By Jakub Pinos & Daniel Klein

Teamwork in British Columbia
When I got to British Columbia in the spring of 2016, I was an experienced paddler who, except for one old friend, had nobody to paddle with. My gradual exposure to the BC boating scene introduced me to many different people, all of whom shared one common thread: cooperation in a form I hadn’t seen before. They introduced me to new places, cared about my safety and were supportive in building my paddling skills. This quick adoption really made me think about group dynamics in “individual” outdoor sports. I have always believed that my own hard work would make me a better athlete. But what I found on the rivers of BC was that I was becoming a better paddler thanks to the work of others. Several questions arose: Is kayaking simply an individual sport? And if not, what role have others played in my progression as a paddler? I began to reflect the social aspects of kayaking.

Kayaking as an Individual Sport
Kayaking is usually considered an individual sport; one person controls one boat. Many of us associate paddling with emotions connected to the individual. We might recall the euphoric smile of a paddler that just greased a big waterfall, or else the grateful grimace of someone who just dropped the same waterfall upside down and came out okay. Either way, we admire the paddler’s skills, courage, ambitions, etc.

For many people, kayaking is a mental game, filled with extremes and in-the-moment decision making. Individuals need to overcome fear to push their limits in the sport, which we usually think they do in their own heads, alone.

Kayaking As a Team Sport
Paddlers face mental and physical barriers on the river. Overcoming physical barriers (setting safety, helping each other with boats and gear) has always been an important topic in the whitewater community. What’s gotten less attention is how we help each other overcome mental barriers.

Trust, fear and stress. These mental aspects have a significant influence on individual performance. The physical presence of others often can have a calming effect, decreasing stress and improving performance. Even if fellow paddlers may not move a finger to help you paddle the line, that mental support can make a big difference. Some paddlers feel less fear than others, but overall, we all feel some tension before dropping into a hard rapid. Setting safety is a physical aspect of cooperation, but the presence of others also has a reassuring effect, countering fear, which helps us push ourselves.

Shared knowledge. Pushing kayaking to its limits has always stood on shared knowledge. When we tell stories about legendary lines or bad swims, others might have some good advice or insight that helps us on the river. If you have a new idea regarding safety, you should always share it. And swapping skills in the eddy or at the scout can help us all advance.

Paradox of Becoming a Better Paddler
Cooperation means that people work together to achieve common goals. Selfishness means that a person works for her or his own goal. But in high-risk sport such as kayaking, selfishness can be fatal. If a person wants to become a better paddler, she or he should cooperate with others. This might be a paradox of extreme sports, particularly kayaking.

Paddlers who cooperate build trust, learn to mitigate stress, share knowledge and, in doing so, share a special connection. This helps kayaking move forward as a sport. Improvements in gear, shared knowledge about the rivers, and exploring new places all wouldn’t be possible without teamwork.

— More VIDEOS from C&K.