Everyone has different templates on the type of people they enjoy paddling with, but here are just a few of my thoughts and some characteristics I look for and expect of my close paddling circle when I take on challenging whitewater. The harder and more consequential the whitewater, the more selective I get with the people I paddle with. You should feel confident and comfortable with the people you’re paddling with at all times and in all situations.
My Paddling Partners demonstrate:
Awareness that comes with Experience and Knowledge
· Hold a quick 'safety brief' at the put-in, especially if you are paddling with new people. Even if you know you’re paddling with a skilled group and feel silly for asking what the “signal for wood is” . . . DO IT! You can’t afford not too!
· Good spacial awareness – ALWAYS make sure you see a paddler in front of you AND/OR behind you. And, eddy out to re-group and check-in with everyone on occasion. Preferably above and below major rapids.
· The STRONGEST, MOST EXPERIENCED paddlers should be in the front AND the back.
· If you can’t see the bottom of a drop . . . get out and SCOUT!
· If you are paddling on a regular basis, whether it’s class II or class V, take a safety course – know how to throw a rope or get a foot entrapped victim stabilized. I EXPECT ALL my paddling partners to have safety knowledge before I will ever paddle challenging whitewater.
· Communication – Experienced paddlers tell you ‘what’s up’, but they also listen. Make sure the entire team is okay as you make your way down the river. Be aware of any member on the team who might be fatigued or nervous and help them calm down and rest. The team is only as strong as its’ weakest link.
Good judgement & Ego-less
The people I choose to paddle with run difficult rapids because they know the line and see themselves making it. Their decision to run a drop is a calculated decision instead of just crossing their fingers and hoping they make it through (which I agree is sometimes fun if it doesn’t put YOU or your TEAM in jeopardy). Experienced paddlers are okay with walking a drop even it they’ve ran it many times before and are patient at other times when they decide to run the drop, but then have to wait while other team members portage.
I enjoy spending time with them
It’s important to me that I know the people I paddle challenging whitewater with and enjoy being around them. There’s nothing better than feeling comfortable being yourself, making decisions based on how YOU feel and not on the pressure of other paddlers. Plus, sharing the same perspective about goals, life and decisions both on and off the river is important for trusting my ‘team’ with my life. Kayaking is both an individual and team sport. However, if I could put percentages on the two, I’d guess 40% individual and 60% team. Yes, you have to navigate your kayak on your own, but it’s the team that successfully works together from eddy to eddy; it’s the team that decides when to scout, huddle and discuss the line through the rapid; it’s the team that pulls a swimmer from the water and fetches the gear; it’s the TEAM that high fives each other at the take-out (would be kind of funny to see someone high fiving themselves). Most importantly, paddling with my friends is fun and we know one another so well that we can encourage, 'stoke', push and motivate each other when the team needs it the most.
How do you find good paddling partners? Well, unfortunately you can’t go to www.goodpaddlingpartners.com . It’s all trial and error and developing the relationships and communication on easier whitewater, building the trust and experiences together and continuing into more challenging whitewater. It’s usually the quiet and the humble that you want to be on the water with. Good luck . . . it’s a long process, but good paddling partners = lifetime friends!