Badass or Bad choice?

Adventure athletes are in a serious one-upmanship competition. Every time we turn around someone has wing-suit jumped through a hula hoop, unicycled off the top of a mountain, kayaked down a thought-to-be unrunable rapid. We’re numbed to even the most extreme sports. I am exhausted by it to the extent of tuning it out. Well, almost all of it. This video below caught my attention because of all the badass comments and accolades associated with it. This is a video of Nouria Newman, a world class whitewater kayaker, taking a solo kayak trip in India. I commend her for putting this out there for us to see. What’s shocking is that people watch this and elevate her to hero status for barely surviving her own choices. I don’t have a problem with someone doing a solo trip, I understand the desire to do something on your own, but my experience is that we set ourselves up for success by taking precautions and making smart decisions. I take issue with this video because Nouria sets an example as a high profile athlete who represents the sport of kayaking while making a series of questionable decisions. At the end she is glorified for surviving. She hadn’t really planned her solo trip in the cold and remote location of the Himalaya, it was more of a spur of the moment schedule change. She didn’t have all of the insulating clothing she could have had if she had planned better. She had never been on these rivers before and was going alone using hearsay and remote images for beta. The volume was higher than she planned for. On day two she underestimates part of the run and does not scout a rapid. As a result of not scouting and underestimating the difficulty, she faces a life threatening situation. We see her getting pinned against a rock, exit her boat and fall into a siphon (hole in the rock where water is pushing down and through). She is lucky enough that she fit through the opening in the bottom to come out. She swims through the icy water chasing her boat and paddle. She works hard to get her gear to shore and pull herself together before paddling on. There may be numerous other circumstances, but we’ll never know. No where in the video do we see any footage of her scouting anything. This would have been a great addition to the video for at least two reasons. It would have given the viewer a perspective on what she saw in size and scale. It would set an example that even the best in the business still get out to scout the lines on an unknown river. She says that she has her communication device, identification, money and credit cards in a dry bag that she abandons on the siphon rock. This sounds like a completely rookie move to not have all of your safety equipment on your body, especially when you’re solo. She later recovered the items from the rock. She says she’s scared and cold after the swim, but there’s not much discussion about her choices that got her there. I would like to see that part. In photos of her showing her gear it appears she’s using a dry suit that doesn’t have dry feet attached – leading her to be unnecessarily colder. She doesn’t have poggies (hand covers for the paddle). She also appears to be barefoot on shore in the icy temperatures, having only her wet boating shoes. Sure she’s toughing out the cold, but she could have just brought the right gear. Is that badass? Her ability to take a swim like that and pull herself and gear back together and carry on is badass. The decisions that got her there in the first place – not so much. This video sends the message that pushing the risk can work out just fine. But it’s not always a happy ending. I want to see more than the famous person getting fame. I want to hear the conversation about their decision process. I want to hear what they would tell a 12 year old kid about getting involved in an adventure sport and what kind of risk they would allow that kid to take if they were responsible for them. Let’s take a look at Alex Honnold soloing El Capitan. This is a high risk feat and Alex has extensively discussed how he approaches the risk to make it as safe as possible for himself. Now, some people will still call him crazy. I call him calculated and driven for the deepest, most personal reasons. He didn’t just decide to climb El Capitan on one day and do it the next week. He practiced on the route. We have a lot of kayak porn out there. Is there more to it? Does anyone else want to know if the fireside conversation ever gets beyond the next huck-fest? I do respect the right to privacy and understand that some athletes just don’t like to talk about what they do. Nouria has taken this to the extreme- a couple friends and I on separate occasions have been snubbed from even an introduction to her. But once you start carrying big name sponsors and representing as the pinnacle of your sport, you’ve got to step up to being more than a neck-down athlete. Younger athletes are going to want to emulate their role models. We don’t all have the world class mentors to have discussions with about when to take risk and when not to. So how about including some of that for them to chew on, especially when you recognize you’ve made a bad decision. So here’s my call out to all those who would be badasses. Can you talk us through your walk? Give us more than the slam sessions. Prove to us that you’re more than reckless. Tell us how you mitigate your risk and the risk to those around you. Maybe help save some future lives by sharing knowledge. I love the money shots and seeing you succeed. I want to cheer you on, but I won’t congratulate a great athlete for surviving an unnecessarily stupid decision. For more of Nouria’s story, check out this link:

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