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ROCK THE BOAT BY NEIL SCHULMAN PRIMO TRAILER SALES


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Understanding Risk USE YOUR HEAD, NOT JUST YOUR HELMET 2012 ANNUAL


PADDLING BUYERS GUIDE The Year’s


TOP 350+ BOATS & GEAR Best Gear PADDLEBOARDS • DRYSUITS • PADDLES • PFDS CANOES • KAYAKS • WHITEWATER 2012 ANNUAL • $5.95


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In 1994, cab drivers in Munich were given cars with new safety equipment: anti-lock brakes. Surprisingly, their crash rate stayed the same. Nothing was wrong with the new brakes. The cabbies simply drove more ag- gressively, knowing that they had better brakes. This phenomenon is called risk homeosta-


sis. It also applies to skiers, skydivers, cyclists and, yes, kayakers. Risk homeostasis states that people have a


target level of risk they’re willing to tolerate. Above that risk level, things are scary; below it, they are boring. Give a cabbie better brakes and he’ll drive faster. Give a kayaker a drysuit and she’ll paddle in bigger seas. This might not seem like a problem, since


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26 ADVENTURE KAYAK | SPRING 2012


that kayaker gets more challenging paddling for the same level of risk. However, paddlers often assume that safety equipment provides more safety—or different kinds of safety— than it does. The U.S. Coast Guard and American


Whitewater Association recently published 2010 statistics on boating accidents. The sin- gle greatest cause of sea kayak accidents was, for the eleventh year running, “Unexpected changes in weather conditions.” A New Zea- land study of near-misses agreed. Of course, “unexpected” is a loaded word.


Most weather changes can be anticipated


through forecasts, weather knowledge and seamanship. But relatively few kayakers have honed these skills. It’s quicker and easier, if more expensive, to buy a drysuit. In Sea Kayaking Safety and Rescue, John


Lull describes a four-level safety hierarchy. The first is judgment and decision-making. Second, paddling skills and boat control keep kayakers upright and away from hazards. It’s not until the third level—rescues—when that $800 drysuit actually helps. At level four— outside assistance—we’re reliant on a VHF radio, SPOT messenger or cell phone to call in the cavalry. If we’re really worried about safety, we should focus on the top two levels. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Risk


homeostasis applies to skill as well as equip- ment. Kayakers who feel safe in big waves will simply head for bigger waves. Therefore safe- ty education shouldn’t try to make kayaking less risky, since paddlers will just compensate. Nor should it try to lower the appetite for risk, since there’s evidence of a genetic con- nection. Headed into Okisollo Rapid? You probably have an elongated DRD4 gene. The best approach is to make risk more


apparent. In sea kayaking, unlike whitewater paddling, the dangers are mostly invisible. The weather systems, tides and currents that


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