Pressure in Paddling Research.... Experiences Good and Bad

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I am currently conducting research looking at the presence of peer pressure in kayaking and it's effects, positive and negative.

Basically, if you have a story about feeling pressured I would like to know. It could be indirect or direct pressure to run a rapid or a river. You may have succeded and felt awesome or come-a-gutsa and been absolutely worked and never wanted to get in a boat again. I want to look at both aspects, the successes as much as the workings.

An example would be - I was a learner paddler at the Aniwhenua falls, watching experienced paddlers running the falls.

I mentioned to my teacher at the time that I had a dream about running the falls successfully (not that I actually thought I could!) She said "you'd better get in your boat and do it then!" (subtle pressure).

I was uncertain but crumbled and hopped in my boat. Sitting in the pool at the top I was cacking!!! However a few personal motivation chants later and I sucked it in and headed down the shoot....
two seconds later I was screaming with joy!!!! As far as I was concerned I was king of the world.

I am sure people have had equally negative experiences, so I would like to compare the opportunity for both positive and negative outcomes. If you can out with any stories I would be extremely appreciative. You can either post them on the forum or email them to me or both?

Thanks alot, I look forward to hearing a few stories.


danzo's picture

ive got one for ya
id just got my boat that week and fitted it out with foam
(lacking footrests and thigh pads) some paddling mates were going down the oxbow that weekend and it sounded to good. id just bought a bouyancy but no deck, helmet or dry top...or paddle
the problem was fixed by scabbing gear of mates(a holey deck, scummy paddle and i wore my new wetsuit)
we got to the river to find it quite low and pretty much at freezing point, the type of water you roll over and get instant ice cream headaches from.
the run is quite rocky anyway but at lower levels it was crazy, i arrived only to realise id forgotten my helmet, and a roll was to be punished with a view of my brain in the water.
anyway, i made it down the run emptying my boat as we went and didnt hit my head luckily(the next time went went for a paddle though, i did have a helmet and got smashed in the face and broke my nose!! awesome)

i dont even know if this counts as peer pressure
but i was a little over eager to try out my new boat and ended up forgetting the essential helmet on a rocky run?!

over and out

mike9's picture

hey man im not sure if you ars still doing this research but i was looking through a back issue of playboating #33 and i had an article on the psycological efects of taking some nasty swims and stuff, it also had some pretty nice stories of some top boaters swims and the events leading up to it some cases it was pressure some it was complacency im still in dunners, if you want to flick through it drop us a line
have a good summer dude

kayneo's picture

Reasonable comment, but I think that to hang in the middle of the group helps the learning process. Experience is whats needed to lead a group and you dont get that without following the leader for a bit of time. A good trip leader wont let someone on the river if they are not up to the task. Its a matter of knowing the limitations of your group before putting on and pushing those limitations as far as is practicable. Sometimes watching a style paddler is enough to push you into trying something new (on your own accord)

mr.b's picture

Been boating for a few years now, and have just started paddling with a club. The interesting thing here is the way that they decide to run a drop. The more experienced guys usually run it first. Then the others start thinking 'he's not so much better than me I'll run it too' The next most experienced guy starts thinking the same way, and so on. This continues untill one person pulls out or everyone has run the drop. In the end all seem prety happy and they don't see too much wrong with the whole idea. My only problem is that I feel that each person should decide for themselves, that way they might be in a better position to lead more trips in the future.
Not the safest approach to kayaking.
Cheers B

ali's picture

Nic you may know of "flow" in outdoor risk managment it's refered to as "peak experience". Interesting paper, worth a read.

greg.thomas's picture

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi of Chicago University has his lifes work explaining "The Flow Experience". Its all relevant to Leisure Activities and individuals pursuit of...if you haven't already made yourself familar with it you should have a read. Any good uni library will have the stuff or there is the web.



nic0's picture


Just a big thankyou to all who have contributed so far.

Greg, Ian, Mike, AL, Angus, Luke, Paul,Kayn'o, TJ.

Much appreciated, all the info will be a great help for my research project. All the stories make for interesting reading.

