Whitewater Kayaking Hub

3 Steps To Push Yourself To The Next Level Of Kayaking

Another week, another crazy send from Dane Jackson.

This guy doesn’t stop….

There’s a reason why he is one of the greatest paddlers of all time.

Most people would take one look at Scott’s Drop and start walking…

Dane? “Nah, I can cobra that”

And the funny thing is, not one person would question it…

If you haven’t seen this madness, you can check it out here.

(you might want to mute it if you have any kids around…)


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A post shared by Dane Jackson (@danejacksonkayak)

Dane is constantly pushing himself and the boundaries of the sport…

Now we might not be sending a cobra off of a ~50ft drop that, uncomfortably quickly, flows straight into another gnarly 50ft slide/drop, but we do push ourselves in our own way.

So what is the best way to push yourself, no matter what level you are at?

Set a Goal.

The first thing you can do is set yourself a goal.

This could be:

  • A new freestyle move you want to nail
  • A new line on your local
  • That rapid that you’ve been walking
  • The number of paddling days a year

By highlighting your goal you can then put steps in place to work towards it.

For example, if your goal is to learn to freewheel, you might want to take the following steps.

  1. Read our How to Guide (Shameless plug…)
  2. Paddle more rivers with a small drop to practice on
  3. Paddle a half slice
  4. Find someone who can freewheel to give you tips.

Everybody has goals. For years Dane set his sights on the double airscrew.

He put himself in a location that was perfect for trying it.

Paddled with a group of paddlers who could push him.

Spent time honing the basics.

And this year he nailed it


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A post shared by Dane Jackson (@danejacksonkayak)

Facing Fear

Kayaking can be a scary sport.

Especially for new paddlers but even for experienced ones.

Fear is healthy. So embrace it.

That’s not to say you should be standing at the lip terrified, knowing that you’re going to swim.

But to be nervous before a rapid is perfectly normal.

It keeps you checked into the reality that you could hurt yourself if you push yourself too hard, too quickly.

If you are confident in your line, then embrace the fear. Take a few deep breaths and send it.

If you are not confident, then take some more time to scout or accept that today is not your day and tomorrow might be different.

There is no shame in stepping away from a rapid.

I’ve walked away from rapids that I’ve run multiple times – Just because you’ve done it before does not mean that you have to paddle it again.

Build up to it.

Kayaking is not a sport to be rushed.

The bigger rapid always looks appealing.

and there is nothing wrong with dreaming about sending waterfalls out of your reach.

But you need to build yourself up to bigger and harder rapids.

This is the biggest reason that I see people getting hurt on the river.

They paddle a grade 3 with one 4 and think they are ready for a 5.

and they get humbled – real quick.

This is often the case for newer paddlers, just starting to break into the grade 4 territory. You start to feel comfortable on whitewater and your confidence soars.

The thing is, you might paddle a few bigger rapids and make it down fine. This only increases your confidence.

But you’re not fully in control, you’re scraping by and then you make one mistake and have a bad time.

This is the Dunning-Kruger effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect - how to push yourself in whitewater kayaking

When you are learning a new task or sport, you will go through a similar pattern of confidence.

  1. You start by knowing nothing and feeling like you will never get anywhere.
  2. You start to see results and quickly climb to a level of confidence as you learn the basics and see massive gains.
  3. You start to overestimate your own skill level as you don’t know any better.
  4. You push yourself too far and suddenly realise that you were not as good as you thought you were.
  5. Your confidence plummets and you spend time developing your skills.
  6. You keep improving and your confidence slowly builds back up as you become confident in your abilities.

I commonly see this in kayaking.

Now there’s nothing wrong with this. We’ve all been there.

But it can introduce risk into your paddling if you push yourself too fast too quickly.

Skip the peak of Mt Stupid and the Valley of Despair by slowly building up new skills.

Don’t jump to the 50 footer. Start with 5 ft, then 10ft, then 15….

By building yourself up, you will:

  1. Hone the basics
  2. Fail when it is safe to
  3. Be prepared if anything goes wrong
  4. Be more comfortable when you do step it up

Ultimately, you will end up a much better paddler because of it…

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