Drowning Fear

“the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” – Franklin Roosevelt

I think I should have that quote tattooed on my arm or some other key part of my anatomy. I need to be constantly reminded of it. Fear is a powerful force; I fight it constantly and, as I advance in years, my struggle with fear intensifies.

The latest case in point is my struggle to try to master the Outrigger Canoes. An OC1 is a modern version of a Polynesian ocean going vessel. It is a thin bullet of a boat with an outrigger called an ‘ama’ connected to the main hull by two aluminum bars called ‘iako’ to provide balance. It is light as a feather, proven over millennia to carry big beefy Polynesians among Pacific Islands; It’s remarkably stable with an experienced paddler.

Here’s the challenge. To become experienced, I need, well, to get experience. I have to pay the price of learning. In this case, I have to master the inherent instability of the OC1. If I lean into the outrigger, or ama side, I have great stability. If I forget, become momentarily inattentive, or just plain screw up and lean a bit to the right, away from the ama, the ama lifts out of the water, my canoe flips and – surprise – I go into the ocean. It is called a huli – don’t ask me why – it should be called a gotcha.

ab57PXr_700b_v2When I was encouraged to try out the OC1, I politely but firmly declined. I have a long, sad and consistent history with tiny floaty things. I have flipped sea kayaks on both coasts; one second, I’m paddling along waving at people, a split second later I’m underwater, struggling to survive. Not fun. Sea-Doos can be particularly vicious – the motor adds power to my flip and they’re heavier, more likely to hit me on the head. I once flipped a rented Sea-doo before I left the dock;  with Blair on the back, mortified to be witness to my humiliation. He still teases me about my ineptitude. I can run but I can never hide from that story.

If the price of OC experience was a few huli’s, I walked way; this was not on. Unfortunately, I missed out on opportunities. I passed on chances to paddle with friends, I walked away from a fitness test – paddling an OC1 in a time trial – to join my local Dragon Boat team for a major regatta in Italy, I backed out of chances to paddle in the bigger Outrigger canoes.

Fear closes doors, cuts off opportunities and narrows my life. Whether I could have made the team or not, I will never know. I did not try.

Today, I changed all that. I put on my big boy swim trunks (and little else – the bottom of False Creek doesn’t need more litter) and gutted my way to experience, with Amanda Chan, the best coach/trainer I have ever known. http://www.arestraining.ca/personal-training/ She helped me get ready for my successful Kilimanjaro summit.

Conditions were perfect. The weather was sunny, 22 degrees Celsius, the water in False creek was cool and I manned-up to the inevitability of learning by huli. We found a place far away from my usual haunts – no one need witness this bit of folly.

I watched her youtube video; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5ZOComzihk and arrived prepared. Amanda helped me set up the OC1. We reviewed paddling techniques, the constant need to ensure my center of gravity rested on the ama side. We talked about hanging onto my paddle when I go in the water – no paddle and I’m hooped – and wet. We talked about how to flip the OC upright, how to get back into the OC and paddle off into the sunset. It sounded reasonable.

Amanda has a quiet confidence about her that is infectious. She knows. Therefore, by osmosis, I hope to know. She does, therefore I hope I can do. She tests herself, therefore I test myself; hopefully with some of her quiet assurance.

photo-23I carefully sit down on the OC1, as testily as if I would mount a bucking bronc in the chute before the gates open and all hell busts into the open. I know I’m going into the water, it is as certain as being bucked off my bronco. I paddle gingerly, leaning way in on the ama side to use the stability it provides. Then, I decide to take control. I lean right and, BINGO, I’m in the water. It works; lean left and I paddle, lean right, I swim.

photo-24It is bracing but not a shock. I grasp my paddle, manage to flip the OC back to upright.
photo-27I go around to the ama side, tie my paddle into the mesh and lift myself gracelessly into the boat, inelegant but effective.

Amanda says I’m fast, all done in less than a minute.
photo-28For the rest of the hour I paddle about, try paddling on both sides, test the stability of the boat AND deliberately take few more hulis. I think to myself – What? What’s the big deal?

I thank Amanda, she is my tipping point; instrumental in bolstering my confidence, giving me valuable information, walking me through various stages of paddling, normalizing the process, understanding my fear.

There is no big win here. I learned how to paddle an outrigger canoe on a bright, warm, sunny, day. No prizes are given out for an act that millions of people do as a matter of course – nor should prizes be given out.

photo-29But I got a prize. I conquered my fear and opened the door to another adventure. Fear will not limit me, constrict me or overwhelm me. I drowned my fear today so I could get off the couch and out the door.

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4 Responses to Drowning Fear

  1. Yeah good one! What is that old saying? Love many trust few and always paddle your own canoe.

  2. Wayne Hoskins says:

    Welcome to the club. Now you have to master the various combinations of wave sets from sailers, yachts, water taxis, the wind and the dragon boats in false creek. Alder Bay to science world and back should do the trick. Next Thursday, 9:am. See you on the dock. Wayne.

  3. livingmalibu says:

    Great article. I think many of us share the fear….I just started kayaking in the Marina, after a year of looking out and wishing Id just forget about “what if I fall in???” It’s been fantastic! I hope to join the group that paddles all the way to Palos Verdes, as soon as I get stronger.
    Next week, I start my sailing classes, which I also postponed for a year due to fear of the mandatory capsizing test.
    So happy to ditch fear!

  4. Pingback: The Road to Ravenna – Part 3 | bobfoulkesadventures

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