Any new stories, opinions or theories... Keep 'em coming.



greg.thomas's picture

hey Nic - had a flat mate once who was the only one in the flat that did not paddle. Drinking one night and he shoots his mouth off that all that we do is easy and he could do it sweet as if he could roll. So the next day we remind him of this and hold him to his words.

We taught him to roll so he could get it 2 outta 3 times and then got together some gear for him. First intro was a 5m waterfall which is local, just a matter of paddling off it and he did that sweetly and did not even roll.

Next on the list was the Kaituna, top to bottom, it was going to be pretty hardcase as he had now been in a kayak on a river for all of 2 minutes for the first drop. We found hinm a nice big boat and got together a lareg bunch that had heard of this guy who could not and had never kayaked who was going to do the Kaituna, paddled all teh drops to the main water fall with only 2 rools....direction was pretty bad but we would just line him up at the top and give him a push. At teh main water fall we all wanted to see him come off so it turns out he was last and left at the top by himself....he broke out and paddled the waterfall...down the guts and full speed with a roll at the bottom.....had 2 swims below the on the remaining drops due to eddies and stuff. We were just yelling the directions at him and the boat did the rest.

Thats some good peer pressure and a good example of someone shooting there mouth off and being held to it. So here was a guy with 2 minutes kayaking experience who had been shown how to roll doing the kaituna top to bottom. He would not do it again but to his credit came through with doing it.

Also had a guy who was talked into paddling a coast river, once the helicopter had left there were only 2 ways out....walking or paddling. Obvioulsy we were there for paddling, the guy basically broke down crying and lost all his form....freaking out. Rest of the trip he had so much pressure on him as it was definately putting the group at risk....his skills would have got him by if he had been strong mentally. He has since sold all his kayaking gear and is no longer paddling.

Then there is the usual pressure when you are paddling with people you know very well. It results in "do it you puss".....a little shove in the back by those who know you well is all the same for being talked outta things.


ian2's picture

Fair enough Mike. I had read the whole lot, but not today so had lost the plot. Great that you have all your gear now though. I know what it's like starting out and not having the kit. It bites not having it when you need it!

mike9's picture

@!#$'s sake read the whole story
- Ian i was first year at uni and borrowed gear from the club the only thing that was mine was my boat and deck the onl carabina i had held my cell phone to my jeans and is "not intended for outdoor use". i did have empty wine casks as airbags but was not trained in their use.
- Al i was replying to angus who said i should have held onto my boat i did untill as you say i decided that air in my lungs is better than taking a look at the bottom of the river if you know the river its a gorge down from that and getting my boat back was a mission the next guy to run the falls was the president of the club he bailed and his boat was clipped and hauled up easily this was not 4 people for a fun run this was a uni club with 30 people, dont worry it was split into manageable groups with the recommended instructor to punter raito, but there were about 5 throwbags between us all and we threw a second one with a carabina on the end for his boat and the 30 of us pulled it up easily.
for the record i do now have a carabina airbags and even a throwbag, next time guys read the whole of the posts not just the most recent.

ian2's picture

Other basic things: Make sure your boat has securely fixed airbags (and yes you can fit some sort of airbag in the back of modern playboats). If you desperately wanted a 'biner, how come you weren't carrying one yourself? Have to agree with Al too, the victim is not the best person to co-ordinate a rescue.

ali's picture

In my opinion they did the right thing.
The victim is not the best person to coordinate the rescue.
It's not a good idea to biff a bag with a biner cliped to it, because if you clip it (or it gets clipped) to an item of your equipment that you cant release then it can make the situation worse. The only part of your equipment that should be clipped is your quick release belt on you rescue jacket, and only then if you and the person on the other end of the rope have been trained how to do it safely, and the situation requires it. If the line gets snagged on the bank (or heven forbid has been tied off), and you cant release it you will plain to the bottom and stay there, till the rope is released.
Trying to belay a waterlogged boat from the bank is next to impossable (boat+water=a very heavy load on the belayer and) it is likly that they will get pulled in after you, making the situation worse.
as always your prioritys are people then gear, let the boat go, and keep air in your lungs.
nothing personal, just sharing what iv'e been taught

mike9's picture

i did but no-one still threw me a carabina i was being yelled at to let it go because they couldnt pull me and the boat in and couldnt hear me over the water. i ended up ditching the line and swimming to the bank anyway i just grabbed it thinking there was a bina on the end. it feally bugged me as theese were people who i thought were "experienced"

angus's picture

Why didnt you grab the throw bag with one hand and hold the end loop with the other. Ha?

