Learning to kayak and letting my kids watch me fail

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Trapped.  Upside down.  In a boat.  Underwater.

There are few things in life that are more terrifying to me than this.  For this exact reason, I’ve steered clear of kayaking for most of my life.

Yes, despite my love of the river, I’d prefer to stick to water crafts of the inflatable variety.  I see kayakers surfing waves, doing cartwheels, and effortlessly gliding through the water, and though I crave the freedom and maneuverability they possess my fear keeps holding me back.

Give up before I even had a chance?  Hardly.  I’ve tried kayaking over and over.  Practiced learning to roll (unsuccessfully) countless times.  No matter what I’d do, the paralyzing fear won.  I just couldn’t do it, no matter how awesome it looked.

Until this summer…

On our trip down Desolation Canyon, I was surrounded by kayakers.  Though not everyone had their own boats there, the boats we did have were constantly cycled through the group.  Everyone vying for their turn, while I quietly stood in the background.  Then one day, my brother told me to give it a try.

I laughed at him.

However, in spite of my fear, I couldn’t shake the thought that I should just give it a try.  I’m always telling others to be brave and overcome their fears, and here I am, acting like a total hypocrite.  First thing the next day, I announced that it was my turn to kayak.  Knowing of my fears, my brothers took turns out on the water next to me, ever ready to calm my fears.  Most of the day was flat water, which turned out to be perfect for me.  I got the feel for the boat and paddling in a safe, comfortable way.  When we did encounter rapids, they guided me through safe lines and gave me tips for how to stay upright, knowing that if I flipped I would wet-exit and that would be the end of my kayaking for this trip.

I loved it.  It was safe, it was comfortable, but mostly it was really fun.

During our next river trip, I still chickened out when presented with a chance to kayak.  I was really disappointed in myself.  A few weeks later, we met up with my family in Jackson WY and I was determined to get back in the boat.

I started with a flat section.  It felt great.  My confidence was steadily increasing.  I even did some on water rolling practice with t-rescues and some hand-of-God help from my brother.  I wanted more.  No, I needed more.  We headed down for some class III whitewater the next day.

During that trip, I played it safe and took easy lines (not dry lines mind you, just easier ones).  While my confidence was increasing, there was still a pit in my stomach knowing that soon I would have to tackle the biggest rapid on the river, a rapid that there was no way to get around in a boat.  I started to mentally prepare and walk myself through the run.  I knew the line that I needed to take, the places to avoid, and slowly, my fears started to subside.

As I approached the rapid, I heard a sound that made all my fears come flooding back.  “GO MOMMY GO”!  I looked over to the shore, and there perched on top of some rocks where Andrew, Mason and Chloe.  I panicked.  I didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of them, and I was filling my head with totally unnecessary pressures.

I hit the first few waves perfectly.  I was charging through this.  My head was down and I was paddling like crazy.  I could see the last wave in front of me.  That’s when I felt it.  An eddy line was grabbing the back of my boat.  Instead of remaining calm, I over corrected and was instantly underwater.  Upside down.  Trapped.

“Roll”, I told myself.  I couldn’t do it – I wet exited instead.  I came up sputtering and swam over to the raft as my brother helped me with my boat and told me how great I did.  I was mentally beating myself up.  I had been doing so good, and I choked.  Worse, I choked when my kids were watching.  I could still hear their shouting in the distance, and though I couldn’t make out their words, I unmistakably knew it was them.  ARGH!  Frustration overcame me.

Thankfully, I couldn’t stop there.  We were only half way down the river.  Amazingly, that second half gave me back my confidence.  It gave me time to reflect and realize how much I had overcome to get to this point.  To see that I did have some pretty good skills so far.  To realize that this really was something I wanted to do.  Better yet, this was FUN!

Getting to the bottom, I anticipated being greeted with “Mom, that was so scary when you went under” or “Mom, are you okay, I thought you were going to die”.

Instead I heard Mason say “Mom, that was so cool that you figured out how to get out of your boat in the MIDDLE of a rapid.  That was really cool!”

That kid’s been paying attention.  Whenever something scary happens to him, we try and find the positive in it.  He was doing the exact same to me.  I felt on top of the world.

Yes, I failed.  Yes, my kids saw me fail.  Were they scared?  No, they thought it was awesome.  They were encouraging and kind, just like we would try to be tot hem if the tables were turned.  It made me remember something my friend Lindsey wrote about letting your kids see you fail.

I failed that day, but it taught me something much bigger than to lean forward more in my boat.  I learned that my kids are resilient, kind, and amazingly, must be secretly listening when we talk to them.

Now, the kids can’t wait to kayak more on their own – check out our top suggestions for the best kids kayaks for every type of paddling. 


About Jessica Averett

Hi, Iā€™m Jessica, a mom of 5 kids and married to my favorite adventure partner. I love to bike, ski, camp and hike. We've visited over 40 countries with our kids, but are equally happy on the road as we are exploring our home state of Utah.

8 thoughts on “Learning to kayak and letting my kids watch me fail”

  1. Good work! That’s a great attitude you’re teaching your kids, and I’m so impressed they’re actually learning what you teach! (Jealousy, maybe…)

    • I’m surprised that they’re learning what I teach. Most of the time I don’t think they hear a word that I say!

  2. Wow, that’s a great story! And I’m so impressed that you faced this fear and then kept going! If I had gotten stuck in that rapid, it would probably have been the end of the day for me. You should be proud! And yeah, you should be proud of those positive, caring, and enthusiastic kids. How great!

    • It would have been the end of the day for me too Kate, if there were any way to get off the river. We were in a canyon and there was really no way to get out with my boat. I guess that was a good thing!

  3. You’re awesome! I’m so impressed! And I’m so impressed with how great you’re teaching your kids! You’re going to be lead climbing in no time! šŸ˜‰


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