Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Staying calm in the face of panic

A few days ago, I saw that we were going to have somewhat of a cool spell.  Cool being like...80.  I checked and saw the winds were supposed to be under 10mph and figured if we were going to get paddling season underway then there would be no time like the present.  Of course because we were warm into December last year, we found ourselves on the low water on December 13th paddling while listening to Andy Williams "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."  Still makes me laugh when I watch it.  But then winter set in and we never got the stuff back out to properly clean it for end of season.  So I thought I should clean out the yak and camp dry the canvas parts for the impending paddle.

Since we had three vessels that all needed to be tested for the season, I asked a grade school friend of mine if she wanted to come along.  We'd taken her for her lesson last year and she seemed to like it.  She said she was game so we met her at the ramp.  As we were sitting there waiting for her, I saw a shift in the water and it went from slightly swift waves to dark and choppy.  I wasn't liking what I was seeing based on it being our first paddle of the season with wimpy muscles but she was already on her way.

We got all pumped up and ready to roll and as I waited for them to come out, I was getting pushed from the side so I knew it was going to be a fight.  I hoped the waters would be kind to the paddle boarders because no one wants to end up in the drink if they don't have to.  This particular area is especially deep pretty quick too.  We were aiming for a small cove across the lake and as I saw both of them stand up, I saw both were shaky but seemed to recover quickly.  Unfortunately, the lake had other plans.  The direction of the chop was slapping us upside the boards/yak and making them unsteady.  Just before I could suggest we angle into the chop...


She went into the water.  She seemed okay as she instinctively went into a doggie paddle and had her life vest on.  But the terror on her face reminded me of something...she's terrified of the water!  She wanted to do this last year to get over her fear and this was probably her worst nightmare.  She'd taken in a big gulp of water when she went in and was starting to hyperventilate a bit.  I paddled over to her and had her grab onto my yak while I fished her board closer for her.  She was trying desperately to get back on any way she could but in a panicked state and I told her very calmly to regulate her breathing first.  It was imperative for her to be able to look at us and know that we weren't freaked out so she shouldn't be.  I had her breathe in and breathe out deeply to stop her from feeling any further anxiety.  She wasn't able to get onto the board with the direction I was giving her and I think it was making her anxious so I told her no big deal, we'd paddle back to shore and she could either stop or kayak instead.  She agreed and I told her I was going to tow her back to shore.  We have extra bungee cord in our dry bag for just such an occasion so I tied one end to her board and the other to my life jacket.  I noticed she was starting to take in water again and told her to lean her head and neck back, relax and enjoy the ride back.  She helped kick and I paddled against that chop as hard as I could to get her to safety.

I was so relieved when she was able to touch and could steady herself.  I think I would've called it a day but she said she wanted to kayak.  So we got the seat set up on her board and once she felt confident again, we started paddling.  The chop was still pretty bad...thanks meteorologists for always getting it so wrong!  It was somewhat leisurely since we chatted along the way but after we realized the landmark we were using wasn't getting any closer, we'd basically been doing nothing but treading water for 45 minutes!  It was just one of those turn on a dime weather situations.  On the way back, the board was trying to flip her the wrong way and she just couldn't get enough leverage to straighten herself the right way.  I paddled to her left and told her I was going to bump her to try to get her straight.  The board was unsteady and I think she thought she might go in again.  I told her to tighten her core with each bump until we could get her pointing the right direction.  I did and paddled right next to her so she'd know I wasn't going anywhere.

It was quite the adventure especially for the first paddle of the season!  Rat bastard water!  I was just so relieved she was okay and she actually wants to go out again!  I told her we'd take her somewhere shallow and teach her how to get on the board where she can just touch and then again where she can't touch so she can have more confidence and know that if she goes in, she'll have the proper technique in any situation whether with us or renting.  She agreed.  Poor thing.  We hugged her and told her how proud we were of her because despite being scared, she's not letting this beat her.  There's something to be said for that in any situation.  I checked on her later to make sure she still felt the same and she did.  If nothing else, it burned a goodly amount of calories...

