5
Jan
2005

Failure is everything . . . . So I guess I’ll take another class!

My boat still needs to go back down to the shop. In anticipation of taking back to Madison I left it on the car only to find out we are going to get hit by a big snow storm. So off went the boat and I will just have to reload it on the truck tomorrow.

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My favorite book is "An Autobiography" by Mahatma Gandhi. He was unlucky enough to spend enough time in prison to write it. You can actually read the book online if you are interested at http://web.mahatma.org.in/. One of the many things that has always stuck with me from his book was the constant battle with failure. I came to realize in reading the book that failure is a partner that never actually leaves you. You never escape it. In fact, every time you take on a new endeavor you take on new failures. Failure comes with you. It is your partner in learning.

Now having said that, I HATE FAILURE. Over the last summer I took my IDW and ICE and spent more time with failure than I had been used to in quite some time. One afternoon during our IDW the instructors sat at the far end of the pond and watched us (students) as we paddled toward them and they then proceeded to correct us on our paddling technique. We had all become quite conscience of hand positions and torso rotation. On this afternoon as we sat on the opposite side of the pond we were quietly griping about how we all knew how to keep a loose grip on the paddle yet we were all constantly being called on it. As you know I hate failure. . . When my time came to paddle the gauntlet as it were, I turned to the other students and said, "Now watch, I will keep my fingers pointing to the sky the whole way", and I did. I swear the paddle was resting on my thumbs and I looked like I was waving at a distant friend the whole way across the pond. I arrive open-handed right up on the nose of the instructor who had been on us all day about "grip". He looked up from the clip board and said, "Very good. . . . Remember to keep a loose grip on the paddle!" Arrrrrggg!

I was lucky enough to have a stroke blending class with Shawna Franklin when my wife and I were at the NORCAL BCU Symposium last October. Shawna is so darned excited about paddling that it’s impossible not to fall in love with kayaking all over again in her class. Most of the students on that day had very little previous experience and she had toned down the class to work on basic sweeps and braces. You can’t blend a stroke if you don’t know the stroke! We had been working on a sculling brace for quite some time and I found my mind wandering out past the break wall and watching the waves hit a small rocky out-crop in the distance. I could vaguely hear her telling the class to use nice slow, wide stokes with the blade to get more support as they leaned ever so gingerly on their paddles. But heck, I knew this already. I can easily lay my boat over and scull for support. So I was not really paying much attention. Suddenly Shawna was calling my name like Edna Krabappel to my best impersonation of Bart Simpson. When she asked if I was understanding what she had said, I did what any self-inflated, slightly indignant person would do. I laid my boat over. She looked at me for a moment and said, "Good, now use nice wide strokes to get better support" and paddled over to the next student. I really hate failure!!

I often think back to how many instructors I frustrated to no end as I tried to learn to roll. I just could not get my brain around the concept. I wanted diagrams!! I think about things too much. Rolling is NOT a thinking kind of maneuver. I failed and failed and failed. I was caught in an endless loop of wet-exits and re-entries. (Hey, I got those wet-exits down!) Looking back I know now that even though I was failing at getting up, I was gaining body and breathing control. Each of the little bits of the roll were becoming ingrained in my head even though I finished up with a failed attempt. Today I feel like I can pretty much roll out of any position. However not long ago I had another boat rolled up on me by a big wave and I had to wet-exit out from under it. Maybe I could have waited until the other boats were over me, then rolled back up. I often think about that. I hate failure.

In the end this is why I continue to take classes and look forward to BCU certifications. Without the classes setting up new bars to jump over you can tend to think you know more than you do. You can forget that you are lacking comparison and review. I think you can get jaded. Well, I could anyway. I need the alarms going off to tell me when I’m slipping while in an environment where I can fail without too much consequence.

No doubt, taking a class or certification can be a real challenge and costly for that matter. There are moments where you are pretty sure this IS NOT what you got into kayaking for. You can feel really knit-picked by an instructor and be darn sure that another quarter inch of vertical blade is just NOT going to make that much difference. But in the end you will probably leave a little more skilled than when you came in. Heck, even failing to get that certification can’t take away what you learn in the process.

One thing is for sure. I hate failure! But in the end I’ve come to learn that failure is everything.