My First Freestyle Kayaking Competition and Overcoming My Fear

I woke with the greatest case of butterflies I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. I felt sick and no matter what I told myself, I could not talk myself down. The noise in my head was too loud, the naysaying, too persistent. What is it about kayaking that gives me the biggest rush in the world, the most peace, but yet instills the most fear? Even something as simple as a freestyle competition, albeit my first, with my own personal safety boater, can wreak havoc with my psyche.

Overcoming Fear: The Only Way Out Is Through It!
Having this guys as my personal safety boater helped settle my nerves somewhat.

I’ve heard so many great kayakers talk about the mind game that is the struggle emanating from whitewater kayaking. That skill progression is a given, but how far you go in the sport has more to do with your ability to control and manage your fears than your actual abilities.  

As an adult who grew up swimming on a swim team, playing soccer and other such team sports, fear was not something I had to contend with. Never, not once, did I experience fear as I stepped up on the starting block or caught a fly ball. I returned the same as I arrived. My mind wandering to weekend plans of sleep overs and parties.

Which leads me to the phenomenon of cessation that occurs whilst kayaking. A total cessation of thoughts that do not pertain to that moment in time. As a mom, it’s the only time my mind is not running full throttle over worries and concerns regarding my kids. As a wife, it’s the only time Dan’s needs and concerns are not weighing on my mind.  Kayaking is like crack, or at least what I would imagine crack to be like without all the side effects, It’s energizing, it’s addicting, it’s freeing, it’s personal … it’s freedom.

It’s as though the river is a living entity, a gift of sorts from God for those of us who want more than mere survival. A gift for those of us who aspire to leave all worldly things behind, to live not of this world, but apart from it. The peace, the quiet, the utter silence, offers up growth, both physical and mental.  

The problems you grapple with when not kayaking cease to exist on the water. Maybe that’s why I have come to love kayaking so much. Instead of me against the world, as I write of often, it’s just me. Living. In that actual moment. Never looking ahead, never looking behind, I simply am and that is so exquisite. It’s so rare.

Overcoming Fears: No Way Out But Through It.
There is nothing that clears the mind like time in a boat on the river!

The morning I walked my boat down amongst all the PaddleFest spectators, the vendor booths, my friends, the smell of coffee emanated the air I was intentionally inhaling. Breathe. 1, 2, 3.  No food, for fear I would be sick, I could hear my stomach growling. I wasn’t yet in the moment. I was getting ahead of myself. Worrying about what was to come. Saying ridiculous things to people who asked, with the sole purpose of lowering expectations.

My sweet children inquiring, “Are you excited?” Me smiling down at them, wondering if I was successfully faking excitement or if they were trying to instill excitement in me. “Yes, baby, super excited,” I managed to croak.

I chastised myself in my head. “What the heck is wrong with you? Stop this.” I was only going kayaking, only going to play in the hole and do what I always do … my best. But what if … what if I sucked? What if I couldn’t get any tricks? What if I swam in front of all these people?

The bizarre thing is I knew what I was doing. I was comparing myself, the kiss of death of all things, in my opinion. I was worrying about what other people would think … people who weren’t even getting in the water that day. But, instead of acknowledging that I at least showed up, I beat myself up.

Self preservation. I kept thinking,  Susie, all these people are practicing that simple instinctive act.  I was in the midst of this ludicrous battle inside my head when a woman who had been following KelloggShow came up to me and was ecstatic to meet me.

Overcoming Fear: The Only Way Out is Through It.
These little kids Overcome Fear on the daily!

She was excited, she was inspired. “If a mom of 12 can do this…” she said and let the thought linger. I told her it remained to be seen what I could and couldn’t do. She lifted her hands in the air and said, “All these people don’t care what you do, just that you are doing. Your family makes everyone want to do better.” Well, ok, there’s that, I thought.

And then again, after the competition was over, after the fear had turned to triumph, to pride, to joy, to excitement that I’d stepped so far out of my comfort zone, I was approached by a young couple and their 3 year old daughter. They want to start paddling, they said. They saw me compete. They were inspired they said.

We chatted a bit about family. They wanted to raise their family in the same way we are raising ours. How do we start? What’s the first step? Surprisingly, I told them, “This will sound crazy, but get a kayak, put it on the water and your entire life will change. The trajectory of your goals will make an about face and you’ll be shocked at how motivated and insistent you will be to reach your end goal of total freedom.”

