Risk vs. Adventure

Hi ya’ll …

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the risks involved in adventure paddling. Specifically, skill level and the particular requirements of a planned adventure. While I consider myself an ‘intermediate’ level paddler, I do have quite a bit of experience (beach cat sailing, small power skiffs, and for the last several years sea kayaks) on the water, especially in the Sea of Cortez - My destination of choice - where I have taken on trips that some might argue require an ‘experienced’ skill level.

In paddling magazines and online I have read several articles that criticize inexperienced paddlers for taking on adventures beyond their skill level. But for me this begs the question: How does one gain the skill level necessary to successfully complete adventures that require taking risks that (supposedly) only ‘experienced’ kayakers know how to assess and surpass?

For me the answer is simple: I prepare as best as possible (safety-wise and fitness-wise) and I let the trip be the teacher – the changing weather and coastline have always presented a challenge. I’ve never been better than the most severe conditions I’ve encountered and so I have always been challenged. But I also feel I’ve made good choices when deciding whether to paddle or not to paddle given the conditions and my perceived skill level.

What about you? How do you go about planning your adventure? Do you step it up a notch and expect to be challenged and hopefully grow in skill level or do you plan according to your skills and keep the risks low?

Without challenges and the lessons learned from mistakes and experience how does anyone increase their knowledge and skills?



I think you’re doing it right
Everyone has their own acceptable risk levels. I don’t take risks like I used to when I was younger and single - I have two daughters and a wife that depend on me. Not that I was ever a dare-devil either.

My excursions are in south Florida coastal and the Everglades so I don’t need to worry much about cold water and the biggest risk may be in getting lost for a day or so.

Of course bad accidents can happen anywhere but that is an acceptable risk as long as you are somewhat prepared. Can’t be prepared for everything nor too conservative otherwise you would not do anything. That said, people can’t change their internal feelings and some probably should not take risks at all.

The problem may evolve as you’re in a group and not everyone is at the same skill level AND they have different ideas of acceptable risks. I like to push people beyond their own perceived limits but at what I see as not much of a risk.

Be careful- but not too careful!

Hope this helps…

Skill Development can involve many
methods and of course is subject to much personal interpretation. Many kayak trainers encourage skill development in the presence of more highly trained and skilled paddlers so that good techniques and safety ideals can be passed on. Practice is a good idea in controlled situations so that the risk is minimized. But I have also accomplished most of my “learning” on my own, out in the real water world. For me its all about risk assessment and planning. Sure, the unexpected comes up but common sense decision making should generally save the day. But life is not problem free so plan for the unexpected as best you can and enjoy being out there.

The weak whine
You’re doing it right. Plan the best you can and go for the Gold.

I listen to me. It’s my life. The weak are the ones who are over protective. No one is ever ready for the next step.

Was Columbus prepared? Was Alan Sheppard prepared. Was I? No, and the whiners whinned and I paddled on.

Paddlin’ on


The weak whine
You’re doing it right. Plan the best you can and go for the Gold.

I listen to me. It’s my life. The weak are the ones who are over protective. No one is ever ready for the next step.

Was Columbus prepared? Was Alan Sheppard prepared. Was Sir Edmund Hillary prepared? Was I? No, and the whiners whinned while we succeeded.

Nothing is accomplished without taking a risk and nothing has ever been accomplished without taking a risk.

Paddlin’ on


>How does one gain the skill level necessary to successfully complete adventures that require taking risks that (supposedly) only ‘experienced’ kayakers know how to assess and surpass?

You go on trips with experienced kayakers and learn from them.

Not exactly

– Last Updated: Apr-19-08 4:55 PM EST –

Columbus was prepared. His trip turned out different than his expectations, but he was no intermediate sailor.

Sending off on an advanced adventure, when you're an intermediate paddlers, is much of bravado and has not so much to do with bravery as it does stupidity and recklessness. Pick wilderness adventures according to skill level and push yourself to higher skills when the safety net of experience is near.

At some point on a trip, there may be a point to push boundaries and at those points the reward, skill level, and risks should be weighed.

Gotta make some mistakes to learn…

– Last Updated: Apr-25-08 10:54 PM EST –

...the trick is keeping them small enough that you're still around to learn from them.

