Stepping Out of Our Comfort Zone

Helping the people around me build their own skills on the river is something that has been important to me for a long time. I often find more joy in seeing a friend progress as a paddler than in my own paddling. This week I want to share an article with you that talks about changing up the routine, stepping out of your comfort zone, taking the lead or maybe being the one to hang back so a friend has the chance to lead.

I’d like to welcome Haven Livingston as my first ever guest blogger. Haven is a team paddler with International Kayak Supply- Prijon and Lettman kayaks, a part time Coloma Local, and a friend.

As a woman whitewater kayaker, there’s nothing quite like being with fifty other women on a river, all willing to try something new and ready to get out of their comfort zones.

Teaching for the two day women’s whitewater kayaking clinic on the South Fork American River is something I look forward to every year. Saturday morning always starts off with a little trepidation, but by the time everyone is in their kayak, the stoke is feverishly high. By Sunday afternoon the group is a bonded unit, our shared efforts and experiences forming a kinship between us. Heads are high, hearts are full and celebration ensues.

group shot

Even though I am an instructor at the California Women’s Watersport Collective event, I always learn from my co-instructors and the students themselves. The overwhelming energy generated by so many motivated women in one place inspires me to get out and get after it too.

Teaching is the ultimate test for what we think we know and can perform. My co-instructor, Lauren, and I divided our lessons based on our own strengths. While watching her teach about the technical anatomy of different strokes I felt my own desire to grow as a paddler.

It’s been three and one half years since my friends and family pitched in together to buy me a dry suit for my birthday and officially kick off what I saw as the true start of my year round paddling life. I’ve paddled around 100 days per year since then and have grown in leaps, bounds, and sometimes, just a millimeter at a time.

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Though I like to think I’m learning something new every time I’m on the water, it’s inevitable that we all fall into certain habits that hold us back from growing as paddlers and people. Spending time with women who ranged from never sitting in a kayak to women who paddled at high levels for over a decade, increasingly inspired my desire to break out of my own routine.

While I have a great crew of paddling buddies, my most regular partner is my sweetie Phil. Phil has been paddling about 25 years longer than I have and I swear that his body was just molded to a kayak in his teens. Everything about being in a kayak (or raft) on a river is completely part of his nature. That said, he is amazingly a great coach and hasn’t forgotten the little details that make his grace on the water possible. I’m incredibly lucky that he can translate these snippets of wisdom into bite sized lessons. But, while I’ve gotten much better and run a few big rapids, (spoiler alert) for all those people who might think I’m a class V boater just because I hang out with them, thanks for the vote of confidence, but, I’m not.


Because Phil is so sure of himself, it’s been way too easy to fall in line behind him on unknown rivers or when I’m unsure of my line. He doesn’t always lead, but he will if I ask, and that has been keeping me in my comfort zone. The comfort zone feels pretty good, until you’re on your own, then it doesn’t.

Anxiety has been riding shotgun with me the past year on any new run that’s class IV and higher. It has felt debilitating at times and can take the fun out of paddling. It felt impossible to step up my game and take the lead more when I could barely keep from hitting paralysis at the top of a drop. I had to find a way to find a way to step up without completely freaking myself out.

I consider myself more of a default leader than a natural leader. I step up if no one else will, but I don’t usually prefer it. Whitewater is one of those places where you have to be alright with being the one to step up now and then. In the past few months Phil and I individually sensed we were falling into a comfort zone pattern and while he shrugged off more and more responsibility on the river I began to gobble up his slack.

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Part of my solution was to back down to easier new runs or runs that I am comfortable on, and respectively guide myself or a new paddler down at my own pace. It worked. I guided a gal pal Jessa, (who btw helped teach me to roll at the Arcata Pool in 2011!) down my backyard class IV run (and she nailed it), and I guided Phil down a section of class III-IV river I’d never seen. He played the part perfectly.

At a moment of uncertainty I would look to him with a question on my face to which he would simply shrug and ask, “Which way do I go?” I scouted when I felt unsure, even if at times it was just to pop out of my boat and take a look from a standing position.

When we took a trip to Idaho last week and set out on the South fork Salmon, neither of us mentioned this process. But soon I started to notice; he was not going to lead a single bit of this river. For the next three days he hung back, letting me guide us through class III and IV read-and-run boulder gardens. It was my call for when to scout. Often he didn’t even get out of his boat, he just asked for the line when I returned. I was growing giddy with our role reversal and my growing confidence.

