Ammons Releases Whitewater Philosophy


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Looking for some thoughts on the inner side of whitewater? Look for further than the recently released “Whitewater Philosophy” by world-class kayaker Doug Ammons, who has solo’d such hair-raising Class V+ expedition runs as Alaska’s Susitna and Canada’s Grand Canyon of the Stikine.

In his second book, Ammons, who has notched dozens of first descents throughout the northern Rockies and multiple first descent expeditions around the world, pulls together 27 essays from both his published and unpublished pieces dealing with topics at the core of the sport, from epic high-water runs down the North Fork Payette to swimming with an otter on the Lochsa River. One section even dives into how he treats whitewater kayaking as a martial art (don’t mess: he’s also a black belt in several martial arts).

Ammons — who has filmed documentaries for National Geographic, ESPN and Outdoor Life Network (four of which received Emmy Awards), and received an Emmy himself in 1998 for Action Cinematography – dives beneath the surface to articulate many thing paddlers may intuitively understand but have never been able to completely grasp. His first book, “The Laugh of the Water Nymph,” was voted one of the top outdoor books of the year by the National Outdoor Book Awards. With a Ph.D. in psychology, the married father of five also edits two large, international science journals as his “real” job, and has written for Men’s Journal and other magazines.

But here’s the best part: for the last 15 years, Ammons has donated all monies from his writing and book sales to supporting a school for Nepalese students. Buy this book for the read, but also to lend a helping hand.

To order, visit

Samples from the book: (From the Introduction):
“I’ve spent the last 25 years journeying through a world far more powerful than me, and this book is a small offering that describes a few things I’ve found along that path. Whitewater kayaking has deeply changed the way I look at the world, the skills I have, my judgment and perspective. The following essays deal with confronting limits and knowing ourselves, with risk, where fear comes from and how it can be overcome, with craziness, death and challenge, soloing, the real measure of skill, the bonds between partners, and much more.
Because of where we go, all the adventure sports readily evolve into much more than sports. They aren’t like baseball, soccer or football. They don’t have man-made rules. The rules are those of God and Nature, and of how the world is created. They aren’t arbitrary or tweaked to make things fit humans, like the dimensions of the batter’s box or the height of a basketball rim. They are life and death. They are how long you can hold your breath, how well you can hold your angle when the current slams on top of you, and how surely you can direct your path up or down a mountain, or through a raging rapid. These are elemental things, and no human law will ever have their power. They create a purity that draws certain kinds of people and not others. You have to be willing to stretch, to be thrown out of your comfort zone, and adapt. It is not competition that is the draw, because there is no other team. The river or mountain is not your opponent; you do not fight it, even if the old stereotypes are of “conquering” Everest. So far as I can tell, Everest will still be there long after everybody who ever climbed it is dead. Tectonic movements will make it higher over the next ten million years, glaciers will tear away at its massive flanks and hurricane force winds will sweep its slopes every year, but humans will be no more. And the same simple thing is true of the rivers we run today and for the foreseeable future. There will be no sign of our passing, and no memory of our feats.

…For all the efforts we collectively have put into our river adventures, so far we have very little philosophy to show for it. Most of what is there is piecemeal franticness, humor, tales of prowess and trashings, and dramatic stories of survival. The focus seems always on action and not reflection, as if there are no other paths to follow and nothing else to learn. This is thin gruel and I reject it as an ultimate goal. It’s fun, it’s exciting, but it’s not a goal. I would like to invite everybody to take a hand in developing a philosophy of adventure, starting with the sport and rivers we know so intimately. Living with one of the world’s great powers puts us in a privileged position. We all feel that gift every time we put on a river, but it would be gratifying if we could be like the alchemists of old, and transmute those feelings into a small number of truths that ring clear…

From the story “Coyote Falls”)
“…More than anything else, any paddler who has the guts to go up there and shove off into Coyote Falls at high water has got to have his mental game under control. He’s got to have the ultimate faith in his abilities and line. While scouting, the air reverberates with the sheer energy and roar, and you try to imagine yourself out in the chaos. It’s hard to get the right frame of mind. Outwardly, you might find yourself thinking about a sled slamming through a minefield and shooting off a cliff. Or, of riding the back of an exploding stampede of water buffalo ripping through the forest, tearing trees up as they careen downhill. Up on the bank, the noise and roar hit you like something solid and you have to shout to be heard. And you can scout and shout all you want, standing up there on the bank pointing at things, closing your eyes and figuring angles. But the final question is always simple – are you going to run it?
Somebody who doesn’t understand the river might think that running a huge rapid would be all about muscle and fighting the water, but it’s not. It’s the most natural thing in the world to tense up at the thought of grappling with a raging river, fighting it and pitting strength against strength, but the truth is just the opposite. The more powerful the river is, the calmer you have to be. Your body must be drained of every bit of tension, leaving composure, even quietness in the midst of the exploding insanity.
There’s a line there, a precise thread through the chaos, but frantic paddle strokes won’t let you touch it or ride it. Your calm and your tuned reflexes are what allow you to see it and enter it, joining with the power of the earth unleashed, a billion tons of snow released from winter’s tight icy grasp and set free down the riverbed…

Staff Post
Staff Post
Paddlers writing about all things paddling.


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