things I know to be true about who I am. I’m a good teacher and a
good friend. I like fiddle music and cowboys and I’m an open boater.
At least I thought I was.
years ago I was dating an adventurer photographer/ kayaker on the
Chattooga. It didn’t take long for me to get in a kayak. I was really
bad at it. Memorably bad. I didn’t kayak — I swam, constantly. Then
one fateful night I had a dream about a golden canoe with wings and
thought, “That’s it. God wants me to be an open boater.”I
told the open boaters I paddled with that I wanted to switch to an
open boat and they were more than supportive.
McCorvey helped me find a boat and Pat Hagen spent a weekend teaching
me how to paddle. I was much better and much happier in an open boat
than I had ever been in a kayak. It suited me perfectly.
had hundred yard swims on the Ocoee, a life changing day on Little
River Canyon, a peak experience on the Mulberry at flood and endless
joy on the Tellico and Chattooga. I was never going to be as good an
open boater as the people who got me into it, but I was good enough
and getting better, depending on how often I paddled. Even three
summers of injuries and a serious pin didn’t keep me out of my boat
for very long.
seduction is a funny thing and comes in many shapes and sizes, often
when you are least expecting it. In my case it was a simple thing. I
wanted to be cool. And let’s face it, kayakers are cool. They aren’t,
and will never be, River Gods — that title is for C-1 boaters —
but kayakers are cool. Like it or not, they are never going to make
commercials about hip open boaters. It just isn’t going to happen.
it was the fact that the group of women I paddle with all paddle
kayaks. Or I just got tired of people asking me if I was going
kayaking when I have a blue Outrage on top of my truck. Whatever the
reason, I was slowly being seduced by the dark side.
was little things, trying out Debbie Dargis’ kayak on the Upper
Chattahoochee because an ankle injury was keeping me out of my boat,
hanging out with Revel Freeman and Rick Battaglia, kayakers I started
boating with, listening to kayakers talk about their new boats and
gear while my boat and gear had so many patches that a kayaker
accused me of looking like an extra from the Beverly Hillbillies.
just before a weekend trip with Barbara Barrett, Jamie Higgins, Kelly
Harbac, Gretchen Mallins, and Kate, my boat got a rip in one of the
patches. Now it just so happened that Kelly had an extra boat, an
extra spray skirt and a paddle I could borrow for the weekend. It was
so easy to ask her to borrow it and the next thing you know I was in
was pretty good, better than I thought I would be and better than
they thought I would be. At least one of them was seen rubbing her
hands and cackling about carnage. I have pretty good balance and
wasn’t afraid of swimming. I knew that I couldn’t slam into eddies
the way I could with my Outrage and I expected to have trouble
reading the river. It’s not nearly as easy to see what’s coming in a
kayak the way it is in an open boat.
I didn’t expect to have trouble with was getting in and out. Now I
know why kayakers don’t like to get out of their boat. It’s a pain in
the neck. It took me a good ten minutes to figure out how to get out
of my boat without a bank to pull it up on. Then I couldn’t get back
in. For some reasons known only to them, Gretchen, Kelly, Barbara,
Jamie and Kate all thought the phrase, “I need help, I can’t get
back in my boat.” was hysterical and burst into fits of giggles.
day was nice enough, little waves in an open boat are bigger in a
kayak. That was nice. Being cold and wet all day…. not so nice.
Being able to make a move quickly…. also nice. Not being able to
see very far in front of you…. not so nice. Still, the Piedra that
Kelly loaned me was a great boat and I was seriously considering
making the switch to the dark side. I mean, why not? I was going to
have to repair my boat and replace the airbags…. again, maybe I
should just make the switch.
friends were kayakers and Revel told me that the new kayaks were
better and easier to roll than when I started. And it was kind of
fun, but you know what? I didn’t feel cool at all.
next day didn’t help. When we got to the put-in there was a tribe of
open boats and I longed for my own boat the way I long for fiddle
music and cowboys. I tried to convince William’s girlfriend to paddle
the kayak. She wouldn’t. I tried to coerce Doug and a couple in a
tandem canoe into trading with me. They wouldn’t. None of the open
boaters would even consider it. Not a single one. Two of them even
told me I wasn’t very attractive in a kayak. If I were a different
woman it would have hurt my feelings. But I knew they were telling me
Doug let me paddle his Outrage for a few minutes. I was instantly at
home and happy and I knew without a doubt that I’m an open boater.
Sometimes you have to get what you don’t want to know what you do
want. I wanted my open boat. I’ll never be as good an open boater as
Peter, or Dorothy, George, Gaby or Pat and John are. But, it is who I
am. And maybe that’s what being cool really means.
Debra Berry, a not so cool open boater.
The Eddy Line, July 2005