When we did scout the bigger rapids together we bounced ideas off each other and then he would take some photos while I ran it first. I have to admit it felt pretty damn good to watch him follow my line from the bottom.

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By day two I finally said something about it. He was nonchalant and just said he was stoked to see me paddling so well. By this time I wouldn’t have relinquished the lead even if he wanted it. It felt that good. It turns out that confidence in leadership can be like a muscle, the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.

And this has been one drawback to paddling with class V boaters. They too often assume that they should lead. I take longer to assess a rapid as I come up on it and in that time I’ve seen friends float on by and take the lead. No big deal, except it does nothing to develop my own skills in reading the water and making choices. Phil even admits that he and his class V buddies often just assume that their less experienced buddies want them to lead. Or, they are so used to it, they just absentmindedly pull ahead.

There’s also a big difference here when padding with gal friends vs. guy friends. I fall into the more stereotypical “talking gal.” Meaning, when I’m debating something in my head, I’m more likely to say, “Hey, Lisa, I’m thinking the left looks better here, what do you think?”  Whereas guys will more often make a silent executive decision and either give a nod at the bottom or get royally beatered. I think it’s totally cool to discuss lines. It’s not a decision you have to make alone.


These are all things I try to convey to my students: be an active part of your team, talk to them, ask to lead if you don’t already. My past week in Idaho was a good dose of my own lessons. Of course there are life lessons in here, but I’ll let you draw your own correlations. I don’t always love being out in front, but knowing that I’m perfectly capable, even good at it, gives me more options. And that’s always a good thing on a river.

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Idaho 2017 - 145 of 177


Check out more from Haven at


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South Silver Carnage

I got my first Shred Ready helmet in 2009. For me, they fit well, are lightweight, and comfortable. I’ve also taken some hard hits with them. I’ve gone down slides on my head. I’ve hit concrete in man made features while playboating. These helmets have taken a lot of hits for me. Most recently I had my least stylish line ever down Sky Scraper on South Silver Creek. I came in with poorly chosen angle at the top and things quickly went down hill, both literally and figuratively. If you watch closely you will see the moment when my head makes contact with the granite.

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Loon Lake

This past week I had plans to go on a short backpacking trip with my girlfriend. I’ve actually never been on a backpacking trip before and it’s something I intend to change. Late the night before we were planning to leave she tells me she’s not feeling entirely well, nothing major, but enough that getting up early and hiking miles into the wilderness with no way out but to hike miles back if things should get worse seemed like less than a good idea. Initially I was a little disappointed, but also I could easily understand why anyone wouldn’t want to be ten miles from civilization if  she did come down with the flu. We agreed that we should still get out of Coloma for a couple days and do something.

loon lake (6 of 6)

The next morning, off to a slightly later start than we had planned, we discussed options over coffee and some pretty outstanding pancakes, if I do say so myself. We settled on the idea of heading up to Loon Lake. I had never been and she hadn’t been for several years. I had heard great things about this area, and I’d been wanting to see it for a while. Awesome, we have a new plan! Oh, and a bonus, now that we’re car camping we can bring better food and more beer. We set out for the lake and made a slight detour to hike up one of my favorite creeks along the way. We enjoyed walking along the granite bedrock until we found I nice spot to sit and watch the sun go down, out on a slab at the top of a waterfall.loon lake (1 of 6)

As the sun dropped below the ridge we thought we should go look for a camp spot. Neither of us was exactly sure how far we were from Loon Lake or how hard it might be to find a camp spot that wasn’t as densely populated as Sacramento. As we drove around the lake looking for vacant camping areas it became clear to me why people like Loon Lake so much. The views of this alpine lake surrounded by Sierra granite are spectacular. We drove until the road ended and we were faced with the choice of a dirt road or going back and trying to fit in among the other campers. In the mood for exploration we opted for the dirt road. Jackpot. The dirt road quickly turned into The Rubicon Trail. My Tacoma is not nearly ready for The Rubicon Trail, but it was able to get across the granite and onto a cliff over looking a valley to the north of Loon Lake. loon lake (2 of 6)

Standing on a granite slab watching the sun go down I thought to myself, “this is in my top five all time camp spots.” We got to work on building a fire made a pretty awesome dinner all cooked on open flame. The best part was the potatoes we cooked in our rock oven. I had an idea about building an oven at the start of this trip, and mother nature provided. I found three boulders already perfectly positioned and fourth that made a top. Meanwhile, Emily engineered a shovel out of a stick and some trash we found which she then used to transfer coals from the fire into the rock oven. We put potatoes inside and enjoyed the fire and the view while we waited. After a short wait we had the best baked potatoes I’ve ever had. I don’t know if it was the location, the company, the potatoes themselves, or the fact that I was so excited that my oven contraption actually worked that made these potatoes particularly great, but they were awesome. I suspect it may have been a combination.  I am beyond excited about this new found form of camp baking. I can’t wait to explore more possibilities with other configurations in the future. If you have a cool way to cook in nature, please share.

loon lake (4 of 6)

I found this tree fascinating and had to take a picture of it.

