Friday, July 5, 2013

Paddling vs. Practicing

So you want to be a better paddler? Guess what, you have to work at it.

I hear from a lot of people how they wish they could paddle better - be it harder whitewater or rough ocean. When talk turns to surfing big waves or going to remote places, many paddlres get that jealous look in their eye. They even say it: 'boy, I wish I could do that.' As if you must have some secret code, or god-given talent to become a skillful kayaker. My favorite is 'you make it look easy', implying that in reality it's extremely difficult and unreasonable to expect them to be able to do the same.

But it is easy. You just work at it. You make a conscience effort to improve your skills. You work on drills. You watch other paddlers. You try different things. You fail. You try again. You put in time and effort and do it in a deliberate manner. And then it's easy.

Time alone is not enough. Lots of people think that improvement comes from time in a boat. Us instructors often say the same thing. And paddling will improve your paddling. But practice will improve it more and faster.

If you go out to have fun you probably will. But sometimes I go out to improve. It might not even be fun (though it usually is). I work on technique. I do interval training (well, I used to - but the point is I've done it). There has to be some thought behind it. Some awareness of what you are doing and what the result is. It may mean running a river that's easier so you can relax and make it more difficult. It may mean going out in conditions that frighten you (with some more skilled friends to provide safety). It definitely means repetition - often to the point of boredom. It's different than just paddling.

And don't think a class is the answer. The class is merely the start. It only shows you what to practice. Any skilled instructor and can show you lots of stuff to work on. But they can't do it for you. If you take the same class over and over again or one class right after the other, you might be shortchanging yourself. People say they always learn new things - great, but have you actually mastered any of the old things? You can now do a cross-bow draw but can you use a regular bow draw to maneuver through the rocks? Doing the basics really well will get you further than any advanced technique.

At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter if you get better. If you are having fun and that's all you want then keep doing it. There's nothing wrong with that. But if you want to get better, if you listen to others' adventures with wistful longing, if you aren't satisfied with the choices you have, then do something about it. Don't expect it to be all fun and games. Don't expect it to happen overnight. Anything worthwhile is going to take some work. But if you enjoy the process you'll enjoy the result all the more.

1 comment:

  1. Very true! I'm facing this exact problem at the moment, since the surf here in Santa Barbara is nearly non-existent in the middle of summer. Instead of kayak surfing, I've been trying to work on various drills and rolls. I have to be proactive to continue progressing.