Friday, February 1, 2013

Risky business

On Wednesday evening Kayak Newfoundland and Labrador members were treated to a presentation by kayak pioneer John Ramwell.  He spoke about the threat of legal action to assumption of risk when undertaking guided tours.  Rather, it was about not taking risks because of threat of legal action in case things go south.

The premise was that taking on some risk adds spice to adventure and makes for memorable moments.

John gave several examples.  In one example he spoke about paddling into a Force 9 gale.  Setting out, it was a known, measured risk.  By any measure that is a challenge for even the most experienced of paddlers.  He said even in the present he remembers it clearly even though it happened many years ago because he felt so alive.

While some risk adds excitement and memories, it needs to be measured in relation to skills.  For paddlers without the requisite skills to deal with such conditions or an accident, its pure folly.  Its life threatening and often ends up as tragedies in news stories.

In another example he described an English Channel crossing attempt.  At the time there were no such things as cell phones or GPS.  In addition, the heavy boat traffic in the Channel made the venture very risky.

His colleague's rear hatch began to flood due to a leak in the rudder cable arrangement.  The crossing had to be abandoned part way across and the retreat punctuated with frequent bailing stops.

I saw it as an example of occasions when we take on risks unknowingly.

A number of years ago a group of us left the shelter of a protected cove and were caught in a sudden wind and snow storm.  No one had checked the forecast.  The risk we ended up taking on certainly made the day memorable but also memorable for the lesson learned.

Kakaying is by its nature inherently risky but risk can be mitigated by the development of skills.  As skills are developed additional risk can be assumed but should be measured in relation to the level of the skills.

I remember one day early in my paddling development paddling down wind on a small pond.  As I ran out of water near the bottom of the pond, an uneasy feeling began to raise in my stomach.  I realized I had to somehow turn the kayak around.  The waves were only a foot and half high but I hadn't been in a broached position in small waves before.  The risk to my safety was minimal but so were my skills, yet I remember it well.  Its all relative.

Today, I can take on more risk but I measure it.  Its fine to take on some risk but not to the point of being foolhardy.  I assess risk before putting the paddle in the water and hopefully it allows me to stay safe while still letting me experience the feeling of being completely alive in my kayak.

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