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Bryan kayaking along the Pittsburgh waterways

What I learned from Falling out of a Kayak

By: Bryan Moore

A lot of people involved in recreation grew up outside, but for some of us interest in outdoor recreation bloomed later in life. As a result, many experiences with Venture Outdoors have been “firsts” for people like me. Kayak training on June 4 was my second time ever paddling (with my first time being the previous Friday), making me pretty green to the sport. Nevertheless, everyone starts somewhere and I shouldn’t let the lateness of my involvement inhibit my desire to participate. My enthusiasm was dampened when I unceremoniously fell from my kayak into the Allegheny River. As I sputtered and struggled to keep my head above water, Ken and Kirsten, our instructors for the day, jumped into action, getting the water out of my kayak and performing a flawless rescue of my soggy, sorry self.

We’re often told that failures can be turned into “teachable moments”; in every mishap lies an opportunity to become a bit wiser so your next outing goes better than the last. As I sat in my kayak, drying off and trying to hide my embarrassment, I thought about what lessons I could glean from my accident:
First and foremost, safety takes priority in Venture Outdoors for a reason. Had I not been wearing a life jacket, my panic in the water would have been much more justified; the wind and current made swimming more exhausting than usual, and I’m not the strongest swimmer. Ken and Kirsten were on-hand to train us on how to paddle and perform rescues, and their training and experience with Venture Outdoors made them ready to perform a swift, effective rescue of their student, making them an invaluable resource for kayaking trips.

Finally, I learned firsthand that when inexperience and failure meet, panic can ensue. The moment I hit the water, I scrambled to keep myself afloat, and my actions only made things harder for me; had I remained calm and listened more carefully to my Trip Leaders’ instructions, I would have been out of the river much quicker.

All in all, I think learning how to paddle and learning how to fall out went hand-in-hand for me. Had I not failed, I might not have learned how to better keep my balance or to remain calm once I’m in the water. More importantly, it drove home the lesson that, while all recreation comes with some sort of inherent risk, these risks can be minimized by planning ahead, using proper safety equipment, and having trained experts at the ready. With Venture Outdoors and its rigorous safety policies, I’ve been given the chance to take risks with more knowledge of how to mitigate them. Should I crash my bike on a trail, or sprain my ankle on a hike, or fall out of my kayak, I know I have people with me who are willing and able to make sure I make it home safely, and that’s something far more valuable than the chance to try new things alone.

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