I prepped some stuff before we left so I could throw together dinner of chicken quesadilla and Brussels.

As I recount the events and the outcome, I must say I'm kind of proud.  I know some people would be tempted to freak out right along side the person but that doesn't help.  She needed me to have confidence that everything would be okay and that we weren't going to let her get hurt.  When we were packing everything up, I asked her if there was anything we could've done different to help her more because I want to know should I ever be in that scenario again.  She said we did everything we could and didn't yell at her.  I laughed and said I couldn't imagine someone yelling at someone in that situation.  She said we didn't roll our eyes or I think she was getting at we didn't make her feel inadequate.  We assured her that we've all been there and we have.  It's important to stay calm in a potential crisis and be ready for anything...and I'm glad we were.

Have you ever been in a scary water situation?

Like this post? Don't miss another one...subscribe via email or RSS feed. (Or you can follow me on Facebook )


  1. I am glad we finally got out and paddled this summer. There was a mental block there for some reason but it feels good to be past that. When I heard her splash into the water I was concerned that she would freak out but I hadn't even remembered at that point that she was water phobic too. Sheesh, what a trooper! It will be a good idea to practice getting on the board in better conditions because you never know when you might fall in and if you're confident about your ability to get back on the board then it makes falling in more fun than fearful.

  2. Good job staying calm in that situation. Panic makes things scary fast. I had a scary situation happen to me years ago. It's well-known that I'm petrified of sharks...after Jaws, who wasn't?? Anyway, about 20 years ago we were boating with my cousins and went over to Martha's Vineyard for dinner. There were so many boats there that we had to dock side-by-side at the pier. My cousin's boat was the last boat on the chain. After dinner we went back to the boat - and now it's dark out - and you had to climb down the ladder to the first boat and then walk across each boat to get to our boat. I was in jeans, had a jacket in my hands and my purse and shoes. I started down the ladder....fine...across the first boat...fine...the second boat had an extension cord that I didn't see. You guessed it. I tripped over the extension cord and plunged into the deep, dark marina. As I watched the lights of the pier fade away as I sank I could see people running to the edge of the pier screaming. I wasn't concerned about that, I was petrified a shark was going to attack me! I would have sprung out of the water, but wet jeans prevent you from doing much. Took me awhile to get out of the water. Once everyone knew I was ok, we all had a good laugh about it. I joked along with them...but I was traumatized.

  3. Holy cow Anele...will you be my paddleboard instructor??? (If I didn't live several states away from you I would totally hire you.)

    I love how you calmly coached her and helped her to feel safe so that she could mentally get to a place where she could get back on the board. That makes all the difference in the world when someone is facing a strongly-entrenched fear (like water or drowning.) The fact that she wants to go out again speaks volumes about the effectiveness of your coaching techniques. I love that you have gotten so good at paddleboarding that you are now passing that passion along to others. Very cool!

  4. You did good Anele. Poor kid--expecting somebody to yell at her, I know we think kids are so carefree, but I remember those days of fearing the parents would be mad at me for this or that, something completely out of my power to control. I've come to realize, at every stage of life, we have worries, and they are not less just because in retrospect we realize they were nothing. At the time, they are major, and that is all that counts, how we perceive them. So once again, good job staying calm with her, she sounds like a real winner, as do you!

  5. Good gracious!!! So much for a nice, calm outing! I'm so glad your friend kept at it and didn't let this experience beat her. Staying calm is so important and you all did that. I've had a few boating experiences over the years that have been kind of scary, but for whatever reason I go into "voice of reason" mode and don't panic in a crisis. I remember my house being on fire years ago and just systematically gathering what I needed as the flames took out my bathroom and kitchen. I'm great in a crisis and very calm and focused, but afterwards the adrenaline hits me and I'm either shaking nonstop for hours or hurling my guts out. The hubs goes kayaking down a pretty intense river and he's seen some nasty accidents and has helped people out before. The other I get, the more I love pontoons! Snort!!


Thanks for taking the time to comment! I appreciate your time! (Heads up though...disrespectful or spam comments will be deleted.)