's not around and I paddle harder stuff, I still think about her more than myself. I no longer worry about what an injury would do to me, but how it would affect her. I feel no urge to risk my life because I can't bear to think about the impact its loss would have on her. My life is not just my own, and I treat it like it borrowed gear, something that I am free to use but I need to bring it back whole and sound at the end of the day.

(Let me make this very clear now: she's very understanding and appreciative of my skill and experience, and while she worries about me as any wife would, she's never asked me to curtail what I do or limit my paddling for her sake. My actions and decisions are based upon what I choose to do and not in response to what others may expect of me.)

I have read many accounts of those who've died pursuing their passion. Lots of talk about how they died doing what they love, that it was their nature, and their loved ones understood that risk was a part of their life. How loving someone who does extreme sports means accepting the potential consequences. That a person shouldn't change who they are for the sake of those around them and those who live life on the edge experience it in a way that can't be appreciated from a safe vantage point. Lots of crap like that.

You see, I don't agree. I'm not criticizing those who make that choice. If you want to pursue adventures that have a serious risk of death, that's a choice you are free to make. I won't say it's wrong for you or a mistake. I'll gladly support my friends who run harder drops and venture further into the void, all the while knowing I'll miss them terribly if something goes wrong. But I won't hold their choice up as superior, I won't acknowledge that it's a necessity and I won't credit them for a life worth more than my own. It's a choice, we all make them, and sometimes what's right for us is not right for others, and sometimes we make a choice we think is right when it probably isn't. I strive to make my choices deliberately and with care, knowing what they might mean for me and weighing what they mean for those around me.

I've chosen to step back. I don't need to justify that to anyone else, and justification is not what I seek. I seek understanding.

When I look at a hard drop, or consider a new run to push myself, I no longer feel the excitement of the challenge. My life isn't focused on testing myself in sport and proving to myself that I can master what it takes. And that's what drew me to kayaking, whitewater in particular - the difficulty. I've always wanted to test myself and succeed, to conquer what originally limited me. The risk was a necessary side effect, but never a goal. It's not something I'll miss.

These days I have plenty of challenges in other aspects of my life. Writing is hard, in a way that you can't know if you don't do it seriously, with more obstacles and rejection than I ever thought I could face. The joy I find in improving my craft matches anything I've ever felt in a boat. Being married, planning a family, contributing to my local community, and building a life centered around others all are new and revelatory challenges, eclipsing the importance of becoming a better kayaker.

Other people kayak for different reasons; they push themselves because they feel an inner need and take away something different than I do. Their motivation is not the same as mine and their choices need to reflect their own rewards. Some of them will play it safe and still face tragedy, some will choose poorly and never face the consequences. Life can be arbitrary and harsh or random and lucky. All we can do - all we should do - is make the choices that are right in the moment and learn and grow from them without regret.

When I was a full time kayak instructor many of my students would tell me I was living the dream: getting paid to do what I was passionate about, working in beautiful settings among people having fun. I took the compliment but never agreed. I was living a life, with good moments and bad, fun times and hard work, and I enjoyed it immensely. But it wasn't a dream. It was a choice I made, a life just like anyone else's. Nowadays I live the life of many: I go to work in an office, I try to play a little on the weekend, I worry about car payments and retirement funds. This feels like a dream - a grand a glorious dream where my happiness exceeds what I thought was possible. And I don't want to wake up.

That's why I stepped back. Not out of fear, not out of a sense of responsibility or any pressure to become an adult. I simply don't want to do anything that might cut short the beautiful life I now have, or somehow hurt the one person who makes this all possible for me. I'm still being just as selfish as always, but I manage to see it from a wider perspective.

I'm glad there are people out there living on the edge. I like to know that others can experience the same joy I do, whether they find it on a waterfall's lip, a high mountaintop, or watching a little league game. I am no less passionate about kayaking, but my passion derives from a different source. It comes from seeing others develop and grow as paddlers, helping them overcome their fear or limitations. It comes from sharing the quiet and solitude of the wilderness with people I care deeply about. It comes from having nothing left to prove.

I like the view from my seat, safely buckled into the minivan of life. But don't be surprised if I still manage to get some dirt on the paint, or get a flat in the middle of nowhere. And I look forward to running into you all wherever our paths may cross, whatever vehicle you're in. So go paddle, take a risk, and know that all of life is an adventure that should be experienced to the fullest.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Teaching Progressions and Instructor Certification

Since my last post on paddler assessments, I’ve had a couple discussions with folks about the instructor certification side of things. There was some misunderstanding of exactly what instructor certification is and what it is NOT. And this was coming from some folks who are ACA certified instructors, so if they aren’t entirely clear on what it means to be certified, then it’s likely that a lot of other people out there have some misperceptions as well.

