Tricks to Reassure the Whitewater Worrywart

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Whitewater junkies are infamous for their ability to exaggerate a story, but there are times in any boater’s career when one should make the judgment call to do the opposite.

We all know unlearning a bad habit—paddling related or not—can be one of the hardest things to do, and telling tall tales can be as tough to break as pulling your head out of the water first when you’re attempting to roll a kayak. However, there are times in life when you must force yourself to downplay an event so as not to scare those people in your life who love you, but don’t love whitewater as much as you do.

Photo: Dani Smith

Whether it’s your mom, significant other, or best friend, everyone has that person who endures the ongoing struggle of being supportive of your sport even though they don’t understand why you want to risk your life every day on the river. Whether you huck huge waterfalls, are a class V raft guide or paddle occasionally in your free time, you’re probably making someone uncomfortable when you do so, and embellishing your stories is just one of the many things that might be making your whitewater career hard on them.

Let’s face it, as much as we paddlers like to think we’re independent vagabonds who don’t want anyone waiting on us to call home at night, there are times in life when we all need that support person to turn to. So, next time you go out paddling, try these simple steps to support those who support you.

Pre-paddling:

Plan ahead
Sometimes the creek comes in and you just have to go, but when you can, try to plan your paddling trips in advance rather than springing them on your worrywart at the eleventh hour—especially if the last minute trip conflicts with other commitments. I’ve learned the hard way that people are much more receptive to paddling trips if you don’t cancel plans with them in order to go boating.

Provide the details, but not too many
Don’t put yourself in a 127-Hours scenario. Let them know where you’re going, who you’re going with, and when you’ll be back. Here’s where the downplaying begins. You’re used to bragging about the level of whitewater you’re about to take on. Just for now, focus on other aspects. Tell them about how beautiful the remote canyon is rather than how challenging it will be to get out if something goes wrong. When it comes to your paddling buddies, leave out the details on how hung over and reckless they are, and highlight their swift water rescue training instead.

The final text
Don’t make it sound too serious with an, “In case I don’t return, I love you” text, just hit them with a quick informative text to let them know what time you’re leaving, where you’re going, and when you’ll be back.

While paddling:

Keep them in mind
Sometimes it can be beneficial to your paddling progression to let go of all sense of accountability. But there are also times when it can be helpful to let your worrywart be that little voice in your head when you’re debating whether or not to portage or take a particularly sketchy line. Don’t let your pride supersede your mother’s love.

Stick to the plan
If you were kind enough to offer the peace of mind of telling the anxious loved one your plan before you went out paddling, try your best to stick to it. Stuff happens on the river, and if you’re not home when you said because your trip was delayed due to unexpected portages or tough swims, that’s life. People will understand. If you don’t make it home when you said because you decided to spend an extra night camping and drinking beer in the parking lot, that’s irresponsible. From personal experience, it never seems to go over well.

Post paddling:

Get back in touch
As much as I love leaving my phone on airplane mode and keeping the paddling vibes rolling long after I leave the canyon, it’s not cool to keep someone wondering whether you’re alive while you’re drinking beer and reminiscing about the day’s events for hours at the takeout.

Pick and choose the details
When you’re recounting your day’s adventure, choose to share the moments your worrywart would appreciate rather than fear. There are probably moments of the trip they would love to hear about, but it just might not be the same parts you love to talk about. If the concerned is a fisherman or birder, tell them about the wildlife you saw. If they appreciate nature, talk about the wildflowers. Your trip doesn’t have to be all about whitewater and carnage.

Spare them the GoPro footage
I showed my mom a video of me paddling off a waterfall—once. That’s all it took for me to realize that some things are better left up to the imagination. Even if they know you’re doing it, don’t make them relive it with you.

Downplay the carnage (or just don’t mention it)
If you survived to tell the tale, your worrywart doesn’t need to hear about it. Knowing the dramatic version of how you got beat down in the biggest hole right above the sketchiest strainer and barely escaped with your life will just make them more nervous the next time you head out to paddle.

Show appreciation
Lastly, letting your support person know you understand that your hobby puts them through hell can go a long way. Acknowledge the strain you put on them and how much it means to you that they support you to pursue this passion. Let them know you need them, because you do.