Kirk Eddlemon knows all about paying to play. The Tennessee father of one, full-time kayaking instructor and guidebook author has explored some of the Southeast’s most obscure runs in less-than-ideal conditions while compiling the two-part Whitewater of the Southern Appalachians. It was a slightly smoother journey for Eddlemon and his wife, Laura (who met at roll practice), to quickly get their son Alex interested in the “family affair” of paddling. However, as Alex took to the sport and his skills progressed, his parents found it more difficult to keep him interested. The search for more challenging whitewater began to extend the family outings into colder, wetter off-seasons that became only filled with more hardships ready to “hijack” their son’s comfort -- and with it, his interest in paddling. We recently asked Kirk what’s worked for them, and more importantly for their son, as he learns to become a competent paddler-explorer in his own right. Here’s what he had to say:

Kids are so great at being in the moment. It’s what makes their enthusiasm and zest for life so real and palpable. It also makes them suck at dealing with any little issue that’s unpleasant. While you and I have the ability to brush away temporary discomfort or delay as the minimal issues that they are, kids become fully hijacked by the woe of any moment.

It’s been my desire for some time to cultivate an environment for my son Alex that entices him to see the forest from the trees with respect to the ups and downs of moment to moment, and specifically within paddling, to understand that some of the best days require suffering and discomfort.

While I haven’t pushed him in this way directly, I often tell him about experiences I’ve had, both long in the past, as well as what I just got finished doing that day, where I had to put in a bit of work or suffering in order to experience something beautiful/fulfilling. I feel like this nudges him closer to realizing this in his own day-to-day life without being overbearing.

Well, IT ALL PAID OFF! This spring he really wanted to paddle Clear Creek Canyon, but we didn’t have time to run shuttle to the bottom of the paddle out. I told him that if he wanted to do it we would have to do a pretty grueling 1 mile hike out, gaining over 400 feet, to get out of the canyon before dark. To my surprise he said that though it would be hard, he was willing to do it if it meant he could paddle Clear Creek Canyon. Another friend was with us that evening, and when we took out, we both looked at each other dumbfounded, as he opened his drain plug, picked up his boat, and started up the steep, rocky switchbacks to the canyon rim. He hiked out with no complaints, and even talked about how cool it was that being willing to hike out of there allowed us to have an experience no one else was able to have that day. He channeled the magic of the canyon into the pain of the hike, breathed into it, and let it fuel him all the way to the rim.

This was huge for me, and certainly stands out as a big moment for my son and his understanding of the idea that you have to pay to play. It’s a fundamental lesson to be learned by any young adventurer.


Paddling Parents 3: Creating Breakthroughs, features Christian Knight’s efforts to help his daughter reach new levels of river-running confidence

Paddling Parents 2: Independent Paddling, has Bobby Miller share lessons on instilling courage in his daughter to kayak alone

Paddling Parents 1: Overcoming Fear With Fun, features Eric Friedenson’s lessons on using fun to foster a love for rivers


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