The Inland Paddler: The Fear of Falling

Let’s talk about falling.

Or, if you paddle outrigger, huli’ing.

Or, if you paddle surf ski, capsizing or flipping.

If you are a long-time paddler, then maybe the topic doesn’t feel all that relevant to you. If you are new or new-ish to the sport, then maybe the topic resonates. Maybe you are afraid to fall. Maybe you think flipping your boat is a sign of weakness or an indicator of inability or lack of skill.

I am here to tell you otherwise.  There is nothing wrong with falling. There is nothing wrong with a huli.

In fact, if that’s NOT happening, then there might be something wrong.

Falling has a stigma attached to it. I don’t know how many first time paddlers I have had in my classes who say falling off the board is their number one fear and impediment to trying the sport or learning.

As a very wise woman whose name is Suzie Cooney says, if you are not falling, you are not learning.

And the sooner we let go of our predisposition against it, the sooner we will learn, progress and …surprise, surprise…stop falling.

Here are some other reasons why we shouldn’t see falling or flipping as negatives:

  1. When you fall off the board, you have to learn how to get back on. If you flip the canoe or ski, you have to learn how to right it and re-mount in all kinds of conditions. The more you practice it, and the better at it you get, the easier that entire process is, and the better prepared you will be when you find yourself in difficult conditions or situations.
  2. Falling/flipping builds confidence and it demystifies the whole process. (See above.) The more you do it, the more you learn that all that happens is that you get wet.
  3. Normally, a fall comes when you are pushing yourself. When you are trying new things. That is a good thing.  That takes courage and guts. That’s to be applauded, not derided.
  4. In the ski or canoe,and to an extent on the board, you learn the limits and edges of your craft.  You won’t be a better boat or board handler if you don’t know how far the craft can go.

If we are so preoccupied with not falling or flipping, we will be stiff, we will not be willing to try new techniques, we will not progress with our paddling.

And we probably won’t have much fun, either.

The fear keeps us from relaxing and enjoying being on the water.

So, if you are struggling with falling or the huli, see if you can let that go. Fall intentionally. Embrace it. Laugh at it. Relax into it.  If you don’t fall much any more, after each session, do something that might result in a fall – maybe try a nose pivot turn or some other playful maneuver on your board just for kicks and giggles and a splash. Lose your brace in the ski and go over.  Fly that OC ama and let it huli.

And if you are paddling with someone new to the sport, don’t make fun of the falls, celebrate them!

Not falling, not learning.





  1. In fact, I’m probably more afraid of what’s under the water, and not just falling. After all, sometimes danger can await there, because I somehow ran into a reef and a sea urchin with my hand. It was not pleasant at all because it was not clear where I was falling. And that was not very good afterwards, when I got back on the board. But they helped me psychologically here: I stopped being afraid of the depth. Now I really hope that I can overcome my fear and finally get on the board fully.