5 Life Lessons I Learned from Paddling

1. The perks of being a rope person
Because of my parents, I’ve kept rope stored in my car for impromptu
paddling trips since the day I got my driver’s license. It’s a source of much grief for paddlers riding in my car: “uggh..ropes?!” Apparently, straps are easier, but I can’t say that I’ve ever really been convinced. Because, well, I have used those ropes not once, but three times to tie rusty parts of my car back on…muffler, wheel well, heat shield. Improvisation skills, let me tell you!

Ropes, I come by it honestly...
Ropes, I come by it honestly…


2. Fake it till you make it
I don’t mean fake confidence all the time. Definitely not. I mean that once you decide to paddle something, go at it like you’re going to style it. This aligns with the ‘’Paddle good or paddle hard’’ mentality. It increases aggressiveness, which leads to more speed, and consequently increases the likelihood of actually styling it.

The same thing goes for oral presentations, public speaking and job interviews. No matter how underprepared you are, don’t let the audience, or the rivers, in on that secret.

Speaking at Paddle to the Sea's 50th anniversary
Speaking at Paddle to the Sea’s 50th anniversary


3. Rhetoric – it’s all in the phrasing
“I’ll be away from university for the week , there’s this thing called ALF, it’s in Tennessee, no there’s no website, no it’s not a competition…” VS. “I have the opportunity to participate in an international whitewater canoe festival…”

You can guess which is more effective. Life skills, my friends, life skills.

4. How to drive…
Alright, this might sound irrelevant. However, I learned how to paddle before I learned
to drive, and there’s a lot of crossover. Think about it – look where you want to go,
active eyes. Trying to exit an eddy on a slalom course with 40 other
paddlers, or at the likes of Beaverfest and Moosefest, is a heck of a lot like turning left or merging:
Look for the gap, eye contact, and go (with “grrr”)! It’s like a Tellico race with rules.

5. We’re all a little bit weird.
One of my dad’s favourite statements is: ‘’We’re all a bit weird, and we only get weirder as we get older’’. It’s so true, and maybe even more visible on the river, in a group where we rely on each other for safety and for fun. Open boating has helped me appreciate everyone’s individual quirkiness (my own included!) for
the strength (and the entertainment..) they bring to every group.

OC love. Photo by Johno Foster
OC love.
Photo by Johno Foster

An Ode to the Desk Job

I was one of those kids. I had a “crazy imagination” and told stories of far away places, of waterfalls and wild rivers. In hindsight, I can understand why my declarations such as ‘’my dad had pet wolves when he was little’’ received a little bit of skepticism. I was one of those kids who believed that adventure seekers and outdoor lovers were a specific, high calibre of people, and I judged everyone who wasn’t.

I was one of those kids who vowed that I would absolutely, never-ever, under no circumstances, work in an office.

I worked as a ski instructor for five years, I teach canoeing, and I spent one summer working for a school that takes place entirely outdoors. When fall comes around though, I find myself looking for a job that has reasonably flexible hours, and will leave me with enough energy to continue paddling. The poison first came in the form of a receptionist job at our local community centre. Indoors and at a desk, the horror! As it turns out, I really enjoy my time there. I get to chat with local community members, an aspect that really appeals to my personable side. I work with a team of highly-motivated people who are passionate about their job and excel at what they do. I realized that adventure and the outdoors aren’t the only passions that exist, and that having the courage and determination to follow your passion is impressive and respectable – regardless of what that passion may be.

My desk job opened my eyes to the quality people that are everywhere – as long as you take the time to recognize them. My desk job taught me that it doesn’t matter how people choose to spend their time. It matters that they don’t mind looking the other way every now and then, when you show up to your desk job with a sunburn, messy hair and a distinct perfume reeking of campfire smoke.

Two years later, and every fall I find myself back at that desk. Telling stories of far away places,  dreaming of waterfalls and wild rivers.