Owls and Ostriches

Some kayakers that I know have a death wish. They bomb down Class V runs with reckless abandon. It seems like a matter of time before they run that waterfall that has trapped deadwood underneath it. Such an obstacle would trap the boat, and the force of the river would pin the boater underwater. They're like ostriches, ignoring the danger with their head in the sand.

There's another kind of boater, though. When I first started kayaking, I scouted everything. I would stop at the most casual Class II+ (beginner) ripple to look it over and set up safety ropes for 45 minutes before making the run. Often, I'd run out of time on a river, and be forced to bomb down a bottom section to complete it before nightfall. Now, I rarely get out of my boat to scout most minor rapids. In certain places, it's just not practical. Instead, I use chase boating techniques, invented in the narrow, steep rivers of the Southeast, to improve my chances. I don't boat this way because I like danger. In fact, I've honed my instincts to understand where danger is most likely to be. I boat this way because it lets me focus my scouting time where I need it most. These boaters are the owls.

It comes down to this. I'll often ignore risks involving minor consequences or low frequencies because dealing with the risk is not wise. Managing the risks properly may take too much effort, money, or time, opening me up to additional risk, which brings me back to owls and ostriches . Normally, there's a huge difference between the two, but occasionally, owls will get overconfident or make minor errors in risk assessment, and convince themselves to run something dangerous without scouting. That's happened to me. I've run the same creek hundreds of times, and something changes like higher river levels or the creek bed after a flood. There's a fine line between owls and ostriches. Sometimes, it's even tough to tell the difference between the two. As a kayaker, even if I've decided to ignore certain kinds of risks on certain rivers and conditions, I've sometimes got to step back and reassess the risk. That's the subject of this tutorial.