I faced the same thing in hang-gliding -- the only way to gain the skills to fly in stronger conditions is to fly in stronger conditions. So you work up to it slowly, and only bump up one variable at a time. Trying new equipment at a new site in unfamiliar conditions is usually a bad idea.

I try to do the same thing in paddling -- so if I'm going out solo in more challenging conditions, I try to do it in a forgiving location, like upwind of a safe beach where I'd have a good chance of surviving a swim. For me, going out in larger-than-comfortable conditions somewhere with no bailout option would cross the line of reasonable risk.

I take fewer physical risks now than when I was single. There are people relying on me to come home.

Exactly - go with more experienced paddlers. You’ll learn a lot from them and they’ll (usually) be happy to teach. For a beginner, this could mean going with an outfitter which is what I did for my first trip to the Apostle Islands. One of the most important skill to learn from experienced paddlers is how to “really” assess the conditions and risks.

The problem with just going for it is when someone’s actions cause rescuers to put their lives on the line to get someone out of the trouble they shouldn’t have been in to begin with (see skill mention above). Usually it’ll work out OK but I don’t know that “usually” is acceptable.

I go out tripping with my wife. We
would like to have another paddler or two but can never find one. We are gradually increasing our tripping skills. It is difficult finding a trip that balances our experience level with having enough new challenges to make us better trippers. Going out solo like we do makes us cautious with our trips.

Actually the more we trip the more cautious we are since we know more things that can go wrong like getting caught in a squall on a lake and being too far from shore, or being close to shore and not having a place to land. We made some dumb mistakes on trips that got us into trouble so we don’t want to add to them all the mistakes made by doing a trip that we don’t have enough experience to make.

We have enough experience now that we could make a more extreme remote trip; however, we don’t feel comfortable making an extreme trip solo. That of course is a personal decision of how far do you want to push the envelope solo. For us now it isn’t so much a lack of experience, but what we think is an acceptable risk.

the thing about whining
besides the fact that nobody really listens to it much, is that it doesn’t change a thing.

lotta truth
in that—I tend to push my limits when I’m with experienced kayakers who want to do the same—two advantages to this—the first is there is someone there to lend a hand in the event of trouble and the second is that they know how to lend a hand.

When I’m guiding beginners I don’t tend to push the limits(although some of my clients might disagree, like the young lady who wanted me to call a Coast Guard rescue chopper because she had a couple of blisters–one on each hand–or the older lady who complained that she got tired when she had to paddle against the wind–in a tandem no less–and told me that we should require a physical fitness test before we took her out)

When I’m by myself I tend to push myself but not as hard as when I’m with more advanced companions.

couple of blisters

Risk v adventure
Interesting story, inspiring words from Ed Gillet.


If there is no risk…
It is not much of an adventure is it?

that’s not the question
because there is always risk. The question is how much risk can the paddler manage?

Who decides how much risk…
a paddler can handle? The media,the so called experts in a field,the guide. I think not. It has to be a personal decision for the individual. You can never be prepared for all that mother nature can throw at you. Many times it is the experienced who gets into trouble. Does that mean they were not prepared all of a sudden because things went haywire? Again I think not. It is the so called experts or some adventure magizine writer sticking their chest out and going I told you so. Amazing feats have been pulled off by inexperienced people and experienced people have died because of events you can not plan for . You are right the risk is always there and you can never be prepared for the worst that can happen.

A key component in any trip is risk assessment. Most individuals consider what the chances are of something bad happening verses the consequences of it happening. Example would be; Should I bring a radio, I’m probably not going to need it. Instead; I’m going to bring a radio, if the need arise for one and I don’t have it, it could be fatal. I also think that people should consider the pay out verses the risk.

The Paddler
The paddler decides how much risk he/she can handle and manages that risk. The trick is not falling prey of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

It ain’t an adventure unless…

– Last Updated: May-01-08 7:26 PM EST –

there is a risk

... the bigger the risk, the better the adventure and I love adventures.

I take risks all of the time and as a solo paddler I try to keep the odds in my favor.

Be wise, and paddle smart. The life you lose could be ...yours.

Paddlin' on