By Bill Vonnegut

In recent years, the use of POV action cameras has skyrocketed in the paddling community. We attach them to our bodies and boats so our hands are free to paddle through heat of the action. The wide angle of the GoPro lens diminishes the quality and reality of the footage unless you get close to the subject. So in order to get more true-to-life footage, I sometimes put myself in vulnerable positions, which requires me to to be very aware of other paddlers and my surroundings.

An excellent lesson in what happened when I got too close while filming:

This video was taken while paddling around the Mendocino Headlands with some of my Neptune’s Rangers buddies. We ended up in a passage where large waves would break at the mouth and run through to the calmer water behind us. We spent some time playing at the point and on a boomer (a shallow spot surrounded by deep water where large waves will break over a concentrated area) which became the focal point for this video.

I had been playing for a while and decided to grab some footage. Since getting shots from the outside just gives you a view of the back of a wave, I needed to go inside, which puts me in a vulnerable position. In order to keep myself safe, I positioned myself off to the side of the waves’ trajectory.

While sitting in this spot, I let my guard down as I was chatting with Roger about a previous situation. A large wave rolled through and shot Lily in a different direction than we had observed from previous waves. Next thing I knew, she was flying at my face. Fortunately, it’s become habit for me survey my surroundings so I was able to quickly react and fall backward into a defensive roll.

Awareness is the most important thing a person needs to keep themselves safe in extreme situations. Letting my guard down for a split second could have resulted in serious injury. In this inside position, having awareness and a defensive plan (in this case a roll) are critical.

Anyone could say that the safest thing to do would be to just stay farther away or not film at all. I enjoy taking video and stills while we paddle, which means that I willingly put myself at risk to get exciting footage. Like the videographers of other extreme sports, I am aware of and accept the fact that there is risk involved to get the shot. To compensate for this, I constantly practice situational awareness and put in the time to practice the skills that will help keep me safe.

–Check out MORE ROCK GARDENING SKILLS from Bill Vonnegut.

––Bill Vonnegut is a sea kayak instructor at California Canoe & Kayak and member of the Neptune’s Rangers paddling posse. See more from the multi-part rock gardening series where Bill discusses the techniques, skills and gear needed to enjoy coastal whitewater.