Several years ago, I challenged myself to learn kayaking. My first experience with the sport was tagging along on a river trip with Cheyenne, a good friend and professional kayaker. I had never been in one of these boats before, and hoped she could teach me how to roll. Foolishly, I thought this was something I’d pick up in an hour or so. I spent the afternoon upside down in the river, flailing, never succeeding in the task. Ultimately, I think I spoiled that river trip, being that I was not able to save myself if I got into trouble downstream (sorry Cheyenne!). At that time, I was enrolled at the University of Montana and decided I might as well give this the college try and take a semester long class. In the warmth and comfort of an indoor swimming pool I surprised myself and learned to roll up on both sides (this took me several sessions to figure out). Filled with unearned confidence, I believed I had this challenge tackled. Later on, we took our class field trip out onto the river and I found myself in an eddy. I did exactly as my instincts told me, let my reflexes lurch me away from a fall, dropped my hip, and flipped myself upside down into the frigid water. Not wearing pool googles and blinded by the cold, rushing water, I panicked and made a half-assed attempt to roll over. Not succeeding, I immediately ripped out the skirt, evacuated my boat, and swam to the safety of shore. Shook, I made the decision to walk my kayak along the water’s edge all the way to the takeout. At the end of the field trip my instructor asked me if I planned to kayak again. “NOPE!” I decided without hesitation. Quite frankly, this was one of the scariest sports I’d ever tried, and I give a huge kudos to those that hop in raging rivers and charge on a regular basis.
This interview is a big nod to one of the strongest, bravest adventure women I know : Cheyenne Rogers of Missoula, Montana. Thanks for wasting a day on the river, taking the time to teach me to roll (successfully or not!).
When did you start kayaking?
I went to the Bigfork Whitewater Festival for the first time in 1998. I loved the vibe and was drawn to the sport. The summer of 1999 I bought a Wavesport X.
How were you introduced to it?
I chased after anyone who was paddling the Middle and North Flathead River.
How long did it take for you to become comfortable and proficient?
Once I moved to Missoula in 2001, I got in the rhythm of Blackfoot laps, Gorge runs, and Lochsa bliss.
What is it about kayaking that keeps you coming back?
Community, the formation of family through enjoying the outdoors, and sharing the experiences of places through flow.
Did you have to overcome any fears to get to where you are now?
Almost every time I kayak I get a little scared; it seems ingrained in the sport, keeps you alert and challenged. The focus it takes can really put things in perspective. You have to be pretty present and calm to be smooth on the water, something I continuously strive for.
Describe a moment when it finally clicked - an early success story.
I was on the Blackfoot at the Ledge when I got my first river roll. As I peeled out into the current, my buddy yelled, “Log! Uuumm…bear!” There was a black bear swimming towards me. I took a couple back strokes and he went right by me.
Have you had any scary, "close-call", experiences? If so, what saved you, and what did you learn from that?
A couple years ago I was in Colombia. I was on a river that I was unfamiliar with and following some boaters who made a move through a dynamic feature. I didn't make it through and got surfed back into a cave. After conceding that the only way out was under the rock, I pushed my way though, coming out of my boat and eventually out the other side. That was my first experience really giving up to the circumstance and hoping for the best. It was a full moon that day and I felt the energy was very powerful. I was in a boat that didn't have edges and that taught me so much appreciation for the gear I have and love.
What is your favorite river to paddle?
South Fork of the Salmon River
What is your favorite part of a kayaking trip?
Often times it gets me out to be social and engage with people I enjoy being around.
Where would you most love to kayak?
Chile is pretty magical.
Who do you like to paddle with, or do you like to go solo?
I enjoy being around anyone who has put in the time to be safe and have fun on the water.
What are you still learning?
Mostly I work at being calm in hard rapids.
What has been your biggest challenge?
I regularly revisit self confidence. When I hear a friend say “You got this”, it helps me to re-realize I can do it. It is such a mind game to run something that puts fear in you, but so rewarding.
What exercise or practice, physical or mental, has been most pivotal to your success?
I think it is important to have a well-rounded routine. Yoga, pilates and pt exercises daily. Oh, and dance parties.
Do you do any specific physical or mental training routine to keep yourself in tip top shape?
I think eating well is key for both physical and mental health. Lettuce eat plants :)
Do you have other sports outside of kayaking?
I love to ski and bike.
What advice would you give to a beginning kayaker that is still overcoming the fear of flipping?
Spend time next to someone in the water who can assist you. After being upside down over and over with someone close you can trust, this will allow things to slow down in your head and help the panic button from going off. Warm water helps ;)
What's the best advice you've ever received (kayaking or not)?
Don't scare yourself by getting in over your head. This has kept me in check to work towards goals in an achievable way.
If you were to describe yourself as an animal or a fictional character - what would that be?
Well Darby just called me a unicorn, so I'll stick with that for awhile.
What music are you currently listening to?
I enjoy and can appreciate most music. I really enjoy quality speakers and heavy bass drops.
If there is any other significant kayaking or life advice, please leave your parting words here:
Love what you do, do what you love. What a beautiful world it would be if we all had that to motivate and celebrate.
Follow Cheyenne on Instagram @aurarogers
I agree whole heartedly with those parting words! That’s how I ended up here, creating rad adventure portraits of the most interesting people I know.
Do you kayak? Did you struggle in the learning phase? What’s your favorite route to paddle? Leave your comments below and share this post with your fellow boaters.
Decorate your home with your brave adventures, purchase the Whitewater Kayaker print here.