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Get to Know Your Demons

What I love about kayaking is that on the one side I have moments of deep reflection on the river and on the other side have moments of no thoughts at all and just being in the moment. Sometimes, those two sides are very close together in time.

I want to share one of those thoughts with you that I had on the Susna in northern Norway. I was running the classic section of the Susna for the first time. When we reached the Showerdrop we got the line advice, “Start in the middle and push right. You will see when to boof. And of course, you know it from photos and videos.”

So I was sitting in the eddy above the drop, waiting for my turn to go down when I felt it; I was nervous.

Since Ron was taking photos of us, we were slow in going down, and I had the time to reflect on the source of my nervousness. I knew what the drop looked like from pictures, not especially hard or high, so that was not it. No rocks or undercuts that could get you into trouble. So getting hurt was obviously also not the reason.

After the drop is a big pool, so if you would fuck it up you just would go for a nice swim, and you could easily pick up all your equipment.

Photo: Ron Fischer

And then it hit me, I was scared of not hitting the line. Since I was the last one, everybody would see me messing up this so obviously easy line. Wow, I didn’t expect that, but this was exactly the source of my anxiety. I took some time to dive into that thought and explore it. I thought of myself as a person who doesn’t give much attention to the judgment of other people. But still, I felt that everybody has high expectations of my skills, and I was scared of not living up to them. Rationally, I know that everybody who was sitting down in the eddy wouldn‘t think less of me if I messed the boof up.

Well, not everybody; I would have been very disappointed with myself.

So there, I found it, my demon. I was scared of disappointing myself and others.

By the time I came to this realization, I was the last one in the eddy above the drop. Still, I took a few more moments to finish my line of thoughts. I realized that nobody in the group purposefully put pressure on me but myself. So I thought, “Okay, what if you mess up the move? Nothing will happen besides a bruised ego. Well, that’s not too bad, you can live with that.” The only thing is, that you have to accept that and don’t let one messed-up boof cloud your day. I have to accept that I sometimes mess up the most obvious and easiest moves and still am a good kayaker. And most importantly, that you are still the same person, and that your value doesn’t lie in whether you hit every move on the river or not.

Realizing that, I felt the tension leaving my body. I gave the signal to Ron that I was going, and as soon as I left the eddy my mind was again in this sweet, thoughtless state. I was fully in the moment, entered in the middle, saw the edge, leaned on the curler, boofed into the shower and paddled out. It worked out beautifully and everybody cheered my line.

Photo: Kristof Stursa

That was a nice feeling of course, but for me, the most regard came from finding one of my demons and making peace with it. At least for the time being. But knowing what haunts me will probably make it easier to handle it in the future.

We all have our demons, and getting to know and accept them will bring us closer to growing into the person we want to be.