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Nobody in white water kayaking likes to pull the deck and swim out of their boat. It can be a traumatic experience in some cases, you risk getting bumped and bruised on rocks, and on higher grades it can be downright dangerous. It’s a scenario we generally want to avoid.

But on lower grades the most that is likely to happen is that you get very wet and a little bit of pride is hurt. And herein lies the crux of what I’m going to cover here. For some people a swim doesn’t just mean getting wet and then laughing it off. Some people see it and unrealistically magnify it as a ritual embarrassment. I’ve known of clubs in the past to really rub it in when someone swims, or it becomes the talk of the trip. One club I know even made members put stickers on their boats for every swim they had.

So I’m going to call out that attitude towards swimming for what it is. This is shitty attitude number 1.

Nobody of any experience of kayaking is beyond swimming. It happens to us all. Without. Exception.

I know of experienced expedition paddlers who have swum at Cardiff. I know of one particular world class kayaker who has paddled some of the biggest waterfalls and surfed some of the biggest standing waves in the world who swam on a grade 3 drop a few years ago.

Getting very wet is all part and parcel of white water kayaking. If you do this sport expecting to stay dry without so much as getting your hair wet, you’re doing the wrong activity.

Likewise if you avoid going over, and you actively avoid practicing your roll, don’t expect it to work when you need it to. Rolling takes practice, a lot of it, to become reliable. Here’s a simple but obvious saying. You don’t get good at something by not doing it.

Which leads me to shitty attitude number 2. The idea that even capsizing is somehow worthy of post paddle jesting or comment, or even that going over is somehow a negative representation of someone’s skill.

Clearly unless you are play boating the idea is, generally, to stay upright if you can. But this is white water kayaking. There’s a reason we learn to roll. It’s because the likelihood of going over is high. Going upside down is part of the sport, and rolling back up is cool. You go on the water dressed ready for water immersion, so what’s the big deal? So what if someone capsizes?

So these are the things I want you to take away from this, in no particular order.

  • Going upside down and rolling back up again is a fun part of kayaking, to be embraced, not avoided.
  • Stop treating swims as embarrassing, and FFS stop making people who take a swim feel like they should be embarrassed.
  • Capsizing happens. It’s white water kayaking for crying out loud. And so what?
  • If you avoid practicing your roll or take the attitude that you don’t need to practice it because you shouldn’t go over, don’t expect it to work when you most need it.
  • Nobody is too good to swim. Nobody.

Addendum: There is a saying that if you aren’t swimming you aren’t trying. This is not what this article sets out to reinforce, and it is a saying I do not believe in. If you are swimming all the time on a section or grade of water and you aren’t a beginner, this is a sign you need to dial back and train the skills you need on easier water before moving up again. Swimming occasionally cannot be avoided and should not be stigmatised, as this article sets out to outline. But don’t mistake this for thinking that swimming all the time, if you aren’t a beginner, is a good thing. Especially if you have moved up to grade 3-4 and above. Swimming occasionally might well be unavoidable, but you should still be seeking to minimise the chances of it!

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