For most kayakers, the freedom to paddle your own boat is at the core of the paddling experience.
It certainly was for Bobby Miller.
Though Miller’s father got him in a canoe at age 8, he was relegated to bow paddling in tandem for years, going out on river trips with only other adults. When one of the family friends in the canoeing crew patched up an old kayak and gave it to Miller at age 12, he never looked back.
From races and instruction to exploratory first descents, Miller made a name for himself as a paddling fixture in the mid-Atlantic, as well as nickname (Zone Dogg) within the whitewater paddling community, as a longtime member of Fluid Kayaks’ pro team known for his on-water style and trademark basketball jerseys.
The Harpers Ferry, W.V. grade school teacher, kayak instructor and basketball fanatic/referee, still prioritizes paddling, but has had to work hard to establish the same degree of on-water confidence in his daughter, Sahalie.
Miller has relied on two important fundamentals:
1: Just slow it down. Take every opportunity to break for jumping in and swimming, simply splashing around and exploring the surroundings.
For Miller that means setting a different set of expectations, re-calibrating his time on the water in, “any way to make it a more child-like experience, so she will forget about any fear she has.”
2: Create a social experience. Go with a patient group, who can keep the paddling social.
“The more people, the more excited she’ll get,” Miller says, “and especially if I can get other kids involved, and if they are close in age it really helps.”
After starting Sahalie at age 1 riding along in his cockpit, and steady progress in their tandem “Daddy-Daughter” Eskimo Topo Duo, Miller eased Sahalie into her own kayak on a rope tow in mild current, which gradually helped her gain confidence, strength and control as she became more comfortable in the kayak.
The transition out of the tandem boat, however, has not been seamless. Frustration with her solo kayak spinning, or thoughts about the risk of flipping, can sometimes produce tears. Miller goes right back to Step One: slowing down, simply floating while holding onto her boat, providing encouragement, and “then it’s adding that fun element, something simple like making it into a race, or any fun-like kid thing you add.”
To Miller, processing time with his daughter through her perspective has been the most fun element that he has gained.
“She never knows where the end of the run is, and it’s never about the destination,” he says. “It’s all about getting the most amount of enjoyment out of the journey, like time doesn’t even exist.”
The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak
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