I think it’s very important that people understand that ACA certification (and I think the same is true about other certifying agencies, though I can’t speak from experience there) is not about teaching a set curriculum. It’s not about teaching specific things in specific ways; it’s not about making everyone do everything the same. What is it about?

Certification is about setting a standard of teaching ability and knowledge related to the subject. It’s about making sure instructors know some fundamental principles of teaching: using different teaching styles to engage different learning styles, teaching in a progression that builds and develops skills, knowing the theory behind the practice. It’s also about safety: knowing how to manage a group on the water, knowing multiple rescue techniques, knowing how to recognize hazards and avoid them in the first place.

It is about technique, but not necessarily about uniformity. There are some skills that everyone needs to have in their specific environment: a forward stroke to propel the boat, how to edge a kayak on moving water, how to perform a deep water rescue on flat water. But there are different ways to accomplish these things, and as long as you adhere to certain principles of safety and good body mechanics, variety is fine. Not everyone has to have the same forward stroke, but everyone should be using their torso for power and should not be bending their wrists; you can perform a T rescue with the empty boat upright or upside down, but you have to have a solid grip if you don’t want to lose the boat or flip over in the rescue.

With that being said, there is no set ACA curriculum. There isn’t a single teaching progression that the ACA says you have to follow and it’s fine if you use the word tilt instead of lean. One thing that confuses people is that the ACA lists sample curriculum on its website. But those are samples, possible ways of teaching a subject that have been proven to work. But the ACA knows that what works for an instructor in California might be different that one in Wisconsin. A sequence that works for Jane Doe teaching in South Carolina might be different than what John Smith uses in North Carolina. Those variations are a good thing – a rigid curriculum would never work for all and no one is trying to make it so. (On the other hand, within a specific program or school it is good to have consistency, so as people move from one class to the next, the courses build instead of starting over.)


Instructors-in-training


As an Instructor Trainer, I admit that I am part of the problem. When I certify instructors, I use a set curriculum – I use mine. That’s not because I think the way I do things is best, or that everyone else should copy me, but because you need to have something to work off of. I can’t teach the concept of progression without using a progression, but I don’t have time to go through multiple progressions. I can’t demonstrate teaching everything in every different way – it just isn't practical, and it would be confusing if I did. I try to encourage folks to experiment and find what works for them, but encouraging isn’t the same as modeling so the message can get lost. 

When I certify people I definitely do not demand that they teach as I would teach. I make sure they have the principles, that they get the information across and can model safe and efficient technique. I try not to turn out cookie cutter instructors, but it’s a natural thing to imitate those with more experience. (I know I started by copying my betters. Over time I copied enough different people to have developed my own style and belief in what works for me.)

On multiple occasions I’ve heard people say that they don’t agree with the ACA way of teaching. I never understand exactly what they mean by that, but most of the time I think it’s really saying that they don’t completely agree with what they saw one particular ACA instructor do, or what they think they know about how one particular instructor teaches. The ACA certifies that people can teach, that they have multiple tools and methods of getting information across to students, that they can safely manage a group and be good stewards of the sport. I really don’t know how anyone can have a problem with that. I’ve yet to see any great instructor (and I’ve seen a lot), teach in a way that’s inconsistent with ACA certification – even those who are not ACA certified and those who have no certification whatsoever.

Let me reiterate here that certification is not a prerequisite for good teaching. Not everyone needs to get certified and certification alone is not proof of excellence.  But getting certified does expose you to new ideas on teaching. It does prove that you’ve demonstrated a significant level of ability and competence in teaching, while in no way does it limit or control effective teaching. It has a role to play in the instructional world, and it’s worth knowing what it means and what it doesn’t. I hope that clears things up.



Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Paddler Assessments

I'm going to go on a rant, but before I do I want to lay out a little bit of background in order to make my point clear. First, I'm an American Canoe Association (ACA) Instructor Trainer in both Ocean and Whitewater Kayaking. I've been an ACA member for fifteen years and I'm on the California State Executive Council. I think it's a wonderful organization that does a great many things for kayakers and I'm proud of my role in the organization.

There are other organizations out there that do similar things. The North American branch of the British Canoe Union (BCU), now called PaddleSports North America. There's also Paddle Canada and I'm sure many more such organizations around the world that are set up to help educate and train paddlers. I'm all for systematized learning and best practices coordination, and for paddlers to unite and help each other out. These groups are good things.