Kayaking makes you want out of whatever is in the way of your being in a boat every day.  It makes living in a van down by the river a totally acceptable arrangement. This fact was made clear as day to me this weekend when a boy one of my daughters is “fond of” came to the RV. I was engaged in a mini interrogation and so I asked where he was from. He told me where he lived in the winter and proceeded to tell me he lived in his van during the summer. Ten years ago, this boy wouldn’t have stood a chance. Today, we’ve realized that chasing riches is not where living occurs.  I smiled as I thought, that’s our life. Judgments aside, it’s how we choose to live and raise our kids.

Overcoming Fear: The Only Way Out is Through It.
An unconventional life for sure, but one filled with innumerable rewards.

As the day progressed, the revelations didn’t cease. It was like an awakening…all day long. That little step, that tiny motion I put in place has made me yearn for more. I can’t wait until the next time. I have a list of things I need to improve in order to keep progressing, to better myself, mind and body. I have yet more goals. And goals are the best dreams. When in pursuit of goals, you are growing, you are focused and you are excited.

One of the biggest A-Ha! moments of this past weekend happened later. I was struck by a question that was asked of me. “Why haven’t you ever competed before?”

I could have given my staple answer and blamed it on the kids, you know, being so busy, but the reality is much deeper. The truth is, my family gives me time to paddle, because I give them all of me. There is not struggle in that respect.

The reality is … I hate to suck. I hate to fail.

This logic goes so blatantly against everything we are teaching our kids. And that is that failure is the first step toward winning. You have to fail in order to succeed. Failure means you are trying, you are moving forward. I have written so much on this subject, I could teach a class.

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” — Jack Canfield.

In retrospect I wonder what I was so afraid of. I wonder why I made such a huge deal out of something so ordinary, something my 9 year old daughter does. I normally have a strong hold on the mental game that plays heavily in the sport of whitewater kayaking.

But with the benefit of hindsight, I now see that every minute leading up to my first thumbs up was wrought with unnecessary fear. As I paddled onto the wave, I forgot everything, my mind went blank and I was once again in that zone of peace. There was zero fear. You realize at the point of maximum danger is also the point of minimum fear. It’s bliss.

So now, I continue to push myself. Practice more, compete more, run more rivers … really, have more fun.

Overcoming Fear: The Only Way Out is Through It.
“Everyday do something that scares you.” Eleanor Roosevelt

For a day I was a superstar, in a role other than mommy in the eyes of my kids. The entire family was totally stoked, but the youngest kids were beside themselves. They were very proud of me, they even were giving me sage advice. Advice that sounded very familiar.

“Don’t think about it now, mommy. There is nothing to fear here in the RV.”

“What are you scared of? Daddy will be there with you.”

“I know you are scared, but that makes you brave.”

“Relax. Have fun, it’s just for fun.”

“My goal is to not swim too, mommy.”

And my favorite, “It’s at 9 am, no-one is going to see you.”

Ha ha ha ha …

I realized, there was going to be no disappointing them. These were my people, the opinions that matter. In doing what I ask them to do … to combat fear, to combat doubt … I, too, am becoming unstoppable.

Now, CKS PaddleFest is a supercharged event, if you aren’t a watersports aficionado, you will leave one, that’s for certain.  There is something to say about a venue that consistently offers up personal best scores, comradery and opportunities to learn and improve upon your skill set.  Where beginners are as welcome as the pros. An event that is more about fun and education than it is about competing and winning.

This is evident by all the conversations I had with people. People on the banks as our family, 12 that weekend, paddled the features, the rivers and practiced rolls in eddy’s. Everyone wants to know what it’s all about. They see the joy, the fun and everyone wants that same experience with their own family.

Kayaking with your kids is like nothing else in the world. In the water you are all experiencing the same fears, the same triumphs, the same joys, and the same feeling of accomplishment. It’s surreal.

Kayaking is one of the most accessible sports. If you are interested in getting your family involved in the sport of kayaking, please feel free to talk to us or any other paddler, for that matter. Those who experience it’s magic are compelled to share!

See You On The River

Overcoming Fear

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