By Jason Rackley
There seems to be this sadly misguided idea floating around out there that you are a 'better' boater if you paddle class five versus paddling class three or four regularly. Actually, I couldn't disagree more. Better is relative. Better than what? I know excellent paddlers who have been boating for many years who rarely run anything harder than class IV. Am I the better boater because I paddle class five and they don't?
This 'harder is better' myth is a dangerous one, and the recent proliferation of big-drop kayaking videos has only served to fuel the fire. I can't count the number of times I have met novice paddlers on or off the river who are "lusting after the numbers"; talking about doing some creek or river just because it's hard, not because they really want to do the run. They just want to be able to say they did it.
Does anyone really think this is a good idea? When did paddling class five become cool? Is it cool?
Of course not! It's wonderfully exciting, challenging, and sometimes terrifying, but COOL it is not.
In case you haven't noticed, lots of people have been killed, maimed, and/or broken while paddling class five.
Drowning is not the worst thing that can happen to you; what about the guy who had to have both legs amputated after they were crushed in a vertical pin down in Mexico? Think about that poor guy then next time you contemplate running a big drop in your playboat. (He wasn't in a playboat, but if you get vertically pinned in one and the boat folds, you can kiss your legs goodbye, assuming you survive, which you probably won't...)
Or the guy who broke just about everything after he became disoriented on a steep creek in California and mistakenly ran a falls that is always portaged, falling forty feet onto a boulder? Can you imagine the kind of pain he lives with every day? Is that COOL?
Had lower back pain recently? Try living with a couple of crushed vertebrae. How many paddlers have broken or severely damaged their backs running waterfalls? Far too many.
Unfortunately I am a member of this tiny cohort (also known as the "Suddenly Shorter Boaters of America"), but I'm sure our ranks will swell with time; it's a terrible yet unavoidable fact. Do I still paddle class V? Absolutely.
Is that a good idea? Well, it probably never really was, but that's beside the point.
What about paddling just because you love the water?
Or because you just want to get away from it all?
To be with your friends?
To see a new place?
Do you have to paddle class five to do this? Of course not!
Are you any less cool if you DON'T huck yourself off of huge waterfalls?
If you have trouble answering that question, you might want to do some soul-searching before you get yourself into some serious trouble.
What about your family and friends?
What about your parents? How would they feel if you got badly hurt or killed? Ever think about that?
If not, you should start.
Ever pull a body from the river? If you paddle class five long enough chances are good that you will.
Still think paddling class five is cool? What if it was your body? If you don't think it can happen you are sadly mistaken; the river doesn't care how cool you think you are.
This is a very dangerous business. There is no room for ego, no room for pride, and certainly no room for COOL. When you paddle class five there is always a possibility that your luck is going to run out, and when it does you'd better be ready because the river is going to take you whether you like it or not.
If you choose to walk down this road don't do it because you think it's cool; that's a mighty stupid reason to die. Do it because you love it.
Now that's worth dying for.