Among the many useful things that these organizations do is paddler assessments (some call them different things, like star awards, but the concept is the same). They set up criteria by which to judge paddling skills and knowledge, and have a group of people, normally certified instructors, who judge paddlers to determine if they deserve the award and at what level.

This is all good. I've spoken on this before, but I think it's great when paddlers get more training, when they have a goal to achieve, and work to improve their abilities, knowledge, and safety awareness. So I'm on board.

But here comes the rant. I don't want such assessments/awards/certification to be in any way mandatory. I don't want anyone saying this is what you have to do to be a kayaker. I don't want the public thinking that they need someone else to tell them they're a kayaker. I don't want them thinking they need to spend a lot of money on classes to become a kayaker. And here's why.

First, one of the reasons I, and I believe many others, like kayaking is the individual nature of the sport. I love the community, but on the water you are the captain of your own ship. There aren't a ton of rules and regulations and kayaking allows me to get away from the bounds of society and explore a rich wilderness where I'm responsible for myself. To formalize everything, to make it into a structured sport where one has to travel along a specific path to advance, takes away a large part of what makes kayaking so special.

In a similar vein, kayaking is a rich, white guy sport. That's not a good thing. I know there are other people who paddle, but especially on the sea kayak side, it takes a lot of money to get into paddling. If you want to buy a new kayak, the basic gear that's necessary, maybe a little extra to paddle in cold water, then you'll be spending three grand before you get your feet wet. It's not uncommon for paddlers to show up at the put in with twice that amount riding on and in their vehicle. As such, the demographics for kayaking skew older, middle class and above, and predominantly white. I would really like to see more diversity in this sport, if only because it would allow meet to meet a more diverse group of people (I'm selfish that way). But it would also be nice if more of those underprivileged, economically challenged, young,culturally diverse folks out there could get to enjoy the same things that the rest of us like so much.

Anything that suggests that it takes more money and time to become a real paddler is going to discourage people who can't afford either - time and money are the number one and two reasons why people don't kayak more. And make no mistake, that's what assessments require. Before you take an assessment, you have to go through formal (paid) training. Then you need to pay someone to assess you. Then you need to do it again and again to move up the ranks. If you have the time and money it's great - and I wholly encourage those who can to do it. But many paddlers don't have that luxury, and I'm afraid if people look into the sport and feel that such things are required, then they won't even bother to start.

I don't want to put more hurdles up; I want to knock them down. I want us to find ways to make getting into the sport easier, to include more people and make paddling accessible for anyone who might want to do it. I don't want clubs and informal organizations to become more restrictive by requiring people have a certain award or be certified at a certain level in order to participate.

The same goes for becoming a certified instructor. While I do think it's important that we hold certification to a high standard, including both personal skills and teaching ability, I don't want to make the process longer or more expensive. The more you require people to pay for your training before they can be assessed for certification, the more you're limiting your pool of instructors to the wealthy, leisure class. Yes, it's worth paying for professional certification if you're going to be a professional, but the majority of kayak instructors will never make the money back on their investment in certification. If someone walks up out of the blue and can show me that they have the skills, the knowledge, the craftmanship to be an effective teacher, I want to be able to get them the certification they deserve as easily as possible.

And on a practical side, I have a few issues with using assessments as a standard for anything (including instructor certification). I've seen quite a few certified paddlers over the years who clearly do NOT have the skills and qualifications that their award states they should. Certifications have value, but they're not perfect, foolproof, or entirely accurate. That will always be the case.

First, an assessment is an imperfect thing. To assess someone at as a level 4 sea kayaker (just to use an example), I need to evaluate them in winds 11-16 knots, surf to 3 feet, and current to 3 knots. It's hard to get all that perfect. What if the waves are only two feet - is that really enough to assess someone's surf handling abilities? Is 1 knot of current enough to evaluate their skills in moving water? And what if it's calm on the day of the assessment? There's a lot of ground to cover and if someone is paying to get assessed, there's going to be pressure to give them the award (it's not about questioning the integrity of the assessor, but admitting the practical realities of the world).

And even if someone did have all the necessary skills on that one day, what about the week after? What about two years down the road? Or ten? Unless they need to continue to demonstrate all the skills on a regular basis (they don't right now), how can anyone be certain that their assessment is still valid? And which organization's rules do we go by - ACA, BCU, PNA? They're all similar but not exactly the same. And if there isn't a single, consistent standard, if there isn't uniformity in assessment (and there never will be because it's a subjective thing run by human beings), then how can we use such assessments as a standard?



