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Running A Rapid: My Decision-Making Process

Quite a few of my paddling friends call me ballsy. Not the politically correct ones, of course. I don’t really see it because whenever I choose to run a rapid or feature, I’ve calculated the risk, and my decision seems perfectly logical to me.

I have only ever made the decision to portage a rapid once; the rest of the times I’ve portaged, that decision has been made for me by more experienced paddlers. The rapid I portaged by choice was Crack of Doom on the Middle Etive. I never thought I’d be able to say I’d portaged a runnable rapid and had no regrets over doing so, but I was wrong; I don’t regret portaging.

Crack of Doom on the Middle Etive; weighing it up!

Here are the three things I take into consideration when running a rapid.

Is it within my capabilities?

I am a confident grade three paddler, so I wouldn’t think twice about running anything that’s grade three or lower. I’m now starting to run grade four, and I have to assess the feature and determine whether I have the skill set to get over it. Confidence can come into play here too, I need to feel confident that I can do it. However, I don’t necessarily need to believe in my skill set if there are no nasty consequences if everything goes wrong. Which leads me on to my next point.

Can I handle the consequences?

Against my skill set, what is the worst thing that could happen? Reading water is not something that comes naturally to me, but I will give it a go, and then check with a more experienced paddler to figure out if I’ve got the right idea. If the worst case scenario is that I could swim, and there’s safety/it’s easy enough to swim out, I may choose to run the rapid even if I’m not feeling confident that I’ve got the skills to pull it off. If the consequences are that I’ll get stuck in a hole and may take a bit of a beating, but it’s not too sticky, and I have faith in my ability to hit my line and punch through it, I’m going to give it a go. If the consequence is a nasty swim and I don’t have confidence in myself, I’ll portage it.

Am I going to enjoy it?

I suppose you could say I’m a bit of an adrenaline junky. Getting through a rapid that challenges me will undoubtedly give me an adrenaline rush; and I love it. I thrive off them. I genuinely love being on the water and tackling rapids that push me to improve my paddling. Most of the time, I will enjoy running the feature. The only time I have decided I wouldn’t enjoy a rapid was Crack of Doom, and my lack of confidence alongside the belief that I was going to end up swimming and getting recirculated in a hole left me feeling sure I wouldn’t enjoy it. Another day, and a positive mindset, I’m sure I’d have wanted to run it. But the decision I made was right for how I was feeling on the day.

So, there you have it. My three considerations when choosing whether or not to run a rapid. Logical right? In all honesty, the reason I run most rapids and features that I come up against (within reason, I don’t run grade five rapids at present, and I may never), is that I am confident that I can handle the consequences and still enjoy myself. And that is the biggest confidence boost you can give yourself on the river.

Once I’ve decided to run a rapid, I need to head off and do it as soon as possible. Until recently, I’d always thought that I benefitted from being a tail end Charlie, but I paid for some coaching, and it was pointed out that I performed better when I was one of the first to run the challenging feature. The coach was right. I start to feel really sick when I’m nervous, and the longer I wait, the more those nerves build up, and that’s when doubt starts to creep in. Now, I just get up and go the second that I get the opportunity to.

I haven’t written this because I think everyone should think about running features in the same way that I do; everyone is different. Sometimes seeing someone else’s rationale can make you look at something in a new light, or it can even help you see what you do differently, or with more clarity. And if it’s done none of the above, it’s helped me to really define my thought process, so, er, thanks for reading?

Words and pictures: Leanne Baker.

Check out her blog here.


  1. Atvars

    while you are young and strong everything is fine. Shit happens when you have done lot 4-5th class rivers, but you are already over 50. Your spirit is still there, but no more power

  2. Penelope

    interesting and clear. Can we have a working link to the blog please? Ta

    • Unsponsored

      Website link to blog is correct. It looks like it is down!

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