Dave Shively: A learning curve

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Dave Shively

Dave Shively's outdoors column appears Sundays in the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Contact him at 871-4253 or e-mail dshively@steamboatpilot.com.

When you smack your face on a rock, the last person you want to blame is yourself.

This is the inherent flaw in the master-student relationship in learning to kayak.

I've witnessed both sides of the teaching dynamic. The query, "teach me to kayak," can become poison for the most sound relationships. I can still hear her my sister shrieking across Number 3 on the Arkansas River, as my brother-in-law tries in vain to explain how to surf a small wave. And this is a competent boater with a solid roll.

I took to the river long before I had anything close to a working roll. The first few trips were games of perpetual catch-up with friends that had skills honed - resulting in that humiliating swim in borrowed gear, draining the boat over bruised ego and knuckles, and cursing the smug friend who rhetorically asks if you need any help between his surfs.

Eventually, you pick up the pieces you need, but you figure out there are better ways to learn.

I've found the most productive sessions to be with peers of similar abilities. You push one another and bounce feedback of what works - being in the same boat, if you will.

Matt Hayne's experience proved to me that the shared process can be more rewarding than the frantic dash out from under the "beginner/intermediate" label.

The 24-year-old Yampa native was a standout three-sport athlete in his years at Soroco. Then Hayne was diagnosed with Burkitt's Lymphoma and underwent six months of intensive chemotherapy during his junior year. Suddenly, Hayne was sleeping 22 hours a day and dropped 35 pounds. The Children's Hospital in Denver suggested a Vail-based program called First Descents to get Hayne back into his active lifestyle.

Brad Ludden founded First Descents in 2001 as a free means of getting young cancer survivors to experience kayaking. You may remember Ludden from his jaunt to Steamboat last May, when he took all of four minutes to blaze Upper Fish Creek for a race win at the Pro Invitational.

Hayne said it was, "intensely rewarding," to learn from Ludden at the camps, but that it was the group aspect that brings him back for more.

"What draws me is the connection to the other survivors, you compare stories and they know exactly what you're talking about and what you've been through," he said.

Now Hayne plans to attend the advanced camp this summer in Montana and stick around to act as an instructor: "The motivation is that you can instantly form a bond with the campers without saying anything."

But before Hayne goes from student to master, he had to take a break from his master's degree in Metallurgy program classes at the Colorado School of Mines to go play on the waves in Golden's Clear Creek park.

"Boating's like life - there's rough water, you look for support, learn from what you did. Maybe you flip, maybe you swim, but you get right back in the boat and try again," Hayne said.

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