I've seen a great many paddlers who have tremendous skills and knowledge, who are an asset to our sport as safe and responsible paddlers, who have never taken a single course and have no interest in formalized training. I've also seen highly certified individuals who are reckless and get into situations over their head (and sometimes lead others there with them). There are great people on both sides of the certification divide, and I don't want to lose out on on those rugged individualists who tread their own path - I've learned too much from those folks over the years.

I will freely admit that the assessment process will lead to safer and more skillful paddlers - for those that can afford to go through it. That's great, but I want to make sure that everyone knows there are other paths to take, other ways to enjoy this sport and improve at it - and those options are equally valid choices. I really want to see our sport become more inclusive and accessible, to open up to groups of people who have never thought of paddling as a possibility for them. I know no one is actually suggesting that certifications become a requirement to paddle, but I think we need to think about perceptions and cultural expectations when we decide how we treat certifications and standards.

This isn't a simple issue and I don't think it's cut and dried, but I think it's worth sharing my opinion and hopefully getting more people to think about it. I'd love to hear from others on what they think of paddler assessments and where/when/how they should be used. The comments are open.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Art of Whitewater: Fear Management, Part 1


This is the fifth in a series of posts about whitewater kayaking and some philosophy beyond the basics; ideas and concepts meant to help intermediate paddlers improve and get more out of the sport. As parts are added, these links will go live:

Part 1: Technique
Part 2: Momentum
Part 3: On or Across the Water
Part 4: Group Management
Part 5: Fear Management, Part 1
Part 6: Fear Management, Part 2

Fear Management, Part 1

The Theory

This is a tricky subject because it is very personal for each paddler and there is no right answer or single philosophy. As I worked on getting my thoughts down on paper, I naturally broke it into two distinct areas, physical fears and social fears. The physical fears are fairly objective and relate to bodily harm: fear of drowning, fear of pain/injury, fear of death. I want to take a look at where these come from and give some specific techniques that might help work through them.

But there is more going on psychologically than hoping to avoid physical harm, like fear of embarrassment, fear of failure, concern over friends and strangers, worries about being accepted. While some of these are not whitewater kayaking specific, and not everyone has to deal with them, they are valid issues and I think they are worth addressing in the realm of kayaking, The more I wrote the more I realized these social fears are quite different from the physical ones and are worth a separate post of their own. Hence the part two of fear management, which will follow shortly.

Getting back to physical fears, let's start with the appreciation that fear is good. Fear is your friend - it keeps you alive. Without it, people would kayak class V on their first day and take risks that would lead to a high mortality rate. The goal is not to be fearless, the goal is to recognize your fears, learn how to handle them, and not to let fear limit you or take away your enjoyment of a sport that does contain some risk.

On the physical side, many fears start with the very medium we operate in: water. It's a very natural, instinctive thing to be afraid of water. We can't breathe it. It's often cold and violent, and when you're upside down in a kayak it gets all the way up your nose into your brain. You have every right to dislike it. But if you're going to kayak, you're going to have to get used to water. You can learn to minimize the frequency and duration of immersion, but it will always be there.

When I teach, I start with wet exits. Mostly it's a safety thing - I need to know that if a student flips over they know how to safely exit the kayak. But it also helps them - most students feel better knowing they know how to exit a kayak. Many of them still don't like it, many still are anxious about flipping over, but it's a start. To get over that fear takes time and practice - just like any other skill that I teach. The way to get used to being upside down under water is to do it repeatedly, ideally under controlled conditions.

The same time I do wet exits I have people practice swimming their boat to shore. Depending on temperature, I might have them do a little swimming in current or I might save that for later. I try to get all my students swimming in the river, maybe even in a rapid. People tend to be afraid of the unknown. They often know what it's like to swim, but not swim in moving water with rocks and obstacles. Getting the experience, knowing how to keep your feet up, learning to push off rocks, time your breaths in a wave train - doing these things once turns the unknown into the known, and it's really not so bad.

But swimming often leads to another fear - it's not just the water to be afraid of but the things in it: rocks, strainers, fish (yes, a number of people are terrified of fish attacking them. I blame piranha movies). And it's natural to be afraid of getting slammed into hard objects, or scraped over them, or stuck against them. Learning how to protect yourself is key, learning how to avoid them is better.

So where and when do these fears come up? They often start before the kayaking. Thinking about tomorrow's paddle, setting shuttle, putting on in the calm pool. Our brains often run away with us, either knowing what dangers lie ahead or not knowing and fearing the worst.

One way to avoid the descent into darkness is to arm yourself with knowledge. Read about a run to better understand how difficult it really is. Talk to those who've done it before. Think back over your own experiences and focus on the successes. Even if you've never run a particular rapid successfully, think about your buddies who did and how they did it. Think about similar rapids, or maybe even harder ones, where you were successful. Focus on the positive, because when you're paddling that's what you need to do - positive motions that take you to the proper line.