After an amazing dinner, we found an epic view of the stars, and later when the moon came up, it was almost like day time. I really enjoy walking around on open granite by moonlight. In the morning having coffee with the sunrise was equally delightful to our dinner experience the previous evening. There is just something about being out in the middle of nowhere, with nowhere to else to be, and nothing really to do, that makes food taste so much better.

loon lake (3 of 6)Once we were properly caffeinated, we set out to explore the surrounding granite play ground. We found a cool little creek with miniature waterfalls. We intercepted the Rubicon Trail farther out and watched some rock crawlers do their thing for a while. The best part though, was finding a little lake over the next ridge with almost no one there. Just when you think you’re alone and decide to go skinny dipping, sure enough a whole family comes walking out of the woods looking for a fishing spot.

loon lake (5 of 6)For two people who cancelled their trip, we sure did have a great time and see a lot of beautiful parts of the mountains. As if things weren’t already rad enough, we saw a bear next to the road on our drive home. This was my first bear sighting in the greater Tahoe area. I was becoming skeptical about their existence. Turns out they’re here.

What have been your best trips that were born out of plans falling through? I’d love to hear your story. Feel free to share in the comments below.

Thanks for reading.


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Middle Fork Feather Edit

Here’s the video to go with my Devil’s Canyon write up from a couple week’s ago. If you missed the story you can find it here… Devil’s Canyon 2017



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What does it mean to boof? Take a second and write down your answer, or at least think of one in your head and keep it. Got it? Ok, if your answer includes the word “rock,” I’m writing this for you. Too often I hear people confuse smashing into rocks with boofing. Yes, you can boof off of a rock, but you can also boof off of a wave or just off the water anywhere there is a loss in elevation. If you have good technique you should be able to do it in a swimming pool. Ok, it isn’t going to be very exciting in the pool but you should still be able to do it. So, what does it really mean to boof? What this strange word actually means is to control the elevation of our bow as was we lose elevation in our kayak. It doesn’t matter if you’re dropping a ten footer or just picking up the front of your boat to get over a small hole, the technique is the same. One of the most common mistakes that people make is to throw their weight backwards as they go off a drop. This is similar to the mistake I talked about in my previous break down of the stern quirt. In order to pull up the front of your kayak, you need to engage your core and squeeze your knees to your chest. This is the most critical part of the process. Even if your boof stroke is less than awesome, pulling your knees to your chest will go a long way toward more stylish landings. A great stroke with no core action will result in no boof. A poor stroke with good core action will result in a flat-ish landing. Obviously, you will need both in order to consistently fly off drops with steez, but if you have to focus on just one, use your core.



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Free Style Fundamentals: Stern Squirts

With all this water there are some great places to play on the river. New features and stronger eddy lines make ample opportunities to take your kayak from flat to vertical. The stern squirt is a classic move and still one of my all time favorites. If you’ve been having trouble getting your boat vertical, take a look at this video and keep these key points in mind as you watch.

  1. Notice how much I lead the move with my body. My head and shoulders are turned in the direction I want to go. Both hands are completely on the right side of my kayak.
  2. If you watch closely during the slomo part in the middle, you’ll notice that after I plant my paddle in the water it doesn’t move toward the front of my boat. Instead, I use my legs to move the boat toward my paddle.
  3. I do lean back a little bit because I’m doing this in flat water and I want to get the paddle all the way to the stern of my kayak. If you watch closely however, you’ll see that as soon as the boat starts to move I sit up. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when they’re trying to learn to stern squirt, is they throw their bodies back. To make the bow of your kayak come up you need to pull it up with your knees. In order to pull your knees to your chest you need to engage your abs. When you throw yourself toward the stern you actually push off of your feet which drives the bow down. This keeps the boat flat.



I really hope you find this helpful. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. Also, let me know what other techniques you would like to see tips on.


