Three and a half years. That’s how long I’ve been working as a writer at Carleton University — and how long I’ve been looking at the rapids on the Rideau River, just upstream from the O-Train bridge, thinking about taking a run at them on my paddleboard. It doesn’t help (or hurt, depending on your perspective) that my office is about 50 feet from the river, with windows looking out onto the water, or that the kitchen I use is on the fourth floor of the building, looking straight down at the spot where the river drops over a rock shelf and continues as a torrent of whitewater during the spring freshet. Standing beside the river, it looks like a chaotic rush of current and waves. But from above, a clean line through the drop is clearly visible, and while waiting for my lunch to warm up in the microwave, I’d look at that line, thinking: someday….
I’ve put-in a bunch of times just below the bridge, where the rapids begin to settle down, and do one-way paddles to the end of the river before taking the bus home. And I’ve become much more comfortable in what paddlers call “dynamic conditions,” starting to surf the standing waves on the Ottawa River at Bate Island and getting in as much SUP surfing as I can on trips to the east and west coasts of Canada. But I had yet to tackle my home rapids, and the yearning was becoming pretty intense.
Finally, this past Saturday, with my 10-foot-6 inflatable SUP from Ottawa-based Level Six, as well as a drysuit and quick-release leash from Level Six, and a paddling helmet borrowed from an awesome neighbour, I gave it a shot. On my first attempt I went too far river right, missed the line and you can see the consequences (pictures below — with my very patient and understanding wife, Lisa Gregoire, shooting stills, and our daughter Maggie on video duty).
But I managed to climb back onto the board and finish the run upright.
And then I walked back upstream for a second attempt, focused on nailing that line.
Not a bad way to spend a Saturday evening in Ottawa.
There’s something to be said, I suppose, about the value of confronting and overcoming challenges — about picking up knowledge and skills and experience to minimize risk, and then givin’ ‘er when you’re ready — but I haven’t come up with any big conclusions about this experience yet. Although I may have left my SUP and paddling gear in my office, and may be getting back onto those rapids soon.