Only those who have patience to do simple things perfectly ever acquire the skill to do difficult things easily. ~James J. Corbett
Long ago – when I was still on my knees in a canoe – I discovered the Ferry Ledge. Just a simple little riffle on a flat bit of the Dan River next to the Dan River Company where I work and hang out. Often on quiet evenings after work – when there weren’t other demands on my time – I could pull a boat I kept stashed under the building and spend half an hour quietly gliding, carving, and just “being” with the river.
When I got up off my knees – first with a pole in the canoe and then with a paddle on the board – the practice continued. The goal is always to see how deeply I can relax and how little effort can be used to keep the craft suspended on the riffle.
My meditation sessions at the Ferry Ledge have played a critical role in learning to move around on the board with purpose and confidence – more so than time spent on still water or on class 2+ whitewater. Today I think less about my feet and more about the orientation of the board in the current. With these exercises as well as others footwork can become intuitive and automatic allowing the mind to focus on the interaction of the board with the flowing water. Body position, then, becomes a means to an end rather than a reactive afterthought.
I recommend beginning with cross-stepping first on solid ground and then on still water – I’ve got a post on cross-stepping that’s been in the works for MONTHS! [UPDATE 2017-Aug-30: Cross Stepping for Whitewater] Learning to cross-step on demand with no more thought than required to navigate a crowded party is – for a whitewater stand up paddler – akin to a whitewater kayaker’s need for a “bomb-proof” Eskimo-roll.
Riffle Meditation is also a great place to refine your paddle work. Lately I’ve been focusing on cleaning up the “catch” phase of my strokes – forward, draw, pry, sweep, whatever – making sure I don’t prematurely load the blade before it’s fully engaged in the water. Quiet water also gives me space to pay attention to body posture and rotation as well as the principle that drives almost all of my paddle-work – vertical paddle shaft.
Standing and gliding and surfing and experimenting on a quiet riffle … beyond the point of boredom … bonds you to the sensation of moving water. I’m still not sure how to put my ideas into words but becoming mentally “at home” suspended over the rocky riverbed by a mass of flowing water does wonders for intuitively understanding the fundamentals of that same water in a larger, steeper riverbed. Synapses get connected more easily during quiet, reflective moments … at least that’s what I think. Hmmm – might need to research that.
More to come.
[– META Addendum –]
The video that inspires this post began as an experiment with a new camera-rigging system I came up with. The intention was simply to test, learn, and then most likely trash the resulting video. But when I added some effects and a musical sound track by my friend and local songwriter, Joshua Shelton, it suddenly turned into this. I think it works because my head is chopped out almost entirely.
Josh, by the way, plays all over central North Carolina alone and with various ensembles – most recently he’s hooked up with Tyler Nail and his new project. In addition, Josh teaches guitar lessons, slings coffee at The Hive in Winston-Salem, and pints of craft ale at the Green Heron Ale House in Danbury/Hanging Rock.
Music: “Under Current” by Joshua Shelton https://soundcloud.com/joshua-shelton-5/under-current
More about Joshua at: https://www.facebook.com/joshua.shelton.7355