Thursday, January 6, 2011

Chapter 20: Lessons in Judgment

Reading this chapter reminds me that "years of paddling" does not equate to having acquired greater skill, experience, or better judgment. In other words, you are not an "experienced" kayaker just because you have been paddling for several years.

Case in point, my husband and I. We both started kayaking at the same time back in 1989. He is actually the person responsible for turning me from a canoeist into a kayaker. However, twenty-some years later, my husband is still a relative novice when it comes to his paddling skills. He is not, and never has been, interested in paddling in more challenging conditions. He is uncomfortable in large waves and doesn't care to learn to roll. That's OK. We just make sure that when the two of us go paddling, we have to seek out locations and conditions that fit his level of skill and experience.

On the other hand, over those same twenty-some years, I chose to take instruction, practice new skills, learned to roll, found other like-minded souls who wanted to paddle in more challenging conditions, read everything I could get my hands on about sea kayaking, and became an instructor. Defining someone's level of skill in a single word can be difficult, but I guess by most measures I have gone past the intermediate level of skill and knowledge and into advanced.

John Gaulding, I think most people would agree, did not show particularly good judgment in this incident. Good judgment comes as a result of experience, and experience comes from surviving episodes of bad judgment. Hopefully, John gained some improvement in his judgment as a result of surviving this situation.

If, like John Gaulding, you have paddled many years without having any serious or dangerous kayaking incidents, you may be tempted to think that nothing bad will ever happen to you. This is a danger for all sea kayakers (even those who are truly skilled and experienced). To become a more skilled ("experienced") kayaker, you need to take conscious steps to improve your skills and increase your knowledge. You will most likely need to seek out more skilled paddlers who can teach you what you need to know, mentor you as you take your first steps in more challenging conditions, and then keep practicing those skills to keep them sharp.

Don't make the mistake of assuming that time spent paddling a kayak automatically makes you a better kayaker, and don't become complacent about following your standard safety practices just because you've never had a problem before.


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