OUTDOOR SOLO CHRONICLES

The Very First Time: Losing My Kayak Virginity

 

The following is the story of how I lost my whitewater virginity. In the transitional whirlwind of coming on board with World Kayak, I feel I haven’t properly given you the whole story of how I got into kayaking. First, I feel I owe you a snippet into who I am. Secondly, I hope I do not bore you. Keep reading.

I am a 10 year police veteran, with my last four years serving as a patrol sergeant and interim pact commander. While I enjoy my work as peace officer, it is NOT what defines my life or who I am. Years of exposure to the good, the bad, and the ugly can psychologically and, in some cases, irreversibly damage the mind and ultimately compromise physical health. With that said, about two years ago, I decided to make a change in my personal life. I got more active. I re-visited outdoor recreation activities that I grew up enjoying. Soon I began to take on other activities such kayaking, rock climbing, and mountain biking.

A friend of mine and co-worker suggested I take a hard look at recreational kayaking. Stopping by my local outfitter, I tested a couple of boats eventually settling on a Perception Prodigy 10–my first rec boat. I paddled everywhere. It was so relaxing. YouTube became my source of internet instruction. More and more videos popped up of whitewater kayakers blasting down rivers, making every move look so smooth and easy. I joined a local outdoor club and began paddling with them.

One of our trips was the Biltmore Run on the French Broad River. I will never forget the butterfly effect going on in my stomach. The water was moving so fast (probably only 130 CFS), but it was so daring! The first rapid of “consequence” was located under the Interstate 26 overpass bridge. It was fast moving and kind of tricky for beginners as one wrong line you would end up pinned against the bridge columns and overturned.

I braced myself and swallowed my tongue as I paddled onward. I hit the “mini” wave train and entered the rapid. I paddled successfully through only to get beached on a rock just below the rapid. My nerves became unsettled for a brief moment but quickly calmed as I turned and witnessed one of the paddlers enter the rapid wrong and get pinned against the column. Water swamped his boat, pinning him against the column. Eventually, he was able to get free, but not without some scalding from his wife. The yard sale had begun. I forgot to mention, some of the paddlers in this group are elderly. Yes, elderly. They were picking items from the water like children unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning. It was stupid hilarious!

After everything calmed down, I tried to free myself from the rock. Little did I realize I had swamped my own boat when I had hit the under bridge rapid head-on. The next set of waves sent me into a super-fast float down river. I was STOKED! Since then, I have slowly progressed toward more advanced water.

 

I bought a Liquid Logic Remix XP10 shortly after my Prodigy 10 purchase. With this boat, I figured I could have the best of both worlds. The first big water I soaked my XP10 in was the Nantahala. The first run, I chickened out and didn’t run the falls. I made several runs after that initial trial. Many of them were alone (breaking the first cardinal rule). I would put in and Patton’s Run and take out below it, hike back with a 51lb boat, and start all over again. When there were more people on the water, I would run the whole thing until I got to the falls. Eventually, I braved the falls with some friends. The only thing I accomplished plowing through the falls was exposing the underside of my Remix to all the spectators standing alongside the river. Riding through a rapid bottoms up is what I affectionately call “boat booty”.

Nonetheless, the experience taught me three things.

  1. Going for swim ain’t all that bad. It just sucks when the water is cold!
  2. NEVER allow fear to control you (unhealthy). Allow it to serve as parameters that remind you to stay within your skill level (healthy).
  3. Learn to ROLL.

 After my virgin swim on the Nantahala River in June 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

The point of this story is to encourage folks to challenge themselves and try kayaking. It’s great therapy.Take some instruction from some of your local instructors. You can contact your local outfitters. You can also keep a check on my blog site for instruction and event news. The river is beckoning. Will you answer the call?

See you on the aqua.

Ericka Heath

SgtRiverRat (Outdoor Solo)

 

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