A Paddler’s Journey by Bryant Burkhardt – Review

by Nancy Soares on August 31, 2015

Read this book!

Read this book!

An adventure is an outing where the outcome is uncertain. – Bryant Burkhardt

This book does not disappoint. Bryant has done it all, from dodging icebergs in Alaska and exploring the Channel Islands to creeking in L.A. and captaining the U.S. National Kayak Polo Team. His kayaking resume is truly amazing. It’s a testament to how one person can not only dedicate his life to the pursuit of paddling but cover almost every aspect of our sport in the process.

As I read the book, I learned to both like and admire Mr. Burkhardt for his thoughtfulness, commitment, and sheer determination. The book covers his introduction to kayaking and the subsequent development of his skills into those of an all around master of the sport. But the book isn’t just the story of how to develop all those skills; it’s the story of someone who discovered his path in life through his passion for kayaking. Along the way, Bryant develops a philosophy of life through kayaking. I enjoyed the description of a student kayaker turned teacher. As a teacher myself, I loved his discovery that teaching makes you better. If you want to get better at kayaking, teach it. Teaching also nets you paddling partners.

I also loved his emphasis on the importance of appropriate paddling partners. Getting to know “sonofabitch” Pedro and others who assisted Bryant on his journey was fun. Without our paddling buddies where would we be? It was great too reading about his introduction to surfing and the story of his first wipeout – ah, yes, the first big trouncing at the hands of the sea.

One of the things that made Bryant’s story really stand out to me was how he describes the lessons about ego he learned on his journey, particularly during his experience with the UCLA Instructor Training Course and during his kayak polo years. “Pride is a delicate thing,” he writes. Ego can drive you to succeed but it can also wear you down. In one chapter, Bryant compares an outing with a team of friends on the Merced to kayak polo: “If it had been a polo game, the morning would have been a harsh defeat. But that’s the difference between competition and recreation, between losing a game and facing a setback. It’s also the difference between men fighting for their egos and a group supporting each other against adversity. When bad things happen on the river, everyone comes together and turns it into a win.” Good stuff.

A Paddler’s Journey is a well-written story of one person’s discovery of a life path through kayaking but one of the things that made me like his book the most was Bryant’s emphasis on how important the human element is to our sport. In the beginning, it’s push, push, push to learn the skills, meet the challenges, and keep raising the bar on personal achievement. All this is admirable, but as he understands at the end of his solo expedition to Haida Gwaii, it’s the people, not just the paddling, that make kayaking so special: “No longer worried about accomplishments, kayaking became a means to an end and not an end in itself; a medium to reach other people and enjoy beautiful places. Part of me still wanted to push myself, to use my skill and experience to do something cool. But not alone this time.” And again, “The drive to reach a goal had taken away some of the pleasure (of the trip). That drive can be a good thing, urging you to greater heights and personal accomplishment. But a focus on results undercuts the joy of the journey itself.”

Follow Bryant through the highs and lows of a career in kayaking: self-doubt, fatigue, injury, and burnout vie with the satisfaction of plans carried out, the thrill as each new skill is mastered, the joy of meeting like-minded people, and the sheer jubilation of accessing the amazing places only accessible to kayakers. This is the best of good kayaking. For Bryant Burkhardt, kayaking has truly been a path to understanding, acceptance, and maturity. Buy this book, and don’t forget to check out Bryant’s blog at www.paddleca.com. Thanks, Bryant, for a wonderful, entertaining read!

You can purchase A Paddler’s Journey by going to http://www.bryantburkhardtkayaking.com/bookindex.html I highly recommend it.

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