How far to push?

A little while ago I read an article - describing a kayaker’s death in 1997, written by the friend he was paddling with and it is one of those articles that makes you stop and think. Considering how many years I’ve been taking part in different adventurous activities, I’ve lost surprisingly few friends to those activities. I’ve been pondering whether to publish this article or not for quite a while, I finally figured that yes I would.


What interested me most was this comment by Eric Jackson (for those of you who don’t know much about kayaking EJ is a pretty famous and good kayaker – freestyle world champion several times and founder of Jackson kayaks).

Hmm… Is it worth it? Yes, was my answer, and I decided I wanted to be the person I wanted to be, whether I was a father or not. I think it is a good lesson to kids when the parent shows how to live your life according to your own dreams and not make the kids the reason you compromise yourself. That empowers your kids to be strong and not assume that you can’t be who you want to be

So why did this quote interest me? Simple – because I made the other choice, I backed off from testing my limits I can even remember it as a pretty conscious decision before I had kids. It was 1993 and I was on a trip to Norway (there’s an article floating around on this site about the trip). So 6 years before kids arrived, what changed about me to make me back off? Simple, after knowing her for a couple of years, I had started going out with the lady who is still my wife today. I genuinely found myself in Norway looking at drops and rather than ‘just going for it’ I found myself thinking ‘nope I don’t want to push my luck, I want to get back safe’.

I can then link into a whole host of other thought patterns – was this just a realization that I wasn’t as good as I had thought I was? or a slow accumulation of old injuries lurking in the back of my head? Was it just a sensible progression of growing up? Or had this lady genuinely touched me that much? I think there may be some elements of all of those questions at play , but (even though it sounds cheesy) was profoundly impacted by this lady. I changed my risk assessment from I can probably make that to I am certain I can make that. That change in risk assessment has impacted in many areas from choice of sports to choice of career paths, but more than anything there was a change along with it in appreciation of what I do. Nailing fun moves on a lower grade river or spending chunks of a descent of CIWW with the nose of my boat in the air as I bought something stupidly small bring me big smiles. This spreads into other sports, for example, where much of my effort prior to this change could be argued as trying to perfect the big move, archery is about trying to perfect smaller moves repeatedly time and time again and you know what - it still makes me feel good.


I’m not saying that I don’t encourage my kids to be adventurous, I’ve taken them out / encouraged them to do plenty of fun stuff (from surfing to indoor sky-diving), but my risk assessments have altered. My kids love being out of doors, and I feel I need to nurture that in a similar way to the way that I was introduced to ever more challenging kayaking or slowly increasing complexity of climbs. It was done in such a way that enabled me to learn about risk, about mitigating risk and understanding how far mitigations can go. One day I am hoping that I can take my children out to far more challenging environments and see whether they enjoy getting close to the limits as much as I have. (Climbing the El Caminito Del Rey is still on my to do list, but not sure which of the children might be interested). It may just be that they get hooked on a different set of activities than I have, but one thing I will guarantee is that I will do my best to support them in whatever choice they make.