Play, Getting Flipped, and Overcoming Fear

Megan Bryan



As a beach girl who wants to be in the ocean every day, leaving the sea for a mountain vacation is bittersweet. I miss the salt air, timing my day by the tides, paddling in the waves, and picking up seafood after surfing. But there is something enchanting about the mountains and paddle boarding in mountain rivers and lakes. The water (except in rapids) is calmer, the wildlife is different, and there are trees all around you. The lure of the water—the lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and rapids—so different from the saltwater and waves of the ocean, is still strong. 




When I was a teenager, I almost died in a kayak. I was paddling the Chattooga River when I flipped my kayak on a rapid. Though I knew how to roll a kayak and was not inexperienced, the tip of my kayak got caught in an eddy, and I was unable to right myself. I began to panic. I could not problem solve my way out of the situation. And I was upside down, underwater, about to suck water into my lungs. I was saved by an instructor who bumped my boat, and I was able to grab his nose. 


mtn paddling 3


I guess this is a lot like life. Every so often, you find yourself upside down, stuck in a eddy, unable to right yourself. But fear can keep us from really playing, really living, really doing the things we love to do if we become afraid of "flipping."




Sometimes we need a bit of help, but more importantly, sometimes we need to fight the fear that keeps us from being willing to be flipped upside down, and unwilling to play.




Next week, I am heading to Nantahala Outdoor Center to meet with the fun folks who teach kayaking, canoeing, whitewater rafting, and general outdoorsmanship. The NOC hosts over two million visitors annually and has eight locations across the Southeast. I met Joe Jacobi, one of the directors of NOC and a former Olympic gold medalist in canoeing, recently when he visited Charleston. I will be getting back into a kayak for the first time since that incident, over 20 years ago. 




The crew at NOC, like Saltwater Chef, are big believers in play as the way to health, living life outdoors, and in challenging yourself beyond what you think you can do. As kids, we do not hesitate to play; it is as natural as breathing. We do not fear getting hurt. Somewhere along the way, we begin to be afraid of anything that is not totally "safe." We quit living and start slowly dying.


Joe, who uses his Olympic background to inspire and motivate others, shared an article he wrote called "Time Between Rolls," and I thought I would pass it along. Heres a portion of Joe's article:


"You see . . . This isn’t about kayaking . . . We all have our river—that place we know we want to be. Where we thrive. Where we come alive. Just that one barrier stands in the way. How did we let so much time pass between rolls?

To be sharp on your roll is to be ready to take action against these negative forces. As we slow down our practice of taking action, it becomes easier to allow the possibility of the negative forces dissuade us from doing something we like—maybe something we LOVE—in the first place.

Flip yourself. Often. Soon."


mtns paddle