Every one of us has been a beginner in whitewater. For the experienced river runner the fear and doubts we overcame so long ago seem like foreign concepts from another life lived long ago and by another person other than ourselves… But lurking in the mind of all boaters, whether we’ve been on the water 5 months, 5 years, or 5 decades, is the memory of what it was like when we first fell in love, with The River.
What better way to reminisce than through the eyes of a rookie?
“It was time to try out Gausa, our local river here in Norway, about grade 2-3. With two kayakers who have paddled for many years I felt somewhat safe, yet I also felt awkward as I paddled for my life, “as long as you keep a blade in the water you won’t flip.” The first rapids went well, and I got more comfortable and a bit more relaxed. I had a swim because of a strainer I didn’t see and quickly learned that I should focus more on what was ahead. I still wasn’t sure kayaking was my kind of thing. I loved the river and the community but kayaking was still more scary than anything else…
I’ve always loved water. Actually, I lived on a boat for 5 years with my father. I spent every free minute I had in the water.
My river experience started at the age of 15, at a commercial rafting trip with my friend and our mums. I don’t really remember much, but at the last rapid our raft Wallaced and I got trapped under it, with my head between the raft and a rock. The last thing I remember is that I couldn’t breathe, and I was clawing at the raft floor. I was not panicking; I was calm and felt a weird inner peace. I knew I couldn’t do anything about it, and then it all went black. I have no memory of being dragged back in the raft or how I got back to camp. I returned to myself later in the shower, cold but satisfied I didn’t drown.
After that I didn’t want to be much in or around water, but somehow I found myself in a raft again a couple of years later on a family trip. The trips wasn’t exciting enough at all! The day after we went on the extreme trip, and from that day I was in love with whitewater. We had a cabin in Dagali, where the beautiful Numedalslågen runs (grade I – VI), and I made many friends in the kayaking and rafting community. Because of a tiny little raft accident (on dry land, wrestling at Dagali River festival -WALLACE!) my shoulder got injured and I had abstain from paddling. After a year it was healed enough for me to enter a kayak class.
Now it was time, my first time ever in a kayak. We were in a little pool beside the river. I sat down, struggling with the spray deck before being pushed out on the water.
Finally, I thought, the day was here. Well, the excitement only lasted a few seconds. The Burn was so tippy, or at least so it felt. I was really uncomfortable. After a while with the basics it was time to go in the river. We had put in just below a waterfall to play in the currents and, well, I didn’t find this fun at all. It was hard work! The instructor surfed and played a while, then he showed us how to get in and out of an eddy. It was time to put my basics to a test. It really didn’t go well; the eddy lines pushed me over before I could realize what happened. Tom, the instructor, called “keep your edge going for f#ck sake!” Real encouragement! Still couldn’t do it. After numerous fails I finally nailed… one.
Next day the rain was so heavy, I felt like it was raining upwards. All my muscles was sore and I really didn’t want to get out of bed. But out of bed I went, on with the really cold wetsuit and into the kayak. It was time to learn how to roll, and I did, after about 20 minutes. Back in the current, however, I couldn’t roll at all. After the accident at 15 I had a problem with being underwater in a current, so I usually bailed out before I was completely under water.
Last day of the kayak school I was so tired. We paddled for a while, but I just couldn’t paddle anymore. We finished the course and the day, swimming through a rapid just to get the feeling of the powerful whitewater, and talking awhile about river features. It was a great course with good instructors. Check out www.fullon.no. Besides kayak school, they have kayak rental, rafting, tandem kayaking, canyoning and so on.
I had mixed feelings after the course. Would I ever be able to do anything more than paddle around in a pool? Would I ever master my roll in current, and stop panicking? Would I find it as exciting and fun as my kayaking friends? I wasn’t sure of myself, wasn’t sure if I Wanted to ever do it again. It felt impossible.
But the river has cast a spell on me. I’ve read so many books, watched so many movies… I returned to my kayak. After a few weeks on slow moving current and a few rafting trips later, I was ready.
It was time to try out Gausa, our local river (Grade I – V). That saying I started the story with, “as long as you keep a blade in the water you won’t flip” ran through my head. Things slowed down and I began to move with the river, not fight it. I’ve always acted tougher than I really am, and I usually have to pay for it. When I’m on dry land everything looks easy. After a couple of days bragging, “that the middle line of Slalom Rapid looks easy and I definitely could do it,” I found myself right above it… I had paddled it before, down the chicken line. But because of my stupid cockiness I now “had” to do the middle line. My friend, Terje, was already at the bottom, signaling me “all clear”. I sat in my kayak and glared at the rapid. Hated myself for being so cocky about it, wasn’t too sure I could make it.
I still couldn’t roll in a current and the hole on river left is a bitch (known as Broken Teeth). Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really easy rapid. But this was my first time ever going down a rapid all by myself.
After about ten minutes I peeled out, ferried halfway over to river right, and downstream I went. I cleared the hole, got kicked a bit off my line, found my line again, and had a blast through the wave trains. And there it was, the understanding, the epiphany. The feeling was indescribable. I screamed, of joy, of relief, of celebration.
After that everything got easier and Slalom Rapid is a now piece of cake. I just need a bit more work on the skill side. Now it’s off season here in Norway, but we have pool practice every week and I’m really looking forward to the season! I’m definitely a kayaker in my heart, and nothing seems impossible.”
Kaja (pronounced like kayak without the k at the end) lives in Lillehammer, Norway, and is a first year kayaker and DBP Facebook Admin. She has hung around raft guides and outfitters quite a bit, but graduated to a hard boat when she realized she was far too much of a control freak to handle customers. Her story reminds us all of the day we first conquered our fears, and overcame the notion of never risking the WALLACE.