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The Edge Isn’t Comfortable…

I don’t know when the change happened, whether it was a gradual awakening or a sudden realisation, but I have woken up. I have realised that there really is only one person’s opinion of me that is truly important, one that matters more than any others, and that is my own. And, this has undoubtedly made me a better leader and coach, and I have been able to give myself permission to move away from ‘the edge’.

You see, with this realisation, there comes ownership and a sense of release. The release is in the knowledge that you do not have to do anything simply to impress others. In this era of sharing, likes, kudos and followers we can start to believe that people are watching us and keeping score of our achievements. This leads almost inexorably into doing ever more difficult and dangerous challenges, raising the bar all the time, living on the edge simply to draw attention to ourselves and impress our ever demanding audience. The growing body of evidence surrounding the number of people who are dying taking selfies is alarming, and looking more specifically at risk sports, it is my opinion that people are pushing harder and, critically, sooner than ever before.

Part of the problem is that we, as a collective, are sending out the wrong messages. If you search for footage of ‘whitewater kayaking’, ‘mountain biking’ or even ‘sea kayaking’ you are unlikely to be led to imagery of ordinary athletes having a good time, and instead will be led to talented extreme athletes at the top of their games doing dangerous and outrageous things. Now I am all for the best athletes pushing themselves and the envelopes of the sport. It is and has always been a part of the magic of extreme sports, but it is almost disrespectful not to acknowledge the rare combination of aptitude, practice and experience that has allowed the athletes at the top of the sport to excel. Too many people now judge themselves by these standards, see them as achievable and race towards them at all costs. The prevalence of the ‘go big or go home’ tribe can make people push themselves too hard too soon, with sometimes terrible consequences, or persuade others to leave the sport, feeling inadequate failures because they can’t ‘keep up’.

You see, living on the edge isn’t comfortable. Hits of adrenaline are fun for a while, but there is more to all of these sports than subjecting yourself to a series of ever more difficult challenges; higher grade rivers, more demanding conditions, bigger swells, steeper trails, double black diamonds and ‘gnarly drops’. It is mentally exhausting, physically destructive and, most of all, can start to make you dread the next time you have to suit up and get out there.

But there is hope. There is joy to be had in mastery of skills, in fun days with friends on familiar terrain, in playing at your local spots and surfing, shredding, skidding, slaloming and smiling all afternoon. Remember that every time you go out is not a competition, nobody is actually keeping score. You can break the cycle, do what YOU enjoy rather than what you think THE TRIBE expect of you and just maybe you can relax and bask in the flow and simple pleasures that outdoor sports bring.

But please don’t think this blog means I am against pushing yourself, improving skills and finding your limits. I said up front that the realisation gave me both a sense of ownership and release. Ownership of my progression, my journey, setting my own goals and deciding for myself what is important and achievable, what risks I am prepared to take and what sacrifices I am happy to make. Absolutely, go out and find your edge, it would be hugely hypocritical of me to suggest you shouldn’t. Just do it for the right reasons, for yourself, and set realistic expectations of yourself. And then enjoy achieving them…

I recently started playing tennis again after more than 20 years away from the sport and am enjoying developing my skills, but I don’t ever expect myself to achieve Roger Federer’s excellence, and don’t feel this means that I am a failure as a tennis player. So why when I get in my boat would I expect myself to match Dane Jackson’s achievements? Or climb onto my bike and ride like Danny MacAskill? We are not failures simply because we cannot do what the very best can do, we are not even failures if we cannot do what some of our friends do. We are only failures if we lose who we are and forget that we all originally got into these sports to have fun.

Go hard or go home? Thanks for that unnecessary ultimatum, but if that is really your attitude, I think I’ll go home…

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  1. Sarah

    So well said, spot on!

  2. Linz

    Super powerful and well written, you have evolved Yoda!

  3. David Farin

    After 40 years of paddling whitewater, I’ld suggest going elsewhere instead of going home. There may be a period where running harder and harder stuff is a thing, but willingness to shoulder the boat or decline an invitation to run a reach that feels like too big of a step goes hand in hand. Consider the risks and listen to your gut. You gain a sense of independence and self-determination vital to adventure and challenge activities. By the way, stepping back from the stuff that put you on the edge doesn’t make the sport boring. Equipment and techniques keep evolving, so there is always something to learn. There will be new people to share the sport with whom you can mentor. And there are many, many places one can discover where what’s around the bend will be new.

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