This all applies even more to the fear that comes up when scouting. There's nothing like standing there and seeing that big drop, noting every single hazard and obstruction in the rapid, to make you worry about the outcome. Some people prefer not to scout - they'd rather have beta from friends or rely on their memory. That works as long as you know what you're going to do. Most of feel better if we take the time to see the hazards, but then spend our mental energy working out the specific actions we will take to run the rapid - what angle do we want on entry, where is the green current, where is a recovery pool, what boof stroke do I take going off the lip.

Once you have a clear picture of what to do, go do it. The more time you spend evaluating the dangers and watching the recirculating hole the more you will be drawn to it. If you dwell on fear, it clouds the mind and tightens the body, the very worst things for kayaking.

The Practice

As I've said before, repetition and persistence are the keys to improving, and the same goes for dealing with fear. What I've found to be key is to try to control the situation as much as possible, so people can deal with a single, simple problem at first, building in complexity and challenge. What does this mean?

Start in a warm pool. While standing in the water, flip a kayaker over and have them hold a tucked position and then flip them back up. All they have to deal with is holding their breath for a couple seconds while maintaining body position. If they're comfortable with that, try having them hang out upside down for a few seconds. Then maybe have them tap the boat when they're ready to come up. Have them reach forward and backward with their hands (engaging their brain for constructive action and physical reference). This is something I do before teaching someone to roll, but it's really all about helping them get over their fear so they can actually learn. Not enough people spend enough time upside down in a friendly situation before they end up upside down in a more chaotic environment.

Even if you've kayaked for years, if you aren't totally calm and in control when your kayak flips, take the time to do these exercises in a pool. Do them repeatedly over many weeks. Keep doing them until being upside down under water is a perfectly natural state of being. Then start doing it on the river in flat water. Then moving current (deep water). Be comfortable staying in your boat because it's almost always better than swimming.

As for fear of swimming, take a swiftwater rescue course. Let me repeat that: TAKE A SWIFTWATER RESCUE COURSE (and ideally a kayak specific one, like this).  If you're going to be a whitewater kayaker, you need to know how to handle things when they go wrong. Because they will, sooner or later. If you don't know how to swim in a rapid, if you don't know how to unpin a boat, or what to do with a foot entrapment, then you are a danger on the river.(As an instructor, I don't want to scare away newbies by forcing them into a SWR course right away. But this series is for intermediate paddlers - and they have no excuse for not learning the basic safety skills that are necessary for the sport)

Getting back to the fear - taking a SWR course gives you the experience, training, and practice of being in the water and that's the best way to deal with fear. Everyone I know who's taken such a course, or just practiced the skills with friends, ended up enjoying it immensely and being a better boater because of it. So there.

But even if you know what you're doing, it's still natural to get butterflies on big days, or while looking at a new rapid. The best thing is to come up with a system to deal with your concerns and get past them. Here are a number of other tactics you can employ when fear hits you on a river:

- Talk it out. One of the best parts of having good paddling buddies is the freedom to share your concerns and receive support. When I look at a hard rapid and say that I'm worried about the hole, my friends remind me I have a strong boof stroke. If I say I'm just not feeling it today, they say no problem and offer to help on the portage. Surround yourself with good people and life becomes easier.
- Be objective. Try to take your fear out of the equation and evaluate the danger level and risk factors as if they are happening to someone else. The conclusions you reach might help put your mind at ease.
- Watch the probe. Most of us paddle with people who are better than us (or just paddling better on that particular day). Let them go first and see how they do. Sometimes their ease will give you confidence, or sometimes their struggles will make you decide to walk around it. But either way it tends to give you a more certain feeling and help take some of the unknown out of the decision.
- Calm your mind. When I enter a rapid, whether I scouted or not, I have a simple mantra that helps me relax while keeping key point of technique up front in my mind. Relax. Sit up straight. Be aggressive. Those are the things I need - you might be different. But they are all positive actions/thoughts and make a real difference in how well I paddle (which makes a real difference in how often I swim).

Fear is an ever-present challenge, but it can be mastered. Like most worthwhile things in life, it takes conscious effort, learning, and practice. There isn't a single approach or technique that works for everyone, and that's fine. But work on it - try some different options and find what works for you. Start simple, start at the beginning, and never be afraid to admit your fear and ask for help. We all deal with it, some more openly than others, and everyone should accept your concerns. And I'd love to hear from folks on how they deal with fear and what works for them.