The Right Way

December 2, 2018

We couldn’t get this guy back in his boat. Frustrated, hurt, and tired, he was about to give up. “This is why I don’t paddle sit-in kayaks!” 

Anybody who has ever assisted in a rescue and had the swimmer struggle to climb back in, can surely identify with my sense of dread.


Some years ago, our local club was having a sort of “fall out of your boat” day, where we planned to practice self and assisted rescues. I hadn’t had much formal training, yet I had what I thought was a decent assisted rescue, and had talked a number of people through a heel hook or back deck rescue. But I couldn’t get this fellow back in his boat. Heel hook? He’d racked himself, ouchy! Back deck? Couldn’t pull himself up, even with my help. We were at a loss.


Then a little wiser paddler, one long schooled in white water, paddled up. He suggested trying a rescue I’d never heard of, let alone seen done: The swimmer positions himself between his boat and the rescuer's; with an arm over each boat he works his legs up over the two boats and then drops his butt in his seat. I’ll be damned if that didn’t work. We got that guy back in his boat several times. He was flushed with triumph. “I can get back in my boat!”


 (demonstrating a paddle float and sling self rescue, credit R D Green)

He left happy and I left with a new rescue in my tool box. From that experience I learned that when you accept responsibility for your safety you acquire empowerment. This was a huge “ah ha moment” for me.


I told an instructor about this rescue and was scolded “old fashioned, dangerous, dislocate his shoulder....” Hey! Isn’t leaving that guy floating away, out of his boat even MORE dangerous? Are not water sports inherently dangerous to some degree, in all cases?




Wiki definition:
the tendency to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others.
"a culture of dogmatism and fanaticism"

Our sport is rife with this nine letter “four letter word.” And it is not doing us any good. When someone insists only their way is right, only their viewpoint is correct, they are yanking the positive experience away from all the other people who have found something else that works. They are suggesting those with different viewpoints are less responsible than themselves. Those dogmatic individuals aren’t helping our sport grow if they are sucking the positive energy away from others.


What I’ve learned is the ONLY right is what’s right for you. 


Let’s consider the ACA’s Adaptive Program. For those who aren’t familiar, here’s a snippet from the ACA itself:
“Since 1990, the ACA has led the adaptive recreation industry, training instructors and program providers in the best practices of inclusive paddlesports.
Supporting and enhancing the decades strong ACA National Paddlesport Instruction Program, the Adaptive Paddling Program teaches the skills and knowledge needed to outfit equipment and modify teaching styles to allow people of all abilities to participate in paddlesport activities as safely, as comfortably, and with the same performance potential as all others.”


That sounds a lot like “What’s right for you.” 

Dogmatism is the route that leads us to blame the victims of paddle sport accidents, as well.
link to an article by Moulton Avery about victim blaming


“Well, if only they’d worn a tow belt, if only they’d had a second paddle, if only the victim had blah, blah, blah.” This is a time worn response. Perhaps it is time to brand this behavior for what it is, which is not helpful, and scrub it from our culture?


Maybe I can’t change the dogmatic people around me, but I can give my students more than one way to do almost anything. I can help them discern what works best for their bodies. Therefore, I can empower them with as many tools as possible. 


Find what works for you. Accept responsibility for your safety. Adapt. Empower. Paddle on!


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