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  • Radford Bean

Does Flatwater Paddling Suck?

I recently read a post on one of the many Facebook paddling group sites from someone who said that flatwater paddling sucks, which prompts me to ask the following question? Is flatwater paddling boring?

My immediate answer is no, flatwater paddling does not suck; it is not boring. It’s just another form of paddling.

I know there are a lot of adrenaline junkies in paddling who enjoy activities like running class III-V rapids, launching themselves off tall waterfalls, or riding waves and swells that flow over and in between rocky outcroppings off the coast. In my twenties, I used to be one of those thrill seekers who enjoyed whitewater canoeing. I was crazy enough to take a Coleman canoe down the Deschutes River and over Box Car and Oak Springs rapids. It was fun I’ll admit, so I get the thrill. In those days, flying off the lip of a waterfall in a kayak hadn’t caught on; and if it had, I doubt that I would have been one of those paddlers willing to give it a shot.

However, traveling down rapids, blasting through standing waves, and peeling into and out of eddies isn’t for everyone—I’m thinking those with families that enjoy paddling and those individuals old enough to start drawing Social Security. If you’ve shelled out several thousand dollars on a fiberglass kayak, the risk of banging it against rocks encrusted with acorn and gooseneck barnacles might not seem very appealing, not to mention the possibility of going for a swim in that surge if you haven’t perfected your combat roll.

So, what if you’re not one of those adrenaline junkies, does that make you a boring paddler?

Not at all!

The beauty of paddling is that a paddler can find enjoyment around any bend of water, whether the water is moving at a fast 12-plus-knot pace or gently meandering along. The enjoyment of paddling is in the experience.

Some might think of flatwater paddling much like alpine skiers think of cross-country skiers. As Rodney Dangerfield would say, “They get no respect.” But just as cross-country skiers participant in the sport for a reason, so, too, do flatwater paddlers. For both groups, it’s not the thrill of going fast they seek. It’s something more meditative.

Some flatwater paddlers paddle to reach their favorite fishing hole; some might round up the family and head out to a lake or river for an extended camping trip that might include portages—if you haven’t paddled the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, you don’t know what you’re missing; others might venture out into bays and estuaries looking for wildlife or with dreams of close encounters with whales, sea otters, and dolphins; and some enjoy island hopping, searching for that remote camping site.

Myself, I have found serenity in flatwater paddling in my later years. Life’s too fast-paced these days, and I enjoy the ability to slow down that paddling affords me. As a paddler with a degree in wildlife biology, paddling is a way for me to commune with nature in a way whitewater paddling doesn’t allow. I have time to scan for river otters and deer, beavers gnawing on tree trunks, bald eagles sitting in dead snags, numerous waterfowl tucked among the sedges and rushes along shorelines, and Chinook salmon swimming underneath my boat. If I’m lucky, I might even catch glimpses of elusive bears and gray wolves or have whales swim by me like the pod of orcas I encountered outside of Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands. I have yet to encounter anyone who has told me they were bored seeing a humpback whale breach close by or spotting a playful family of river otters.

Don’t ever think or let someone tell you flatwater paddling sucks or is boring. Boring is a state of mind. If your paddling bores you, change your mindset and approach your paddling from a different perspective or explore other opportunities.

We each have our own reasons for paddling. What is yours? Feel free to comment on Canoe and Kayak Oregon's Facebook page.

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