incident at Lumpy Waters, the record number of whitewater fatalities this year and the instructor training I've been doing, risk assessment and post-game dissection has been a recurrent theme in my world. Part of that is the growing trend in kayaking towards the extreme, part of it is a modern aesthetic of justification through analyses, and part of it is the nature of 'social' media and mass communication (all these damn blogs...). While there is lots of useful discussion, debating, debriefing, dialogue and deliberation, I would like to throw a little reality check into the mix.
First, all the Monday morning quarterbacking is just that - Monday morning. After the fact everything is different. Perceptions, recollections, and facts themselves change and distort over time and the complete reality of a situation is never the same. So we can learn general points, we can point out mistakes, we can say what we would have done, but in the end all we can do is move forward. Don't get tied up to the incident that happened and the people that were involved. That reality will never come again and the only wisdom of value is that which can be applied in the abstract.
Kayaking is fun. People having fun will not follow a system or instructions or a checklist. It goes against our nature - we want to be free and we want to have fun without burden of restrictions or control. It's what draws us to this sport. (aside: it's been shown that surgeons following a simple checklist, even those with hundreds of similar operations under their belt, will have better results and make fewer mistakes. But surgeons don't want to follow a checklist.) So mistakes and tragedies will still happen, and here's why:
Awareness at its most basic level is what allows us to assess risk and properly manage it. Awareness is what allows us to recognize a situation and connect it to lesson learned from previous experience. Awareness is a conscious effort to separate the actor from the action. Awareness is going outside yourself and gaining perspective in the process. Awareness is a skill, an ability and a habit. Awareness can be learned and developed. Awareness is individual but can be shared. Awareness is what allows for the understanding of risk and the assessment in its undertaking. It's not a system or a chart, it's not a tool or a plan, it's not a template or document. Awareness is sum of who we are: our skills, knowledge, training, experience and thoughts. Let that be your guide and your beacon and you will make the right choice.