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The importance of friends – the third step in becoming an ‘independent boater’

For the last two weeks I have written posts on how to become an independent boater, i.e. someone who doesn’t need to be led down the river. I came up with three main steps that I personally thought were important in moving away from always being led down a river to being able to peer paddle. I outlined each step in a separate blog piece. My first piece was on the importance of being safe. My second piece was on the importance of being able to choose your own lines. My third and final piece is going to be on the importance of friends. Kayaking is a unique sport in that it is really hard to go kayaking without other people. Unlike other sports such as running or cycling, kayaking is much more reliant on being enjoyed as a group. I accept that some people prefer to solo kayak and this piece isn’t meant to be a discussion of that choice. Instead I want to go over the benefits of having a strong friendship group in kayaking and why it is important in helping you to become independent.

Looking out for each other

I’ve heard a lot of kayakers use the phrase ‘less than three there should never be’. Whilst this isn’t a rule that I always follow, I appreciate the idea behind it. I have never paddled whitewater without at least one other person (excluding artificial courses). I’ve never paddled whitewater where I am feeling pushed without at least two or three other people. The reason being is based on safety. Even in a low-risk environment where I am well within my abilities, I am far more comfortable paddling with a friend than I would be on my own. It is an adventure sport for a reason and sometimes the most unexpected things can happen, even in an environment that you may know really well. I know that if I am paddling with a friend who I trust, I am far more comfortable and therefore happy to push myself to try harder moves. If I was alone, I may be comfortable in paddling some sections of the river but I would be more hesitant to push myself.

Without the reassurance of having friends close by, moments like this would be a lot more scary! Photo: Tom Clare

When you are starting off in kayaking, you are more likely to progress if you can practice harder moves in environments that you are comfortable in. And you are more likely to be comfortable if you are in a group who you can trust to look out for you if something were to go wrong. (An unexpected swim when learning how to surf for example.) In other words, in order to become more independent on the water, you are dependent on having people you can trust to be your ‘safety net’ when paddling. Equally you need to learn to be able to be the safety net for others in your group. I wont go into more detail on this point as I wrote a whole blog piece about safety two weeks ago. I just wanted to reiterate the safety aspect of paddling in a group as it is such an important one.

Kayaking with friends is fun

Some of my most favourite days on the river have been the more chilled out days on easy low water runs where the sole objective has been to have fun with friends. Like many things in life, the experience of kayaking is best done as a shared experience. Having a group of friends with whom you are comfortable and trust can help you grow so much personally. Through being able to encourage and support each other, it allows everyone in the group to grow and expand their paddling abilities and experiences. If I think through my biggest achievements, each one has had some of my closest friends supporting me through it and being proud of me when I succeeded. The feeling of being able to help your friends to achieve their goals is perhaps even more special than achieving your own. Also being there to witness your friends ‘whoopsie’ moments is pretty fun too!

This was Emma’s first time surfing – it was a pleasure to be there to help her achieve that goal! Photo: Jack Grace

Trust is important

I am very lucky in that I have quite a lot of paddling friends all around the UK so wherever the rain falls, I generally know that I will have someone to paddle with. On days where the river is very high or I know I am going to be pushed though, I generally prefer to be on the water with my closer friends. The reason for this comes down to trust and knowing each other well. When you have a close group that you paddle with, everyone in that groups knows each other’s strengths and weaknesses well. As might be expected, you paddle well together because of this. We know what to expect from each other and we know that we can count on each other. When you are in an environment which has so much potential risk involved, having that kind of trust with the people you are with is really important.

Some of my closest friends in kayaking on our very cold Scotland trip over Christmas. Feel super lucky to have them!

Going on club trips often means that the organisers of the trip may be expecting to lead you down. One way to move away from this is to show that you trust worthy enough to be invited on ‘mates’ trips. Forming a group of friends whom you can go kayaking with whilst not having the expectation of needing a ‘group leader’ is key. Of course you will still need a lot of support whilst you are learning how to choose your own lines and decisions. However, I have found from my experience that friends are happy to continue you to help you with that learning journey, as long as you are willing to learn. Continuing your learning through friends rather than through always following a more formal pathway really puts a lot of emphasis on you to take responsibility for yourself. This itself helps you to become more independent in your paddling.

Community spirit

Something that I was not expecting but came as a pleasant surprise was the level of friendships that grow out of kayaking. The depth of friendship and the bonds formed with kayaking friends is often beyond what I have experienced from other areas in my life. I have friends from school and work and so on who I feel very close with. But there is something different about the unfaltering trust I have with some of my kayaking friends. It is also a trust which develops quite quickly. As such, through being active in the kayaking community, you will find that you can make many friends.

Events are a great way to meet old friends and make new ones. Myself and my friend Snookie at T-Fest 2019, photo by Tom Clare.

One of things that is often spoken about in kayaking is how close the community is. I want to write another piece just about this at some point so shall only talk briefly today. Most kayakers will know that on rainy days, it is virtually impossible to go to a river without bumping into people that you know along the way. Horseshoe falls carpark for the river Dee in North Wales would be a good example of this. Paddling with friends as opposed to club trips makes it easier to meet more people whilst out on the water. Attending kayaking events has a similar outcome. Both allow you to meet more people, make more friends and ultimately have a wider network of buddies that you can then paddle with. This itself gives you more flexibility for being able to get out on the water when you choose to.

The end

Well that is it! Three goals I personally think are important to achieve in order to become an independent boater. If you’ve read all three blog pieces, I really hope that you enjoyed them and that you’ve been able to take something away. Ultimately the most important thing is to get out, be safe, have fun and just enjoy being on the water.

Happy paddling!

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