The Match Game, or the Art of Picking Paddling Partners by Tamia Nelson

In Monday’s SameBoat Short, Tamia had some suggestions for would‑be paddlers who are just starting out, as well as veterans now thinking about returning to the sport after a long absence. As it happens, the two seemingly disparate groups have a lot in common, including the need to find compatible paddling partners, something that’s not always as easy as it sounds. Which is why it’s Tamia’s subject today.

Never go alone. This has long been one of paddling’s ten commandments, and though, like every one of the original Decalogue, it’s often ignored, it’s very good advice, indeed — and not just because it’s a comfort to have someone with you when things go wrong. Man is a social animal. Most things that are worth doing are more enjoyable when done in the company of one or more like‑minded souls. And there’s the rub. Finding such kindred spirits is easier said than done. Friends from work and neighbors you meet only at weekend barbecues can prove tedious bores in the backcountry. Even the folks you know from your church or union hall — people with whom you thought you saw eye to eye on nearly everything — may have very different ideas on the best place to camp for the night. There’s also the vexed question of competence. While it can be a pleasure to show novices the strokes on Golden Pond, especially on smiling summer days, it’s not much fun to find yourself facing a long open‑water crossing in a rising gale when you’re partnered with a paddler who thinks that a brace is something you wrap around an injured knee.

My conclusion? It pays to be picky. Choosing a paddling partner is at least as chancy as agreeing to a blind date for an evening out. Chancier, actually, since most first dates end after just a few hours, but a weekend trip means you’ll be in each other’s pockets for the better part of two days. That being the case, what should you look for in a prospective partner? Every canoeist or kayaker has her own answer to this question, I’m sure, but I’d venture to guess we could all agree that four things are paramount, beginning with good judgement… Read more…

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For half a century, Tamia Nelson has been ranging far and wide by bike, boat, and on foot. A geologist by training, an artist since she could hold a pencil, a photographer since her uncle gave her a twin-lens reflex camera when she was 10, she's made her living as a writer and novelist for two decades. Avocationally her interests span natural history, social history, cooking, art, and self-powered outdoor pursuits, and she has broad experience in mountaineering, canoeing, kayaking, cycling, snowshoeing and skiing.