High Anxiety – Or how to roll a kayak without really trying
Buildings and bridges are made to bend in the wind,
to withstand the world that’s what it takes –
All that steel and stone is no match for the air,
my friend, what doesn’t bend breaks
– |Ani Difranco
A great way to capsize your boat in waves is to stiffen up in fear. With experience you do that less often, but I can tell you personally that on occasion something will strike my brain funny and I will feel myself stiffen right up. Sometimes it’s the sound of the wind rolling through poplar trees on a distant shoreline, or when I suddenly notice my balance shift as I’m reaching over the deck to fiddle with gear. Then from out of nowhere that little tightening shows up, followed often by an uncontrolled hip wiggle that sends a signal to your conscience brain to remind you that “balance” IS part of sea kayaking. You often forget about that. Just like riding a bicycle, one you learn you rarely if ever think about balance again.
Learning to relax in the kayak has always been a deal for me. I can relax and play when I’m by myself or with friends. Instructing seems to have no effect either. In fact in “real” stress issues i’ve encountered I’m almost dead calm. BUT if I’m around folks that I KNOW are 20 million light-years ahead of me in skill and experience, I suffer severe performance anxiety, even when I’m not expected to perform.
All through my IDW (ACA Instructor Development Workshop) I wrestled with things I normally find simple. I could not perform a simple sweep to save my life! You can imagine that when you have two classic looking “seakayaker” type dudes watching your every move, you can feel pretty inferior. Anxiety creeps right in. You wonder, “what did that look mean?, Did he see the boat shake?!!”. Personally, I’ve always envied those “Where angels fear to tread” guys who could be making a total cock-up of whatever they’re doing and act as if they’ve got it down sideways. It’s got to be great to be that oblivious!!
Anyway, by the time I got to my ICE (the actual Exam) I was used to the faces and the judgmental looks. (Well, maybe not “used to” but “more adjusted to”.) So everything slowed down a bit in my head and all went much better. What was translated by others as practice and improved skills, I knew was actually just a reduction in performance anxiety. This type of anxiety can often give people the impression that you’re the dumbest SOB in the class but you suddenly learned everything overnight. I guess there is some benefit to that, but on the other hand it would be great to be able to walk into a workshop, symposium, or exam and just do what you know you can do right off.
That long-winded intro brings me to this morning. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I am signed up for a ACA to BCU transitional exam in June. I want to start climbing up the rungs of the BCU ladder this year and this seems a good place to start. If you take time to compare the two religions you’ll find that although they share the same God, they worship in different ways. For me, this means perfecting a couple more skill sets before June. The odd thing is that just being aware of the impending date has caused a sudden bout of wobbly hips, sloppy draws and long moments where I forget to breath. Yikes!! I wonder if there is a BCU Psychoanalyst? “So how long have you felt this way about your paddle?, Are you truly committed to it, our are you going to complicate your life by seeking out another paddle? Do you understand the ramifications of that choice? What if you find a new paddle but find the old issues coming right back up??” . . .
If you have ever dealt with anxiety you’ll understand this; Anxiety does not go away until you’re exhausted. For many people this means you have to do something physical. You have to run until your heart blows up for example. Then when you have nothing left to give, when you’re totally spent, you suddenly achieve clarity and begin behaving normal again. It’s very strange. Oops, there I go again, so, ahhh, back to my story. . .
I’m out on the lake working on draws on the move, and bow draws to turn the boat 180 (all very poorly mind you) until I’m so frustrated with myself I just start paddling. Screw this practice stuff. You can’t teach a pig to dance anyway!!! Along the shore I see a runner and kick it up a notch to try to catch up. You can see the futility in this right off. Kayak vs. Runner??? Seconds pass and water is blowing off the bow of my boat while I manage to maybe hold my position without gaining. I kept this up until my lungs were burning and my vision was doubling, then when I had nothing left to give I threw out a big sweep on my right, put the boat on edge, dropped into a bow draw on the left and spun that s-o-b around 180, slipped the paddle into a stern rudder and kicked it another 30 degrees, stopped in a flurry of water and gasped for air. Feck! How do I repeat that?
After getting my air back and paddling leisurely for a bit I thought I had better try that again. Yep, back came the wobble!! Oh well, I’m sure anxiety is a character builder, but with turning 40 this year I would have hoped that most of that “character building” would have been behind me. No such luck. Man, I’ve got to relax or I’ll just totally blow that exam. How stupid would that be?