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“When paddling, always aim for the V in the rapid.” I heard this a lot as a kid.
It was an easy way for my parents to teach me to aim for the tongue of the rapid and follow the path of least resistance down the harmless section of the river – a section of the river that I saw as an impossible booby trap composed of jagged rocks and swirling tidal waves. Growing up in a family whose parents went on a three-week canoeing and camping expedition in the Northwoods of Quebec to James Bay for their so-called luxurious honeymoon, I was forced to aim for the V in the rapid more than most kids.
With a low success rate and a bad attitude dragging me down, it was easy to get frustrated, flip on a rock, and spend the rest of the rapid swimming. This defeat would last until my parents dragged my canoe, all my lost gear, and their floating son to the sandy bank of the river.
After a quick correction of my technique and some words of encouragement, they prepared me for the next rapid around the bend.
My parents did make it easy for me. They explained that finding the V in the rapid was all about preparation. All I had to do was start looking downriver early and align my canoe accordingly. Paddling forward through the rapid was simply effort after that. Paddle like hell, don’t be scared, and trust the preparation that you have done. That’s easy, right? Wrong. As a stubborn little kid, I drank river water at almost every rapid. This made going to the dentist and cleaning my room more exciting than paddling.
Fast forward and here we are. The kid that spent the family canoe trips complaining of hunger, boredom, and injury now has a career in paddlesports. A nightstand full of canoe magazines, gear guides, and that one framed picture of Dad handling the South Fork of the Payette. A weekend schedule filled with paddling trips. A newfound appreciation for my parent’s old canoe gear, photo albums, and stories. An odd obsession with paddling further. Paddling faster. Paddling more.
Little did I know, I was going to choose this lifestyle centered on the once aggravating hobby that my parents so painfully subjected me. Little did they know, it was their paddling guidance that would make the career I chose a successful one.
With their son reading The Monkey Wrench Gang for the third time and coming home for Thanksgiving dinner with stories of portaging dams and beating personal best distance day trips, I feel that the parents of the frustrated kid, who always flipped on rocks and swam down rapids are proudly waiting for me at the take out point, ready to load the car and go home. After all, their kid learned how to paddle rapids finally. That’s good enough, right?
Sorry Mom and Dad. I want to keep paddling.
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