Thursday, May 11, 2006

We all have our level of comfort and discomfort. This is true in work and play. And, it is true in kayaking. There are, basically speaking, only two kinds of sports. The first are those sports/games in which success is measured by winning against an apponent or another team. Baseball, tennis and rugby are such sports. Examples of one-on-one forms of these sports are boxing, fencing and wrestling. The idea is that the goal is to win.

Then there are the sports that do not focus on an opponent, at least not in the traditional sense. Instead, these sports (which are often done alone and which almost always carry high risks) are the ones in which we win by just doing it. The opponent is often Mother Nature and/or our own fears and perceptions of our limitations

Heere is where we take risks, albiet calculated risks, for the thrill and satisfaction of just doing it. The problem, however, is that one can run out of goals when they come up against the limits of their fear. For example: a gal begins climbing and slowly developes her skills until she is climbing sites that are almost too challenging for her. So, she stays in her comfort zone and only climbs walls with a level of difficulty up to but not more than what she is now doing. Consequently, she does not progress, does the same thing over and over and eventually gets boared. It likely she will then quit the sport since it no longer holds the possibility of new thrills or the satisfaction of new accomplishments. She has hit a barrier.

I see this in my fellow sea kayakers all the time. I see folks who paddle well, develope some bracing skills and feel comfy in 1-2 foot swells. But when the swells are 3, 4 or more feet, they stay ashore.

Now let me say right here that I respect good judgement, and I respect the big water (I am usually on Lake Michigan). But there is a huge difference between respecting something and fearing it. Fearing something leads to avoidance and, in the end, inner thoughts of not being good enough.

Respect, on the other hand, leads to reassessing, getting mentoring and gradually pushing the envelope of my comfort zone. It means going out in something a tad more hairy than I feel comfy in and doing it with someone who handles it well. I stretch myself, get all sorts of thrills and, when I gain confidence at this new level of paddling, feel good about myself (and, at my age that is reall something).

If you are a paddler, are you still paddling at the same level and in the same conditions as last year, consider going outside of your comfort zone...and doing so in a safe way. How?

I have found sea kayakers the friendliest and most willing to share people I have ever met. Just ask a better paddler to show you that sweap stroke. Or when the sunday morning group goes out from South Shore in Milwaukee and conditions are just a bit much for you, show up and tell the group about it. Chances are some of us really don't feel like a long paddle and would welcome the excuse to stay back with you and introduce you to the next level. We simply ask that you have the proper equipment and are properly dressed for the water temperature.

It's old, it's corny, and it's true: Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment. The trick is to make those lesser judfments not too bad.

Safe paddling


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