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.

Photo by Kalob Grady

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.

Big Water Kayaking

Photo by Kalob Grady

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!