Knowledge + thoughtful experience with reflection = understanding.
Understanding will assist paddlers in anticipating and predicting the effects different river features will have on them. This will inform their scouting, choice of lines, and planning (decision making).
Take time to learn about different river features, but also work to experience and feel these features as well. Here are a few points to consider when you’re looking to experience/experiment with river features:
-Paddle with a patient, supportive, and experienced group.
-Consider the “what if’s” (what if the feature flips me over, what if I get stuck in the feature, what's immediately downstream of the feature, etc.).
-Aim to develop these experiences in as controlled an environment as possible (remember we’re focused on learning not simply surviving).
-A quality instructor or coach can support this learning process through sharing or initiating/prompting meaningful feedback (extrinsic or intrinsic).
**While likely obvious, we don’t need to directly experience/feel river hazards (undercut rocks, sieves, strainers, etc.) to know that we should do everything possible to avoid them (including portaging).
Additional perspectives from close friends and colleagues: (paraphrasing)
Mary and Phil DeRiemer: “Instead of thinking of them as river obstacles, why don’t we consider them as opportunities. They can be opportunities to use our skills to avoid, or opportunities to work with and use the river feature.”
Nate Ostis: “Don't underestimate the powerful learning that comes from deliberate swimming and wading in rapids, using different features to assist our movement throughout the river."
Once we understand the effects different river features will have on us, we can more accurately assess/scout rapids and make informed decisions. Lastly and worth noting, "understanding" can and will very likely increase our confidence on the river, or in the words of my friend and colleague, Jess Matheson, “we can increase confidence through competence”. Happy paddling.