Anyone who knows me will know how much I love kayaking and how often I like to bring up kayaking in conversation. ‘What are you doing this weekend?’ – ‘Hopefully kayaking!’. ‘What do you want for Christmas?’ – ‘Rain so I can go kayaking!’ etc. It is so much a part of who I am that it is easy to forget the reasons why I am so obsessed with it. This week one of my students asked me the question ‘what exactly is it that you love about kayaking so much?’
This question really got me thinking and I found it harder to answer than I thought I would. Kayaking can involve such intense emotions and it can be hard to find the words that do those emotions justice. Kayaking for me is not a hobby. It is a deep rooted addiction in which many of my key life decisions have been based around. Where I live, my romantic relationship, my friendships and how I choose to spend my money are all based around kayaking. The reasons why I love kayaking could fill a double sided sheet but I have decided to focus on three key reasons to try and explain just why I am so addicted to this sport.
1. The adrenaline rush
If there was any part of kayaking that could actually be considered addictive, it is probably the increase in adrenaline levels and the effects this has on the body. Adrenaline is secreted by the adrenal glands when we experience times of danger. Our bodies prepare to either ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ this danger and a number of changes happen. These changes include an increased heart rate and an increased blood glucose concentration, both of which lead to an increase in the amount of energy available to the body.
Everyone will have experienced an adrenaline rush before even if you didn’t realise it. You know that feeling you get just before you first kiss someone you really like? Or before you are about to perform a speech in front of a crowd of people? When your heart is racing, you might even feel light headed and your entire body feels like it has electricity cascading through it? (You can thank our nervous system for that one.)That is all because of adrenaline.
In kayaking adrenaline allows us to respond to the danger around us (usually the rapids, sometimes an out of control beginner) and helps to keep us safe. In kayaking, it is common to experience type 2 fun. This is where you may not enjoy the actually paddling in the moment but after you have completed the rapid you feel elated. This is because of adrenaline and it is an extremely addictive feeling – one of which you will keep trying to chase.
2. Getting to experience nature in a way that no one else does
On every paddling trip I always experience at least one ‘I can’t believe how lucky I am to experience this. What a day to be alive!’ moment. This usually happens in an eddy or on a flat section of river where I get a chance to look around and really take in my surroundings. It is in this moment where I remember how completely lucky I am to do this sport and have these experiences.
Our world is full of diverse and incredible natural places. The benefits of spending time in nature on our physical and mental health are now widely discussed. Access to these places is now easier than ever before and it gives me joy to share with people how to enjoy these places in a responsible way. It is relatively easy to get outside and enjoy walks in nature in the UK. But kayaking takes being immersed in nature to another level. You can access places in a kayak which would be virtually impossible in any other way.
White water kayaking involves a level of gradient on a river in order to create that white water. Those of you who took Geography in school will know that waterfalls form where bands of hard rock are positioned over soft rock. A gorge will form as a waterfall moves upstream due to the continual erosion from the water. Paddling through a gorge after a series of rapids or waterfalls is one of the most amazing experiences. It is very committing when a river gorges up and yet the experience is so wonderfully unique. Paddling through a gorge is a true pleasure that few people will ever know. It is this unique experience of nature which keeps me coming back for more.
3. Mindfulness and memories
There has been a song in the charts this year by Noizu that has the lyrics ‘You don’t realize you’re in the moment until it’s a memory.’ This is a good way to describe the wonderful mindfulness that comes with kayaking and ultimately the memories it leads to!
Paddling white water forces you to focus on the water in front of you. There is no room to do anything other than live in that very moment. Once you are committed to a rapid, the only thing you can think about is your immediate environment and how you are interacting in that environment. White water kayaking is the ultimate mindfulness sport. For myself and many others, I use kayaking as a way to look after my mental health and help me cope with the stress of life. I wrote a blog last year about mental health and paddling which you can read here.
Mindfulness leads to making memories. The experiences from a good weekend of paddling will keep me going for the following week and it is the memories of those river days which I cherish the most. Days on the water can be full of highs and lows and can sometimes be really quite intense. These experiences are usually shared and can lead to stronger bonds between you and your paddling buddies. The depth and intensity of these experiences themselves etch them into your mind long after the day has passed.
People say that the trick to happiness is to spend money on experiences and not material objects. The quality of the experiences that paddling leads to and the memories made is on another level. It is very hard once you have enjoyed those experiences, to go back to hobbies that do not provide that same quality of experience.
Hopefully I’ve given you a better snapshot of just why I am so addicted to this sport. Those of you reading you are paddlers may agree with the reasons listed – or have others you value more. Non-paddlers I hope I have inspired you to consider taking up kayaking! Don’t say I didn’t warn you about how utterly obsessed you will get with this sport though!