Building Environmental Awareness
By Kim Russell
Environmental awareness is vital to both playboating and creeking, and goes hand in hand with directional awareness. As Clay mentioned, it is important as both a playboater and creeker to quickly assess where you are and what direction you're facing when you roll up. It's just as important to be aware of your environment, and have an expanded "mental map" noting where your friends are in relation to you, as well as nearby hazards and safe zones. A play boater is constantly creating this mental map as she constantly scans rapids for freestyle opportunities like stern squirts, rock spins, and catch-on-the-fly surf spots. Getting in a playboat helps me to get in the habit of analyzing all of the tiny details in every rapid.
This gives the playboater the ability to move from surfing a wave mid-rapid to navigating the remainder of the rapid safely in the event you don't roll up in time to catch a nearby eddy. Furthermore, it gives you better ability to communicate with your fellow paddlers quickly and effectively, as needed.
As a creeker, environmental awareness is even more important because rapids are typically more complex and the hazards are generally greater. Communication can be more difficult, and safe-zones scarce.
Practice environmental awareness first while eddy-hopping, stopping to take a few seconds in each eddy to examine your surroundings. Take note of nearby and downstream hazards (trees, rocks, and other obstacles), as well as scouting locations, safe-zones, and last-chance eddies.
Take a headcount of your paddling friends and make note of their location relative to you. Are you the furthest downstream of the group? Does George look like he is about to leave an eddy upstream of you? Notice any nearby hazards-are there any undercuts or trees you and your group need to be aware of? What are the consequences if you blow your line and get pushed right, or left? If you go downstream one more eddy are you getting yourself stuck on river left when you need to be on river right?
When you're comfortable doing this in an eddy, progress to asking yourself these questions as you go downriver. By being more aware of the environment when you're paddling, you are able to make safer decisions for yourself and your group as well as minimize overall risk.
Kim Russell paddles for Kokatat Inc
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