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Devil’s Canyon 2017


Photo by Jay Lynn

It is my goal for 2017 to get on some of California’s classic multi-day high sierra runs. Upper Cherry and Fantasy Falls are at the top of the list, but it could easily be another month before those flows come into runnable range. Fortunately the Middle Fork of the Feather starts at a lower elevation and is running at prime flows right now.


Devils Canyon is about a 30 mile trip through some spectacular gorges with amazing scenery and great whitewater. It is commonly done as a two or three day trip. While I prefer the thee day, I did this most recent trip in two. The days are long enough and the flows high enough that this was pretty doable. This was only my second trip to MFF. My first time there was in 2013. This trip was much more enjoyable with reasonable flows and people who knew the run. If you’re not familiar with my previous epic, I’ll post a link to that story at the end of this post. We had a party of ten with about half of us knowing the run. We found a great camp spot with plenty of fire wood in the heart of Franklin Canyon at the end of our first day. For me these trips are really about the scenery and the life styling. The fact that they come with great whitewater is just a cherry on top. There is nothing so satisfying as sleeping next to the river under the full moon after a great day of paddling with great people and knowing that tomorrow you’re going to wake up and do even more of the same.

If you haven’t explored the realm of self support kayaking, I strongly recommend it. If you’re not up for the class V aspect check out my previous post about friendlier options for multi-day kayaking.

Multi-day kayaking trips

If you want to read about my first epic trip into Devil’s Canyon you can find it here…

Devil’s Canyon Middle Fork Feather at High Water (4600 cfs)


Thanks for reading!



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California Multi-day Kayaking: Not Just for Class V Paddlers

I’ve been kayaking in the Sierra Nevada Mountain for nine years now, and it is hands down my favorite place to paddle. I’ve seen some amazing rivers with countless more I have yet to explore, and I’ve met some really amazing people along the way. If you ask paddlers around the world about whitewater in California, you will probably get a lot of responses referring to the classic multi-day trips that these mountains are known for. High sierra bed rock granite class V for days brings kayakers from all over the world even in years of low snow pack. What about those who want to explore some multi-day self support kayaking or raft support kayaking without having to face the extreme class V conditions of the high sierra? Are there still runs that make fun multi-day trips for the everyday paddler? Yes. Yes, there are. Here are a few suggestions for runs that make great overnight trips without the class V element.


  • South Fork of the American (full river) Class III
    1. You probably already know this stretch pretty well. Why not start at chile bar on Saturday and camp on the BLM beach just downstream of greenwood on river right? Then, you can finish the trip through the gorge the next day. If you’re doing this when flows are normal, waiting on the release on Sunday morning makes for a great casual breakfast hangout by the rio.
  • East Fork Carson Class II
    1. This 20 mile section in on the eastern slope of the Sierras has ample camping opportunities with hot springs at the half way point. I highly recommend this trip to anyone wanting to enjoy a weekend of paddling, camping, and hot springs.
  • North Fork American (Giant Gap) Class IV
    1. This 13 mile run is typically done in one day but it could easily be split into a two day. This canyon is incredibly beautiful and would make a great spot to hang out with friends around a campfire for a night.
  • Middle Fork of the American Class II-IV
    1. The tunnel chute run is long. Why not make an overnighter out of it? While you’re at it you could add another night or maybe even two going from the tunnel chute take out down to the confluence with the NFA. Double check my beta on this lower section because I haven’t actually done it, but I think it is a pretty nice class II paddle with just the one bigger rapid right at the confluence which would be an easy portage. You could also just overnight the lower section I think if you didn’t want to do the tunnel chute run.
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2017: New Year, New Horizon Lines

In years past I’ve written a summary of the year’s paddling endeavors for my last post of the year or first post of the year depending when I got around to writing it. Typically I’d put up the final tally for total days of paddling along with some personal highlights and maybe some epic fails for which I hope to seek redemption. Well if you’ve been following me at all, then by now you know that 2016 was not my best year. A number of small upsets in my personal life as well as one rather large upset, somewhat derailed my paddling plans for the year and lead me to reevaluate not just my kayaking but my life as a whole. Many years ago an instructor I had in the Marine Corps told me, “adversity introduces a man to himself.” These words stayed with me and only now feel more true than ever.

Out of the trials of 2016 came many gifts that I never expected. The best of those gifts being I’ve become closer to a few friends who were instrumental in making my burden much easier to bare. I’ve met new people and formed new relationships that I never would have otherwise.  I don’t actually know how many paddling days I did in 2016, but it doesn’t really matter. I stopped counting at 150, and I’m not going to count anymore. I’ve been so focused on getting as many days in as I can that I have been missing out on other adventures in life. I’m still trying to work out what my goals for the coming year are but I can say for sure that diversifying my activities is among them.