mike9's picture

mine was a case of being the new guy in a uni club, i was the only first year who knew how to kayak and and felt the need to proove i wasnt a punter and i was as good as the second and third years. this oppertunity came when a couple of them paddled ariki falls at the bottom of o'sullys run on the buller, it was simple enough i knew where i was going and when i was to boof untill i heard the yells from the bank werent encouraging but telling me my deck was off at the side, after a frantick grab to close my deck which looked more like an old skool railgrab i pindropped over the falls, i wasnt worked but my deck blew and tho i rolled up then over and tried to re-attach my deck and back up again my tail happy stealth was pointing to the sky and wasnt going to be paddled anywhere so i had to take up the offers of a throwbag. to make matters worse no-one threw me a carabina for me to attach to my boat and i had to let that go downstream and meant an even harder retrieval of it and a fellow paddler and his boat up the gorge wall.

It wasnt direct pressure but had been building up all season from not being recognised as a decent paddler and just meant i rushed it.
now i check my deck everytime

hope thats what your after nic

lukey's picture

g'day Nic - just one little experience, (maybe a little different?
i was instructing a group of female high school students down the doctors creek run in Murchison. when we came across the main rapid (a sharp right hand corner with sweet run out but strainers in the form of trees and a post on hard left) two of the three girls i had were keen to give it ago (which was a big step for them, so i was stoked!), with the other portaging. just about to get in boats when a friend of theirs from another group came over and explained she wasn't doing it (and neither shud they). in the end none of the girls ran it!
bit of an understatement to say that i was pissed of at the other girl! peer pressure for ya?
hope it helps

paul6's picture

Had a similar experience at Aniwhenua when my guide said "it looks hard, but it's only class III. As long as you stay pointed downstream and upright you'll be fine." I was...and I, too, felt like I was king of the world. Had a different experience on a little screamer creek (Geddes Cr.) in Pennsylvania, USA. This 40+ m/km darling that's about 3m wide with almost no eddies was a blast. Unfortunately, we had one member of our group that wasn't comfortable with the river selection, but opted to go with the group anyway, even though I tried to make him comfortable with choosing to opt out. In the end, he opted to be one of the crew. Needless to say, he found the only really retentive hole on the creek and planted his boat in it upside-down while the next 3 boats ran his over through a combination of following too close and lack of eddies for stopping. Eventually he swam and walked out. Two weeks later he took up flatwater canoeing and sold his ww gear. I'm still greived that my friend gave up ww boating as a result of a last minute trip deviation to a harder run and some subtle peer pressure. He was a very good boater that just never eased his way past his fears of keeper hydraulics. Unfortunately, he faced his exaggerated perception of danger associated with this feature before he was ready.

nic0's picture

Kiaora Guys,

Really appreciating the information you've put forward. Makes for interesting reading.

Would love for the stories to keep rolling in.


kayneo's picture

Its all good as long as the pressure applied fits the person and the situation. When you have students for example. You have to give them a push to get them out of heir comfort zone and into a place where they learn new tricks. You just gotta know when to stop.

I remember running bottom drop Aratiatia for the first time I knew the line but hadnt actually seen anyone go it. Before I got on the water I was almost heaving and would have pulled the pin if it wasnt for the group watching and the camera rolling. I ended up getting it sweet, scored the rad pics and smiled for about three days. So yeah pressure is good in moderation.

tj's picture

i find it good to be slightly pressured when your paddling. just enough to push you a bit harder. fun fun fun! i have always paddled with guys better than me, and find that you get better quicker and end up doing things you would not have done otherwise. all good!