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Tips and Techniques - Canoeing: The essence of life

Reprinted with permission from Paddler, May/June 2000

Canoeing: The Essence of Life

A few words from one of the sport’s most ardent followers

By Bob Foote

The first wave knocked me over before I knew what hit me. I was running the right side of Horn Rapid on the Grand Canyon, and for lack of a better term, I got hammered. I rolled up, got knocked over again, rolled again, and got hammered again. So it went until I finally came out of my canoe and was floating beside it at the bottom of the river.

Then I heard a voice: “Can we help you?” This was strange because I was leading the group and was the first one down. I opened my eyes only to see an orange Zodiac with a motor on the back controlled by a guy with green hair and tattoos and nothing else on but a life jacket. The voice came from a lady with long, pitch-black hair, tattoos, and again, no clothes except a life jacket. As I looked at the outstretched arms of two naked people, I wondered if I had died—and gone to heaven—or hell? It didn’t matter. I said “sure,” and they nudged my boat and myself over to shore. (Afterward, I found out they were harmless—a private group, who the night before, decided to get crazy and dye their hair, apply stick-on tattoos, and paddle naked that day).

Another canoeing memory that stands out comes from running Crystal at high water. I remember it because I ran it with one stroke. Everything came together—I was one with the water. There I was in the middle of some of the biggest water anywhere, at peace, not thinking of strokes or crashing waves, but just enjoying being there. The sun on my face, the beauty of the canyon, the roar of the water. The next thing I remember was being at the bottom with a dry boat, floating totally relaxed. It was a high point of my canoeing career, flowing with nature and feeling its power, yet enjoying just being there, not frantic with a hear rate over 100 and adrenaline pumping. I was at peace with the world. I’d like to be able to go through life that way, forces all around trying to upset me, but being at peace and walking on, enjoying the beauty of life.

These are just two examples of why canoeing is the essence of life. What other sport offers such variety and breadth? What other sport lets you feel the pulse of the earth, the energy of nature? Whether floating on a lake listening to loons and feeling the breeze on your face, or drifting down a calm river watching the banks slide by, or lining up for that split-second stroke that will carry you through a rapid correctly, canoeing touches your heart in a way no other sport can.

It lets you feel the rhythm of the planet. It soothes your soul. I should know—I’ve been at it a long, long time, helping many others enjoy these feelings. During that time, I’ve fielded countless questions from clients and students. A frequent one is where my favorite place is to canoe. I have many, all different, but all touch my heart. For over 30 years, whenever I can, I recharge my batteries by being on any type of water, whether it’s gliding across the Boundary Waters of floating the San Juan. I’ve also been asked how long I will canoe. I’ll canoe as long as I breathe. Canoeing knows no age. My son was in a canoe at age one and loved it. I’m over 50 and feel I have just begun. I encourage all of you to do the same—and generate even more canoeing memories of your own.

Editor’s Note: Bob Foote is one of the premiere open boaters in the country. He spends his days traveling around the US, Canada, and South America, leading trips and teaching open boating. Whether he’s canoeing the Grand Canyon, running a river in Chile, or enjoying the quiet of Canada’s Quetico Park, he is truly “one with the water.” An American Canoe Association (ACA) Instructor Trainer, he has several first open canoe descents to his credit (including the North Fork of the American River, Burnt Ranch Gorge, and the Simms Run on the Sacramento River), and has designed canoes for Dagger (the Genesis, Rival, and Phantom) and Navarro (the Loon, Pursuit, and Egret). He also co-designed the Stingray paddle for Sawyer, has developed a line of accessories, and has produced three instructional videos. Offering whitewater expeditions for 20 years—ever since he made one of the first open canoe descents of the Grand Canyon—his expertise in canoeing is recognized around the world. So much so, that he is one of the only canoeists to have been quoted in the Wall Street Journal.  

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