Scary stories and how to face them


Creek Week is coming up next week, and inevitably the question of scary river stories and how to process them will be a topic of conversation.

I remember being on the banks of the White Nile River in Uganda scouting the Class V rapid called Itanda. At the time there hadn’t yet been a successful female descent.

The line was clear to me and as I watched a friend run it, the feeling of confidence in my skill rose. I was ready to take it on, and then…

Folks I was scouting with started telling harrowing stories about long, scary deep water swims and thrashings in the enormous holes you have to thread between. They also told me that just because our friends made it look good, didn’t mean that we could run well. WTH!?

My excitement started to turn to fear and self-doubt. I started thinking that maybe I’m not ready.

Luckily I didn’t let them dissuade me and it was one of the first times I decided to trust myself and not let scary stories stop me. A few days later I ran the rapid and had a beautiful line. I was so stoked!

Since then, I’ve experienced this scenario many times, and my clients have countless stories about how they’ve lost their confidence after listening to scary stories told by others.

If you’ve experienced this and want to stop getting disempowered by others, here are 4 strategies that can help – ps – they help off the water too:


Take time to visualize your successful run every day.

I had spent a week visualizing my run through Itanda before I dropped in. Visualization boosts your confidence, rewires your brain and fires the muscles needed for the strokes you need to take.

The more inward work you do to boost your confidence and skill, the easier it is to be resilient in the face of outside influence. All you need is 5 min per day to make a big difference.

Today is a new day

I’m going to talk real straight on this one – The first time I paddled the Cheoah River after my friend Maria passed, I had to remind myself that today is today. It’s not the day that Maria drowned. The only thing I can control is myself, and today is a new day with different circumstances, different people and a different journey.

For many of us, there’s something special (joy, excitement, passion, challenge, accomplishment) that keeps calling us back even after we’ve lost a friend or have a scary experience.

When thoughts or stories of past tragedies come up, and you’re clear that you still want to get out on the river, remind yourself that today is a new day. Just because you or someone else had a scary experience in the past, does not mean it will happen again, or to you.

Pay attention, and trust yourself to respond to what THIS moment calls for.

Trust Yourself

As I mentioned above, the only thing you can control is you.

Whoever is telling the story has their own doubts, fears and ego going on. They have a certain lens through which they’re viewing the experience, and the world. Stand strong in who YOU are and the preparation you’ve gone through.

When you get on the water, pause and express gratitude for your experience, your mentors and for the water. When others express their opinions to me or tell scary stories, my strategy is to go within and ask myself: ‘Do I trust myself?’ If the answer is yes I go with that.

Another phrase I like to repeat silently to myself when I’m surrounded by scary storytellers is: ‘That’s not true for me.’

When you trust yourself, the opinion or stories of others won’t shake you. The way you build trust in yourself is to work on building your skills, building your mindset and building your relationship with the river.

And, remember that you don’t have to take on other people’s fear.

Choose your crew wisely

Who you choose to paddle with can make or break your experience and your love of the sport. I know this because several of my clients come to me to recoup their confidence after it’s been shattered by negative experiences on the water.

I also came up in the late 90s and early 2000s when the attitude of the whitewater community was harsh and unforgiving. I’m glad to have seen the culture of the sport become more inclusive and supportive in the past few decades, but there are still some old school attitudes lurking around.

Don’t be afraid to set boundaries around who you paddle with and who you’ll take instruction or tips from. You don’t have to listen to or paddle with someone you don’t feel comfortable with just because they asked you, or they’re in your club or they’re leading the pool session.

Advocate for yourself and choose your crew wisely.

Remember, the script can be flipped

So far we’ve talked about strategies to stay empowered in the face of folks telling scary stories and giving unrequested advice. It’s also important to recognize when you’re the one telling scary stories or building up a rapid.

Notice what your intentions are with what you’re saying. Does it come from fear, ego or a desire to be helpful?

Unless you’re in a learning situation where the story is relevant, you may notice that the deeper intent is rooted in fear. It could be your own fear and self-doubt that you’re projecting onto other people unnecessarily. The uglier aspect is that it could come from your fear of being one-upped by another paddler. And even worse, a newer paddler!

Your ego encourages you to buy into a scarcity mentality where if someone runs something that you’re scared to run that means you’re less than. Don’t buy into it! It’s OK that you don’t want to run something, even if you have the skill, and it’s OK for someone else to want to run it when they’ve prepared for it and trust themselves.

Learn to be an advocate for yourself and others.

Want to step up your Class IV Creeking game both in mindset and skill? Creek Week 2025 is now open for registration. There are only 6 spots and they go fast. Here’s the link to register.