Dropping down 70ft waterfalls whilst pinned into a kayak is not for the fainthearted. However, for Nick Troutman, this is what he lives for! Most people would hit the panic alarm, but Nick is so used to getting into flow, he even does emergency adjustments as he is dropping vertically.
Nick Troutman is a world champion and five-time national champion kayaker, filmmaker, and philanthropist. He is highly respected in the river-sport community, and in addition to his competitive achievements, has established several first descents while on expeditions in Mexico, Newfoundland, Ottawa, Zambia, Quebec, and the Niagara Gorge. His commitment to the river and exceptional kayaking skills are what drove us to track him down and ask him to join The Flow Centre.
To share some of his key insights we have created this blog so you can get to understand this unbelievable athlete.
Nick: We are driving around, checking out a whole bunch of different rivers and stuff.
Cameron: Nice! How long are you there for?
Nick: We're on the road probably for the next 8 to 10 months, I guess probably 8 months until like October, November. So, driving around in different states and countries and stuff like that.
Cameron: Yeah tough life! (laughs)
Nick: Then back to Tennessee. Yeah, it's not too bad. (chuckle)
Cameron: Have you experienced the flow state before when kayaking?
Nick: Yeah, definitely, you've studied it a lot and are very knowledgeable on the whole thing, but what you're describing I definitely have experienced that, and it's like "Oh yeah."
Then there's the times where...it seems like an out-of-body experience, or that you're no longer in control; where you're like "Whoa, how did that happen?!"
I guess the cool part would be to figure out how to get into it more often, because whenever I'm in the flow state I feel like I'm just way better.
Cameron: When was it that you experienced this flow state? What were you feeling?
Nick: It's happened several times, but one of them that has been very memorable for me. Actually, it's in the video I think, in the highlight reel, where I'm running a waterfall, I'm in the green kayak and I slow it down in the video. Running that waterfall, we were there with a photographer and we kind of had to wait at the lip for like a couple of hours for him to get set up. And so the whole time of trying to just sit there calmly and be like "Okay, I'm not even going to think about the waterfall. I scouted it, I know the line and I'm going to nail the line." Then I had to really focus on, like zoning out and thinking about something totally different for the next couple of hours, because the longer I scout the waterfall and look at the waterfall, the more I felt like I was 'getting demons in my head,' and think of different possible outcomes specifically remembering the bad outcomes. Then I think, "Well, if I'm already imagining bad outcomes then I don't want to run the waterfall anymore." So I try to only think of the good outcomes.
But anyway, it was kind of this weird experience to zone out at the lip of the waterfall and just think of other stuff. When I did run the waterfall, it's almost hard for me to recall, because it's like I paddled in, and then I knew the line that I wanted to do, I got close to the left but then my boat spun a little bit and I had to do this correction stroke and pull it back while I was dropping down vertical like, a lot of different boat control happening all at once. And I don't necessarily remember doing any of it, I just did it. There was never like an "Oh, sh**! I'm not where I want to be, I need to correct this,"or "Oh, it would be better if I did this." It was just like I wasn't thinking, I just did it all and it was perfect!
Then afterwards I remember being like "Oh, what just happened? How did I do that?" Like, I did a lot of things in a very short period of time and I don't remember trying to do any of them, I just did it all. It was just one of those experiences that I guess I felt like I wasn t thinking, I was just reacting, but reacting so quickly.
That was one of the ones that was super memorable for me, but that happens quite often to a certain extent, where you just kind of react I guess and you're not necessarily like "Oh, I'm going to put here and pull myself that way, or I'm going to do this and that." You just kind of do it. I don't know if that has to do with just several years of paddling, or if it's some other thing in the brain. There's a lot of things that happen that always made me wonder, like "Oh, I wonder how you do that?" or "I wonder what's actually happening?" Because sometimes it feels like my brain just shuts off and I'm better when it does.
It was a very unique experience where just everything felt all connected and I could do whatever I wanted, it was almost like if I imagined it would work. Everything was happening quicker and better and easier, and I don't know, a unique experience for sure. That's probably the strongest time that I can really remember, but it happens quite often doing anything that I consider technical whitewater, where I'm nervous about a drop or a rapid or something like that, I frequently find that I'm in the zone and more in-tuned. Whether it's fear that that kicks in, or adrenaline, but sometimes the harder the whitewater the more I zone out and just react a little bit.I keep saying reacting, and I don't know if that's the right term or not, but I guess it's just the word that I use because I'm not necessarily thinking like "Oh, I want to drive my boat farther this way or that way, or boof the hole or whatever." I kind of just do it all, almost as if I'm on autopilot and a much better paddler is paddling my boat.
