Video–Why Whitewater Kayaking is a Team Sport

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.

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Video: Eyes of God (Trailer)

Last year, a team of kayakers descended the legendary Saryjaz River, a remote and dangerous canyon in the rugged no-man’s land between Kyrgyzstan and China. The team spent 10 days away from civilization, pushing their physical and mental limits, sleeping under the stars, and experiencing a true wilderness adventure.

The Eyes of God is a new film by Olaf Obsommer that documents the adventure, so named because of a massive, haunting cliff face that resembles a human face within the canyon. You can watch the full film on Vimeo on Demond for $5.

—Read more about their expeidtion on C&K in our digital feature, Into the Tian Shan (Part I) and Into the Tian (Shan Part II)

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Video: River boarding over 70-ft Outlet Falls

70-foot Outlet Falls, a waterfall that is usually the realm of only the word’s best kayakers, saw its first descent by a river border. Mike McVey, a whitewater kayaker and river border who has paddled and swam—intentionally—numerous waterfalls in the past, has made a habit of these dramatic riverboard descents. His feats include swimming over 80-ft Metlako Falls and riverboarded the Little White Salmon.

More on C&K

—Video: Freestyle Riverboarding

—Video: River Boarder dives head first over waterfalls in the PNW

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Video: The Wild President (Trailer)

Did you know that Jimmy Carter has a history of canoeing adrenaline-pumping whitewater? This films is part of the American Rivers 5000-miles project, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the rivers that have been protected because of it.

“There is a religious experience in coming over the top of a huge rapid and burying your bow-man,” says whitewater legend Claude Terry. But what if your bow-man is Jimmy Carter?

The full film, The Wild President, is produced by NRS and American Rivers, and will be released online on April 25th, 2017.

More on C&K:

—Video: NRS Films presents “WHY”

—Video: The Wild and Scenic Rogue River

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Circumnavigating Palawan, “the world’s best island”

Images courtesy of Ross Murray-Jones and Mark Coronato

When Travel + Leisure named Palawan, “the world’s best island,” in 2016, they were likely conjuring the picturesque tropical elements — mountainous landscape, white-sand beaches, turquoise waters, coral reefs teeming with marine fauna — that attract international travelers to the Filipino archipelago-province.

They probably did not project images of adventurers held at bay by monsoon winds and unseasonal typhoons. Or, say, the campfire scene with a bottle of exotic brandy passing between a group of Philippine marines on high alert for a terrorist militia group. Both exotic and extreme visions of Palawan, however, were exactly what Ross Murray-Jones and Mark Coronato encountered as they completed the first-ever kayak circumnavigation of the island this past February.

“It is an amazing island,” says Coronato, “A beautiful place, with incredible people, breathtaking scenery and fantastic sunsets. Would I recommend it?” Coronato ponders, reflecting back on both the challenges and rewards the pair faced during their 800 mile trip. “Absolutely.”

The long-time university friends from London were searching for an epic adventure to kick off a new chapter of their lives, their 30s. A bit of research brought them to sea kayaking in the Philippines. Seeking more intel they reached out to Singaporean adventurer, Khoo Swee Chiow, who wrote the book, Across The Philippines In A Kayak, about his own crossing through the island-scattered nation. The conversation led to the island of Palawan, a destination of both well-trod tourist resorts and unspoiled shores, and one which had never been circumnavigated by kayak, additional sources confirmed for Murray-Jones and Coronato. Allured by the tropical waters and remote destination far from the winter climate and day-to-day bustle of their business-minded lives in London, the two knew they had found their adventure. Having little sea kayak or expedition experience, they were also aware some work was ahead.

“Although the trip was much harder physically, mentally, and emotionally than I envisioned,” says Murray-Jones, “the abundance of support we got from local kayaking clubs in the UK as well as seasoned expeditioners such as Sandy Robson equipped us with the right tools to succeed.”

