“The first time I went kayaking was on a quiet little lake with my dad and my brother,” said Haley Goetting, a high school student from Berkeley. “We were just paddling around and shooting each other with water guns. I never thought I would go down rapids. Years later, Goetting took on the Grand Canyon, kayaking down waterfalls at just 13 years old. Beside her was her older brother and kayaking partner since they first attended kayak camp as children. Goetting and his brother Dylan have traveled rivers such as the American, Merced and Yuba, where thousands of other whitewater kayakers flock each year.
At each new location, the brother-sister duo used a technique called “river reading” that helped familiarize them with the terrain. “We park our boats at the top of the road and come down to plan a route,” Goetting said. “It’s really good for thinking critically about a plan for where you’re going to turn your boat and how fast and at what angle you’re going to go.” Reading the river can help the kayaker choose the best “line” to descend and help them make split-second decisions while paddling through rapids and around rocks.
Despite a kayaker’s preparation, the unpredictability of nature can lead to life-threatening circumstances. When veteran kayaker Elaine Baden found herself in the wrong place after missing a hazard, she leaned on those around her for help: “I knew the other people I was paddling with were watching over me,” she said. “I ended up losing my boat but the [people] saved me. In any risky situation, you first target the person. Goetting stressed the importance of having his brother there in these situations, saying that “trusting and trusting each other is really important. Once I got stuck under a log and [my brother] had to get my boat out. We save each other in these situations.
In a sport where trust is so crucial, the community is strong. Each kayaker spoke of the lasting relationships they have made through kayaking. “[Kayakers] are some of the most supportive people you will ever know,” Baden said. “Once you meet on the river, it’s a bond that can’t be broken.” Goetting also finds inspiration in those around her, especially fellow kayakers, who are often underrepresented in the sport. “I met my role model, Anna Wagner, at a kayaking camp,” she explained. “She felt more like a friend than a teacher… [though] she’s a professional kayaker who travels the world competing and descending crazy stunts.” Goetting recalled that “she encouraged me to try all these new skills.”
For many, whitewater kayaking also provides a sense of accomplishment and serenity. BHS sophomore Gavi Rawls isn’t shy about taking on a challenge when it comes to kayaking. “For me, it’s based on challenges and accomplishments,” Rawls explained. “I face my fears by doing rapids that scare me because I know the disappointment of not doing the rapid would be worse than whatever happens during that rapid.” Baden also spoke about the feeling she gets while kayaking, saying, “It’s almost indescribable. Being in the water motivates me. Everything else fades away. You can see things that very few other people could imagine.