Mental Kayaking ebook

 Enjoy these articles written by Mary DeRiemer of DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking.

Why do people kayak? The bottom line is that the experience is so enjoyable and meaningful that we want more! Kayaking can provide feelings of enjoyment, well-being and personal achievement. In order to have this kind of experience, these conditions must exist:

• The activity is completely voluntary.
• Your state of mind is open.
• The goal is clear and the feedback is immediate.
• There is a feeling of control over your actions in the environment, a sense that your personal competence is matched to the challenge, even though the outcome is uncertain. When I started boating my hero said that 90% of the sport is mental, that once a paddler gets a certain degree of skill, the rest depends on her head. I’ve found that statement to be fairly accurate.

In order to experience the best of kayaking, ones state of mind must be open. When taking on a new challenge, some amount of energy is spent in overcoming barriers. Mental distractions such as fear are by far the largest. There is only so much room in a person’s mind. If distractions are present, there is less room for learning, or even remembering things you already know! Information theorists say that the mind has a certain channel capacity - the maximum amount of information is called the signal; everything that gets in the way of the signal is noise. Static on the radio is a form of noise. Fear is the loudest kind of mental noise.

How do you quiet the noise of fear? The first step is to listen to the static: actually pay attention to the fear itself, what is it saying? You may find that it has two parts, fear of actual danger and psychological fear. Once you separate the two, the fear becomes more manageable. Let’s listen in on the mental channel of a paddler experiencing fear:


These fears may be real; it is only the danger that is imaginary. It may be that your mind has a hypersensitive survival instinct. You need to reassure this overcautious protector that your environment is safe.

What’s more likely? To be trapped in a boat or experience a dislocated shoulder? Yet the static caused by fear has one thinking the opposite! You will not drown while learning to paddle if you use good sense and follow basic safety procedures. The real dangers, shoulder dislocations, cold water, a long day, getting in over your head, aren’t the kinds of dangers that grip your gut and jam all your channels. Experienced paddlers know that most things you are likely to be afraid of are not really dangerous. Rather, it’s more likely that you have overestimated the risk and underestimated your skills. When you feel fear arising, ask yourself whether it represents actual danger. To help develop a realistic evaluation of your skills and the dangers, get input from the more experienced paddlers in your group.

If 90% of the sport is mental, change the belief systems in your head! Adopt these mindsets to desensitize yourself to and overcome your fears.

Kayaking is an underwater sport. Tell yourself that being up-side-down is fun. Ok, how about interesting? Reassure yourself that your environment isn’t hostile and start to embrace the underwater environment. Then flip over and hang out in safe places.

The most effective approach to fear is gradual exposure. If you’re scared, practice until you’re bored. Can you ever remember being bored and scared at the same time? Experience your fears so that you have proof that the fearful outcome your in your mind isn’t reality.

Swim! In eddys, in safe rapids and into small holes that flush. Be more focused on doing a roll rather than “getting up!!” Roll often, in eddies, moving current, the feedout of rapids, and in the waves trains.

When learning, mistakes are a good thing! If you watch children starting to walk, they often laugh with glee when they fall down. When learning to walk or to kayak, you are not only the mad scientist but also the laboratory mouse. Approach learning with curiosity, humor and openness!

By Mary DeRiemer, host of River Runner's Edge, The Kayak Roll, Kayaker's Edge, Kayaker's Playbook DVD's and books.
adventure kayaking
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