The Crush: Rapid Developments

The rapid was like so many things in life: very easy to get into, not so simple to get out. That was part of the attraction. The glassy green tongue of the river slotted neatly into a foaming diagonal wave. I picked my line in carefully, lazily slanting my kayak across the tongue and then driving it squarely through the wave into the eddy beyond. Phil followed me in, overpowering his last stroke and spinning into me. He roared with laughter, the way we both did when we didn’t get something quite right, covering up the fear of the one time that it might really matter.

“Where next?” I asked. He grinned at me, eyes holding mine, looking for the bond that joined us. I laughed back, channeling my adrenaline into excitement, away from fear.

“Cross over, hit the right hand side of the wave train, drop between the boulders and break out into the eddy behind the left one. Just follow me,” he replied.

Inspecting rapids helps you to identify where you need to be on the water, and where you can take refuge to get your breath. It can also make you nervous, focus you on the hazards he was avoiding mentioning. If I have a fault, paddling, it’s that. When I’m reading rapids sometimes all I can see is the rocks, the stoppers (recycling waves that hold you) and the trees. I have to stop, draw breath and look back again, drawing the lines of messy water that a kayak can dance along, connecting top to eddy to bottom in a joyous, skipping flow. We’d spent ten minutes eating trail mix and joining the dots. James and Mia had opted out, portaged past and were waiting anxiously at the bottom, rescue ropes at the ready.

Phil nodded, then led out and I followed. I felt the tug of the water as I crossed the flow and turned onto the planned line. Phil was already five metres ahead, passing between the boulders and setting his boat up for the turn into the calm below. I focused, not thinking too far ahead, placing each paddle stroke carefully: left on the crest of the wave, right in the clean flow of the next tongue, pushing myself neatly into the top of the eddy. Phil looked nervous again, scanning the water below, which quickly faded to nothing more than a horizon line, and a faint mist of spray below. I could see James’ head; the rest of him was hidden below the fall.

“Are you sure of your line?” The shake in his voice was barely perceptible. If I didn’t know him so well I wouldn’t have spotted it. His blue eyes sparkled under his helmet.

I started kayaking looking for something positive, manly even, to talk about; something that would let me hold my head up in the pub when people talked of rugby or football - sports I couldn’t play and didn’t enjoy watching. It had the advantages that no-one I knew was likely to see me fail and if I failed in the right place it even might put me out of my misery . As luck would have it I found my happy place, small plastic boats on rivers, and I was planning to take them with me into transition.

“Absolutely. Your turn to follow.”

I drove my boat out into the flow, bows upstream, crossing the flow in a ferry glide, watching for the right hand rock to be in the right place, then whirled around, accelerated towards the lip of the fall and planted my paddle squarely on the edge, pushing out in a perfect trajectory, crossing the wave below, barely touching it and pulling clear of the turbulent water. I turned the boat around in time to see Phil do the same, falling a little short, but snatching himself back with a powerful stroke.

We spun into an eddy, one after the other laughing, bodies flooding with exhilaration, hitting a high five which morphed into a hug, then a kiss. I felt him react, stiffen, and pull away. Mia’s shriek of delight from the bank above tailed off in surprise. I looked into his startled eyes and knew: I was going to have to find a new paddling partner.

For now, though, it looked as if I would be coming out.

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This story is 735 words long.