How do I have control in kayaking?


During a recent visit to a college where I was a keynote motivational speaker one of the students made a comment about whitewater that I had never heard before.  She was a sea kayaker and climber who was interested in trying whitewater kayaking, but was very apprehensive about the sport. 

She explained her uneasiness was due to the fact that there is a lot less perceived control about whitewater.  The environments of climbing (on a wall or rock face) and sea kayaking (in protected shorelines and flatwater) gave her a sense of being able to have more control over her skills and over whatever situation may arise. 

She mentioned that if she were climbing a wall and she wanted to stop she could stop halfway up, but in moving water you can’t just stop because you can’t stop the flow of the water, and that scared her.

I had never thought of that aspect of whitewater before because I had never felt that apprehension myself as a beginner and it was eye opening.  Not only is that a great explanation for why some people are so fearful about trying whitewater kayaking, but it’s also a good insight into what I encounter in a lot of women kayakers:  The feeling of not having any control over what they’re doing when they’re paddling down a rapid. 

I’ve taught quite a few women who get so scared that they stop paddling and just freeze up.  Most of them tell me they don’t feel like they’re in control of their boat in rapids and they’re right!  These women aren’t in control, not because the water is too powerful, but because they’re not taking action to be in control. They could choose to focus on paddling, reading the water and getting their kayaks where they need to go.  They don’t have to cling to the attitude that they have no control.

Let me say that I do not approach kayaking thinking that I can control or conquer the river, but I do approach it with an attitude that I can work with the water and paddle aggressively and positively to maneuver rapids successfully.  Any time I have given up my power, lost confidence and felt out of control I didn’t have a very good day!

It’s important for all of us to remember that we have a choice on what attitude to take when approaching kayaking, or any other situation in life.  Making good choices like taking kayaking classes, staying within our skill level, learning about safety and paddling with people we trust can lead to really positive, safe and fun kayaking trips.  We have a lot more control than we think, maybe not control over the water, but control over our minds, our attitudes and our actions. 

About the Author

Anna Levesque was the 2001 Freestyle Kayaking World Championship Bronze Medalist and is a motivational keynote speaker. Her company Girls At Play, LLC offers white water kayaking tours, trips and classes for women.

She also provides kayak reviews and beginner guides on how to kayak – “Learn to Paddle with Anna Levesque”. Visit her website –