Every year the whitewater club goes for a Halloween paddle. This year they will be heading to Portland to paddle the Clackamas and Lower White Salmon Rivers, donning their spray skirts and PFDs over full costume. It’s such a Whitman thing: totally silly, but also pretty awesome.

Whitman exposed me to kayaking. Coming from Colorado, I had never been in a sea kayak before arriving at college, but it was the very first thing I was involved with on campus. Prior to orientation week, I went on a week-long sea kayaking scramble in the San Juan Islands as part of one of the 20 or so trips we run for incoming first years. It was exhilarating; I loved being so close to the water, observing the complexities of the currents by how they affected my little boat, and feeling the power of propelling myself through the ocean from island to island. I found a new passion in sea kayaking.

Whitewater kayaking was always a lot more intimidating. The stakes are so much higher and the skills are totally different. Sea kayaking is about planning, reading the tide charts and knowing how to navigate, while whitewater is all about reacting—it’s much more physical. I was terrified for my first trip, even though I had yet to miss one of the Open Kayak skill sessions in the Whitman pool—and there are two a week. The trip was designed for total beginners and I already knew how to roll, but I can still remember how scared I was. I never wanted the car ride to end. I didn’t want us to actually arrive at the put in.

I never took to whitewater boating the way I did to sea kayaking—I could never get my stomach unknotted long enough to enjoy it. But I was so appreciative of everyone’s encouragement, my friends who paddled alongside me and the few who were able to convince me to ever give it a try in the first place. College should be like that sometimes. If you take advantage of all the incredible new opportunities, you are going to stumble on a few things you don’t really love. I will keep to the flat water, but I do love hearing the crazy stories from the Halloween whitewater trip. There are always some good ones.

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