Risk Management, or how I fell in love with zero epic paddling

Risk management, or the equation between knowing your limits and pushing your limits safely has been an aspect of my group paddling throughout the past few years.

Since the early 2000′s I have had the fortunate opportunity to do some considerable paddling trips mainly to the outer coast of Vancouver Island, BC where any paddler will find a kayaking playground with locations for every skill level to enjoy. I paddled there with a group of three other guys and myself and the question of limits was always humming in the background of our sometimes unsteady group dynamics. Each of us, hardy paddlers and of equal ability and skill sets had personal mental and even physical limitations to going beyond a certain level of sea kayaking.

Our evenings paddle plan sessions around the campfire where all was agreed upon but by morning all was out the window, sadly happened more often than not, but in those talks we presented our individual goals for the trip and the coming day. It was always a conversation that was at odds with the basic tenants of risk management vs. ego management.

The main problem for our group in particular was the desire to do too much in a short period of time and finding that happy medium where we would get out fill of paddling satisfaction, while not driving one or all members of the group into hardship situations. Often we pushed our limits as a group and though maybe for reasons of bad planning we came out the other side feeling the additional increase in skill, and boldness for accomplishing a hard day on the water with a few epics tossed in to test our metal. It is those epics I choose to avoid now, if at all possible.

I have had too, the opportunity to get out on my own and do considerable days of solo kayaking journeys in the past years, which have increased my ability to judge what limits I wish to set for myself on any given day. These trips by no way have caused me to be overly cautious, a morning paddle across the Strait of Georgia to Cortes Island racing a storm front that had already kicked the waves up to four feet as evidence. I do not shrink away from a paddling day that might be challenging due to conditions on the water, but I measure what I see in the morning with an evening listening to the marine forecast, knowing my tides and making decisions based on all factors before I go to bed that night. In the morning, I faced winds, and nastiness but made a brew, packed camp and headed out to face the level of hardships I felt acceptable. A day paddling towards Toba Inlet comes to mind and the subject of ‘on the water’ risk management comes into play. Though I had made my mind up to take on Homfray Channel north to the inlet, the winds were mighty and after two hours of exhausting slogging in greenish/gray froth I relented to turning about and letting the conditions of the day push me back the way I came in half the time it took me to get there. I continued on and followed the advice of another paddler I had met to seek out calmer adventures in Okeover Inlet. If my ego got me on the water that morning it was only part of the process. An ingredient to every kayaker’s ‘go for it’ kit. It should be said too, that there is not a dry bag big enough to carry ones ego on the water. It should be left in the car to be put back on along with your dry clothes when you get back. Some small amount of the ego can be taken with you and it is common sense that measures how much of that ego is required to take you to the limits.

My on the water decision to bail on a foolish errand in Homfray Channel cost me the adventure in the wilderness setting of Toba Inlet, but landed me instead on my own private island for a weekend of reading, and relaxing in relative shelter while the storm blew over and out of my way. I quick text message home to my contact person and I had peace of mind that he had my revised float plan.

I have been convicted by members of my paddling circle of being too conservative. Fair enough, everyone has their own perspective. Mine is that after being placed into epic days I choose to pick the ones I want and avoid the rest. Epic days will inevitably find you, you do not have to go seeking them out. Some do, it just ain’t this happy paddling bum.

Go for it, test your own limits on the water, but do it with a common sense approach to paddling. Know your route, and be aware of the weather, and most important, know yourself. Don’t let that little devil on your left shoulder do the talking. He gets you into trouble every time.


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