“The first time I went in a kayak was on a small, calm lake with my dad and brother,” said Haley Goetting, a Berkeley High School senior. “We were just paddling around and shooting each other with water guns. I never thought I would be going 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 a kayaking camp as kids. Goetting and her brother Dylan have traveled to rivers such as the American, Merced, and Yuba, where thousands of fellow white water kayakers flock yearly.
At each new location, the brother-sister duo used a technique called “reading the river” that helped to familiarize themselves with the terrain. “We park our boats at the top of the route and walk down to plan out a route,” said Goetting. “It’s really good for thinking critically about a plan for where you’re going to turn your boat and what speed and angle you’ll go at.” Reading the river can help the kayaker choose the best “line” to go down and aid in their ability to make split-second decisions while paddling through rapids and around rocks.
Despite a kayaker’s preparation, nature’s unpredictability can lead to life-threatening circumstances. When veteran kayaker Elaine Baden found herself in the wrong place after missing a hazard, she relied on those around her for help: “I knew that the other people I was paddling with were looking out for me,” she said. “I ended up losing my boat but the [people] saved me. In any risky situation you go for the person first.” Goetting emphasized the importance of having her brother there in these situations, saying that “it’s really important to trust yourself and each other. One time 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 about the lasting relationships they have formed through kayaking. “[Kayakers] are some of the most supportive people you will ever know,” said Baden. “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 female kayakers, who are often underrepresented in the sport. “I met my role model, Anna Wagner, at a kayaking camp,” she explained. “She felt like more of a friend than an instructor … [though] she’s a professional kayaker who travels all across the world competing and going down crazy waterfalls.” Goetting recalled that “She encouraged me to try all these new skills.”
For many, white water kayaking also provides a sense of accomplishment and serenity. Gavi Rawls, a BHS sophomore, doesn’t shy away from a challenge when it comes to kayaking. “For me, it’s challenge and accomplishment based,” Rawls explained. “I face my fears by doing rapids that I am scared of because I know that the disappointment of not doing the rapid would be worse than whatever happens during that rapid.” Baden also spoke to the feeling she gets kayaking, saying, “It’s almost indescribable. Being in the water grounds me. Everything else fades away. You get to see things that very few other people could ever imagine.”