Cameron: So what about your freestyle experiences?
Nick: Yeah, I was going to say that in freestyle it's a bit different. I don't know if it's a different experience or what, or maybe just a different level of the same kind of experience, but there's definitely times where I can think of where I just had the best rides I could have possibly had. I was training hard for those events and practicing a lot and was in good physical shape but at the same time it's a little different because I drop into the wave and have got 60 seconds or 45 seconds, depending on the competition and it was just like bam-bam-bam, like I would just do one move right after another. I wasn't wasting time, I wasn't doing anything, but I was very aware of where I was on the wave exactly, just super in-tune with my boat, my edge control, the current, the flows of the wave itself, and it felt like I was almost invincible, the same kind of thing where whatever I wanted to do I could do and I did it. Being that you're under a time limit for the competition, the more tricks you do and the harder the tricks, the more points you get, so I was able to do essentially everything that I wanted to do.
Cameron: So what routines or preparation did you have prior to the competition that helped you get into flow?
Nick: Going into the competition I had a set routine that I wanted to do, but I hadn't necessarily ever completed it in the time frame before or even in practice. But it was just like I could drop in and do whatever I wanted, and if I was in the wrong spot of the wave or something like that then I could just re-manoeuvre myself and I could get back into the right spot and continue going way quicker than normal. I guess a lot of it is just you're not wasting time thinking, you're just doing, which is pretty cool.
Both of them I was doing a lot of mental practice, just essentially doing the routine in my head. But a lot of it as well was just really trying to stay positive. In both situations there was a lot of pressure and a lot of people. You're sitting in agony with the other people that are in the finals, and there's just this severe amount of stress in the air. For me, at the time, it was like I had this bubble around me, and I would just be so happy and try to calm everybody else down. I'd be like "Hey guys, no need to stress! This is so much fun!" and just really being super positive about the whole experience, and I think that same positivity then, when I would drop into the feature, there was no stress about flushing or missing a trick or anything like that, and I just had this feeling like I know I'm going to win the World Championships.
Maybe that's why I was also so positive at the time, or maybe that feeling came because of the positive outlook beforehand. But yeah, it's a very unique experience for sure. It's a little bit like feeling invincible.
Cameron: Can you explain the disparity between flow and winning?
Nick: The first World Championships I ever did, I had a lot of really good rounds where I was winning the whole time, and then in the finals the wave changed for the very last ride. I had this routine in my head that I was trying to do and I had never completed it, and then in my final ride of the event I completed it and I was just thinking like "Oh, I'm untouchable nobody could touch that!" But, because the wave changed and it was a little foamier, some of the judges didn't like some of the tricks, and so I ended up in third. I guess it's a different thing (flow) to your results. Sometimes your results don't show, but the flow state still is there. I could still tap into that same mindset, even though the results weren't the exact same.
Cameron: Why do you endure high risks and how do you continue to love the sport despite being scared?
Nick: It almost forces you to go into fight, flight, freeze, or flow mode. Like I was explaining before, once you peel out of an eddy and you're essentially approaching a rapid, there's no turning back, you're in the lion's den. You have to come out victorious, or something horrible is going to happen. When people ask why I love kayaking, I would explain that it's the love of nature, which is definitely a part of it, but a big part of it is the forced decision-making. You're forced into these situations to make extremely quick decisions. Kayaking on the river is very different than a half-pipe, a half-pipe you've got something solid where you're going to go down and you're going to come back up.You can run the same rapid 100 times, and because water, the way it flows through a river and stuff like that, it's never constant. The only constant is that it's constantly changing. So, even though you can pick a line and you're like "Okay, this is the line I'm going to take." the current might push you a different way, or something might just happen. The fight, flight, freeze, or flow situations; it's like you're forcing yourself into these situations to be put into, to choose one of the four I guess.
We would like to thank Nick for his time and insight. We look forwards to following and helping Nick win Gold in the next championships. We would also like to thank you for taking the time to read this post!