Ian Janoska testing out the Machno on the NFA.

As 2017 gets underway I have no idea what’s down river. I can’t see over the next horizon line, but what I can say is this. There is nowhere to go but downstream. There is nothing to do but enjoy the ride and tackle the rapids one stout at a time.



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2017 Brush Creek Race

The first time I raced at Brush creek was probably five or six years ago and there hasn’t been a race there since until this past weekend. The southern end of the Sierras were hit hard by the California drought, and there hasn’t been enough water to make this amazing creek run. Maybe that’s why there was such a great energy in the air at Brush Creek last weekend. Not only did it have runnable flows for the first time in a long time, but it had high flows, making it super fun and a little more challenging.

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This year, the race was of particular interest to me. I mean sure it is a really fun creek with drops and steep slides. Yeah, I did get to paddle it with some friends that I haven’t seen since last year. That was like the icing on the cake, but for me, this year, the best part of this event was getting to take “the kid” (his new nickname) that I have been paddling with the past year. For him it was his first time running this style of continuous drops and big slides. I’m beyond stoked to report that he killed it. By his third or fourth run down the creek he was leading others. This trip really highlighted how much he has grown as a paddler in the past year. When we first paddled together he’d be out of his boat before his head got wet if things didn’t go to plan, but not any more. On the occasions where he got himself stuck in a recirculating eddy, or flipped over in three inches of water with only one hand on his paddle, he kept his calm and sorted himself out without needing any assistance from anyone else. For him maybe more than for me, another highlight may have been him beating me in the race. I always knew it would happen but I really thought I had more time. Maybe if I hadn’t taken a beating and swam in practice the morning of race day I might have done better, but more on that story in a minute.

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Ethan Howard falling in love with the Machno

If you know me as a paddler, you know that I prefer kayaking where the water is deep enough to put paddle strokes in and drive my boat. If you say the word rock in your explanation of what it means to boof, I will disagree. I go to great lengths to keep my boat from making contact with solid objects in the river. Maybe that’s because I started out in composite boats. Whatever the reason, I’m especially picky about not beating up my 9R. My 9R is hands down my favorite boat to paddle, and let’s face it, if you had a Ferrari would you rely on the guard rail to steer you around the corner? Not wanting to abuse my Ferrari on the steep low volume creek, I rode the new Machno for the trip and I couldn’t be more stoked with how well it rides. It’s not quite as fast and dynamic as the 9R but it isn’t supposed to be. It is very predictable, stable, and forgiving. It’s easy to boof and runs over everything you put in front of it. This boat just became my go to for multi day and or steep low volume runs.

brush creek (16 of 18)Ok I guess you’ve waited long enough. You’ve probably seen the pictures and video already. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten this much media coverage on the internet for anything I’ve ever done, but sure enough I take a swim and suddenly I’m famous. So, for those wondering here’s how it went down. Dave drove into town Friday evening having never paddled Brush creek before but planning to race the next day. It was already too late to go up that night so we got started early the next morning. I had already done six or eight practice laps the previous couple days so I went up to show Dave what I thought were the fastest lines for the race course. We’re coming into a rapid called triple drop, which oddly enough is a series of three ledges. There aren’t many eddies so I look over my shoulder on the way in and say “justrun the all down the right.” Upon looking back downstream I note I’m a little late getting right. No problem. I can use that small eddy to help me get there. I made a slight miscalculation and suddenly found myself spun out in the eddy and drifting out the back of it. I took a quick look at the approaching ledge and decided there wasn’t enough time to spin back around. “I definitely don’t want to drop in sideways,” I thought to myself, “I’ll have to run it backwards.” I took my best attempt at a switch boof stroke, but alas it wasn’t good enough. Perhaps that majestic California Boof Stork was lurking somewhere near by. I fell into the hole and was immediately locked into a side surf struggling to keep upright. Dave and Ethan both landed on me and I didn’t budge. I tried going forward and backward but was unable to move an inch in either direction. I tried flipping over but to no avail. With noting working at all I new I had only one option left. Swim. Reluctantly and all too aware that my padawan learner was just down stream I pulled the yellow tab of surrender and was quickly removed from my kayak. I was lucky in that I came right up to the surface and was able to swim into a micro eddy and a small hold on the icy granite before swimming the following ledges. It would have been four years in June, but I guess we all must swim sometimes. At least I got a free beer out of it.



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