After a typhoon delayed the shipment of their kayaks, the British paddlers launched from Coron Town on Busuanga Island in early December 2016. Heading south they passed through a northern chain of beautiful islands, including the tropical mountain landscape of Coron Island that Murray-Jones compares to Jurassic Park and the impressive reefs of Linapacan, just to reach the nearly 300-mile-long island proper of Palawan, which at points is less than 10 miles wide. From there they would follow the eastern coast. Fierce weather conditions, including out-of-season typhoons, provided a significant challenge to the pair throughout the trip, at times placing the kayakers windbound for multiple days. As they reached the city of Puerto Princesa, the largest on the island, the national coast guard issued a declaration, to keep small vessels docked until heavy monsoon-driven gales eased, holding Murray-Jones and Coronato in the capital city for seven days. While the weather could be harsh it also enlightened the British travelers to the hospitality of the islanders. In the fishing village of Bulawit, for instance, the locals offered up their town hall as a place to set up camp during a heavy storm.

While an occasionally rough climate had no chance of deterring the duo from enjoying the splendors of the island, another threat loomed: Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group of the southwestern Philippines. Prior to the British kayakers’ arrival, Abu Sayyaf had attacked a German couple in the region, murdering the woman and abducting the man who was also later murdered. Aware of the incident, Murray-Jones and Coronato weighed their options as they paddled south. Along the way warnings grew that as Westerners, approaching the south end of the island would be a real danger. Seeking official counsel on the risk and the potential for support, they arranged a meeting with the provincial governor’s office while in Puerto Princesa.

“We weren’t sure how they’d react to our adventure,” admits Murray-Jones. “But as soon as we started conversing with them they saw an opportunity to promote Palawan from a different perspective and gave their seal of approval.”

The British paddlers walked out of that meeting with the complete support of the provincial government, including arrangements for a personal armada to escort the pair through the most dangerous portion from Brooke’s Point around the southern end of the island and up to the town of Quezon on the west coast, nearly a 140-mile stretch.

The security detail – made up of five members from the local rescue team and four Philippine marines with two speedboats in constant radio contact with nation’s anti-terrorism command – provided Murray-Jones and Coronato a wide berth to tackle the coast, while they trolled along with a watchful eye for any signs of Abu Sayyaf. Each night the group would all camp together, sharing stories, meals, and occasionally some Filipino brandy. The experience built a strong camaraderie between the two paddlers and the men who were willing to put themselves at risk to see Murray-Jones and Coronato complete what they had set out to accomplish.

We’re surrounded by sergeant majors #dontleavebananabreadinyourpockets #freediving

A post shared by Ross Murray-Jones (@kayakingross) on

Upon reaching Quezon, the security detail’s task had been complete and the two groups parted ways. Murray-Jones and Coronato continued on and completed what they anticipated would be a more sheltered western coast, containing many incredible geographic marvels that also act as tourism magnets, including a wonder-of-the-world subterranean river, and the attractive islands scattered off the northwest coast in the Bacuit and El Nido bays. Along with the magnificence of the west coast, however, they also found more grueling winds.

On February 15, in the dark of night, exhausted from relentless headwinds and with hands mangled from two months of paddling, they made landfall at Floresita’s Beach Resort on the northeastern side of the island, completing the circumnavigation of Palawan.

“As we were approaching the end, we had about three days left. Those weren’t meant to be long days, but they were still expected to be pretty tough going,” recounts Coronato. “There was one point, in a wind channel created by two islands, where we were literally going backwards at times, and we covered about 200 meters in 45 minutes. On the second day, conditions were actually not so bad, and so we just cracked on to the finish. It was pitch black when we arrived, but we realized we had just done it. It felt so amazing. And a beer had never tasted so sweet.”

While the end of the journey was bittersweet, the two friends found the adventure they were looking for: one packed with scenic and biological beauty, physical labor, danger, and a keen appreciation for a culture and people far from home.

Not at bad way to start your 30s, and, as Murray-Jones puts it, “have a little something to tell our grandchildren some day.”

Stay tuned for an in depth look at Murray-Jones and Coronato’s crossing around the south end of Palawan.

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