Over time as our skills get better we may notice getting flipped surprised or into trouble in places that normally would not have been a problem when our skills were in the process of being pushed to a level higher than what they were presently at. We have mostly noticed this while paddling on the river, as we progress into more challenging conditions and gain experience in this fairly new venue for us. Though we have still noticed it in the ocean rock gardens even after paddling in them for many years.

Both oceans and rivers can have dangerous consequences if you let your guard down. These environments have eddy lines and holes that will grab your boat and flip you over very quickly. The ocean has waves that can sneak up and ponce on you if you are not paying attention.

Let’s start with the inspiration for this post. It began with an email by Gregg Berman that lead to Bill Vonnegut’s response. We are both primarily ocean paddlers that have been paddling the river a lot more over the last year.

Gregg Berman on the South Fork

Here’s Gregg’s initial email

Just leaving ER with a broken left thumb obtained while teaching on the river today. We’ll see how long it holds me up. I was sweep for a group of 5 students as we headed through Old Scary on the C-G stretch. I was watching my students and encouraging them to paddle. I saw the hole coming but was unconcerned about me and just wanted to be sure they paddled through. All 5 students did with nary a capsize save for me. As often happens and Bill recently related, we often get spanked when we become too complacent. I floated through the small hole in the rapid but was surprised when thinking I was beyond it, it sucked my back end under, the nose went skyward in a beautiful stern pirouette and I was then upside down. My left thumb hit a rock hard forcing me to let go of the paddle with that hand. Then my right hand scraped rock. I only suffered some missing skin on the right hand and I wasn’t gonna let go with both hands anyway. I soon regained the paddle with my left hand and rolled up. By the time we landed for lunch 20-30 minutes later I was unable to get my left thumb around the paddle and could not use it for things like opening a ziplock bag nor anything else. Fortunately I often practice paddling that way so was still able to teach the rest of the day but at lunch told Andy my co instructor just so he would know but we didn’t share that info with the students. I taught all day and then at days end as I knew I would, I figured I should have it checked out. I know from working in ER’s that when such injuries are not checked out, bone chips can migrate into the joint space and cause an impingement syndrome that causes temporary and sometimes permanent reduction of joint function. Well wouldn’t you know, lucky me, that is just the sort of injury I have. A chip off the end, right at the joint where the thumb bends. Likely I won’t have to do much but splint it but will follow up with an orthopedist I’ve been referred to, just to make sure it heals correctly.

Someone else recently mentioned the “deer in the headlights” phenomenon and I wondered about that for myself. I mean there was no adrenaline going or anything as this is a rapid I’m very familiar with and have played in a lot. For me though I know there was a thought of “Huh, what do you know, I didn’t expect this,” which I’m not sure but may have delayed both my strokes and my own leaning forward just enough to make them useless once my contemplative state subsided enough for me to take action. I think being unfamiliar too in the boat added to that. I find it unlikely the Jackson Zen would have reacted the same way because of its higher volume, more rounded stern profile. The Wavesport Diesel I was in “PADDLES”more like a play boat which they even discuss in the 5 boat review video Bill and I watched. For me that’s a good thing but I just need to get used to how to paddle it after being in so many boats for so long which had been getting frustrating having to learn the differing handling characteristics of a new boat each and every time I got on the water. Still in the end I chalk it all up to user error on my part. I should have both focused on my students and still paddled while I kept cognizant of my own boat and where it was instead of doing one at the expense of the other as I obviously did. I’m fully capable of and perform both well when teaching sea kayaking and rock gardening. So I’ll take this as a valuable lesson to myself not to be complacent. I’ve had that lesson in the sea enough times. Too bad I didn’t transfer that knowledge to the low salt content water. I guess I’m just a sucker for a good lesson.

Gregg Berman

And Bill’s response

I hope your thumb gets better soon. I agree with what you mentioned about getting complacent. Most of the recent times I have found myself upside down, especially on the river have been because I have backed off my game. As I feel more and more comfortable on the river and also in rock gardens, things look smaller and less scary so I paddle through things not prepared to brace if needed, or less aggressively than I used to, which leads to needing to brace in the first place.

When I recently got flipped and wedged upside down while rock gardening at Goat Rock. I was running a slot that I had been through many times, even a few times that day. Because of this I felt very relaxed and not really thinking about the possibility of going over. As a consequence I let myself get into a vulnerable position. I was looking to my left watching Sergey and had my paddle in the water on the right as we ran a slot together. The position I was in looked just like someone that had pulled their head while trying to roll and went right back in, which I ended up doing when the swirling current caught my edge.

Bill getting complacent and flipped

Bill getting complacent and flipped

When I got flipped in the situation that I just described. I could not find the surface to roll up. I set up on the right and waited, nothing, the boat was not moving. So I moved to the left and still could not find the surface, moved back to the right and as I was running out of air I just went through the roll motion. While sweeping my paddle I felt it hit a rock at about a 90 degree angle, not because my paddle was diving, but because of the angle of the boat, I ended up completing the roll using the rock for support. Later Sergey told me my bow and stern were pinned between two rocks.

Bill Vonnegut

These are just a couple examples of what can happen when paddling in dynamic conditions becomes routine. The point here is that we tend to be very “on guard” and “on our game” when we are pushing at the edges of our comfort zone. But as that zone of comfort gets bigger and bigger, the consequences for not staying on our game also become bigger and bigger. So go ahead and push that envelope but keep in mind the need to stay on our toes even while in a situation that has become more common place for us than it once was. Otherwise the result may be a lesson learned in a manner we would have rather avoided.

In fact that is the whole point of this post. So we can learn lessons from each other and be reminded of the ones we’ve already learned without having to endure each one ourselves or at least to not repeat them over and over. We can probably continue on with more stories like this, but then this post would run on for quite some time. So instead we are going to add a page to this blog dedicated to stories incidents like this. We would also be interested in hearing your stories trials and travails that in retrospect you find will enhance your own and possibly others paddling careers. We’ll compile them and add the ones that would fit onto this new page we’ll call “Lessons Learned”.

Feel free to comment on this or other future posts on this subject. And be on the look out at your local retailer for another tale of personal “lessons learned” written and experienced by several of our own team which will be included in the new book in print soon Sea Kayaker’s More Deep Trouble
If you have a great story with pictures, send it to neptunesrangers@yahoo.com and we may post it.

Originally posted at http://neptunesrangers.blogspot.com/2013/07/complacency-can-get-you-into-trouble.html