Are You Ready For Creeking? Part 2

Last week, we heard from Outdoor Research ambassador Paul Kuthe about what creek races are, where they came from and why they’re fun. This week, we get the inside scoop on the risks of creeking, and pro tips for going faster and staying safe.

So what’s big deal, you might ask. What’s so hard about racing down a waterfall? “It's scary to be winded when you’re running Class V,” says Rush Sturges. “If you flip over and make a mistake, you could swim. As well, many of the races are community-driven events without lots of safety in place. This component makes it dangerous, because you’re essentially on your own a lot of the time.”

Plus, it’s just plain difficult when you’re under pressure to perform. “To be always consistent is really hard,” says Gerd Serrasolses. “You have to find the balance between pushing and flowing and not make mistakes. Sometimes it’s so easy to miss a stroke and blow the whole race.”    

It’s not like other sports, where when you crash you may tumble, but you can typically get air and rescue is quickly accessible. Not only are you out of breath and your heart pounding, but the river never stops. It’s unforgiving and there are no time outs. In whitewater racing, the course itself is dynamic, moving. It’s always changing, and it can literally kill you. Every decision is one whose consequence may cost you more than just the race. “Overcoming fears and mental blocks is one of greatest challenges in the sport,” says Kim Russel, winner of the 2015 Northwest Creeking Competition and Little White Salmon Races.

So, what can we learn from these racers who take their sport to the edge? What can the everyday athlete gain from their experience? Whether or not you’re racing, here are five tips for stepping up your paddling game.

1. Really get to know the course ahead of time.
You don’t have time to make decisions about where to go when you’re racing. Even a slight hesitation or missed move can put you off the pace and knock you off your mental game. Take the time to dial in your lines before the race. “Lap the section, then lap it again, and again, and again,” says Dane Jackson. “Really learn the race section and be prepared for whatever happens in the race.”

2. Slow might actually be fast.
It sounds simple enough, but being smooth and letting things flow is really important, especially on a river. A great coach once told me before a race, “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” Finding the path of least resistance and making subtle corrections early will result in less energy loss and will keep your speed up and your lines clean. 

3. “Be able to visualize the lines on race day.” —Kim Russell
Knowing the course well enough to visualize every move your going to make can help keep you focused and able to perform flawlessly without thinking when the moment comes. To make your visualizations more powerful, try incorporating more sensory inputs. Close your eyes and get into the same body positions you will use racing. Move through the course making every move you plan to make, mentally and physically. What will the moves feel like? What sounds will fill your ears as you execute? What smells and tastes will be present? Drawing on more than just the visual will make your “visualizations” more powerful and real, making it more likely to happen the way you imagined.

4. “Get the day off work.” —Nicole Mansfield
Let’s face it: Sadly, racing kayaks doesn’t exactly pay the bills yet. Clearing your schedule the day before and taking time to mentally prepare is worth it, though. While it’s not always a possibility, you will notice a huge impact on your performance, both mentally and physically. 

5. “Get fired up!” —Gerd Serrasolses
An often-overlooked skill, this is one that prepares your mental state. “Arousal control” is key. There exists an optimal level of arousal for any task. Finding ways to achieve this desired mental state quickly helps tremendously. Tune in to your mental state and figure out what it is you need. Do you need to turn it up? Or dial it back? Are you actually too amped up? Try going back to visualization and concentrated breathing, listen to soothing music, or chat with a calming friend. Still fighting the hangover from the night before or feeling too mellow? Try putting on your war face and let loose a primal scream, put your arms up over your head and get your jump on. Think about the most exciting moves on the run and your heart will be pounding ready for action.