Big water. High volume rivers. No rocks. These were the promises of Eastern Canada. I was told by everyone at World Class Kayak Academy that the Ottawa and Mistassibi would be my favorite rivers and that I would fall in love with big water. I ate their words, swallowing them without chewing at all.
Part 1: The Ottawa
It had been a very low water summer for kayaking on the White Salmon River, and I pined for this so called big water. Upon arriving on the Ottawa River, a Canadian classic known for its infamous freestyle waves, I found low water too. Or at least that is what everyone told me. Staring at the massive waves and giant holes, I doubted whether they knew what low water was. Not only were the waves bigger than anything I had ever seen, but I was in a tiny potato of a playboat. I was hesitant to enter the water, even though my classmates seemed unphased by these massive features.
They appeared so comfortable paddling into the waves and holes that I figured it couldn’t be too difficult. I was wrong. For me, it was beatdown after beatdown after beatdown. It felt like I spent more time underwater than I did upright. I quickly became frustrated with myself, wishing I had spent more time practicing my playboating before arriving at the Ottawa. I had to step back and remind myself I was here to become a better kayaker, that everyone fails all the time, and they all started somewhere too. Failure is part of learning.
Within days of repeatedly reminding myself of this, I found small moments of success. I would catch a wave for a split second and understand what it felt like to surf (before being completely chundered and having my sinuses blasted with water). Over time, the reasons I flipped changed. I would go upside down because I was attempting new things, not accidentally catching an edge. My goals became bigger; I went from attempting to surf the smallest and easiest waves to surfing one of the steeper green waves. By the end, could I throw any tricks? No. But did I find success within developing my freestyle skills as a kayaker? Yes. I was progressing.
Part 2: The Mistassibi
Just as I began to get used to playboating on the Ottawa, switched rivers. We would be paddling big water again, but this time we would be in our creek boats. I was thrilled to be paddling the boat I was used to and could not wait to get on the Mistassibi. But once again I found myself surrounded by giant waves, pushy water, and holes that were not to be entered. It terrified me even more than being in a playboat. I found it hard to navigate, my contacts never stayed in place, and I was continuously pushed around. Again I felt as though I was back at square one. I continually felt frustrated with my kayaking skills. Even with two weeks straight of paddling on a new river and a summer full of laps on the White Salmon River, I felt as though my skills had not progressed since spring.
Part 3: Progress
I took a step back again and began to focus on taking little steps to improve. Rather than looking for great lines all the way down, I would make miniature goals with myself: “I’m going to boof off of this wave,” or, “I am going to hit this line.” As I began achieving these goals, I found it easier and easier to be satisfied with where I was in my kayaking. I may not be the biggest and the best, but actively working towards becoming a better kayaker.
Originally big water may not have been in my comfort zone, but over time I found joy in making small steps toward improving in this discipline. After being exposed to this new type of whitewater, I walk towards creeking with a more resilient mindset. Progression is not linear; there will always be ups and downs. I’m doing my best not to get down on myself, and continuously striving to take the little steps in becoming a stronger kayaker.
Author Naomi has worked on the Wet Planet Cafe & Grill’s team since 2016. As you already know, she loves kayaking, and plans to be a kayak instructor for Wet Planet when she turns 18. If you haven’t been following Naomi’s kayaking journey, you can check out her previous blog here!