There’s a kayak instructor in the Noonday Sun
Who closely resembles Attila the Hun
Most people think his virtues are few.
We think he’s high-handed and arrogant too.

He takes off down river and say’s “Follow my line”
Disappearing from sight as you paddle behind.
When the water is swift and one eddy you miss,
The clench in his jaw shows he’s mightily pissed.

So it’s back upstream over the rocks you go,
Quietly swearing with your boat in tow.
To do it again and do it “RIGHT” this time,
Secretly wondering, “Have I lost my mind?”

“Now paddle out to that drop and then levitate.
Do fourteen 360’s and don’t hesitate.”
He doesn’t ask much, least he won’t ADMIT it.
As far as this moves concerned, WE’D just as soon forget it.

He tells us our learning curve is taking a U turn,
No sympathy at all for the energy we burn.
What reward do we get for eventual success?
“NOW, what I want you to do is this!”

Say “I don’t want to”; he says, “I don’t care!”
(Then you know for sure you’re going in there.)
“Quit sniveling and paddle – don’t put up a fight.
I’m bigger than you are – MAKES SENSE RIGHT?”

You think, “SCREW YOU! I don’t need this #$%^.
Into that hole my boat just won’t fit.”
But then when he say’s, “Go do it again!”
Well…There’s a name for that man and it sure isn’t Ken.

In the, end it’s not really so bad: It’s really great fun.
We just can’t believe the things we’ve already done.
Thanks for your help – you really are great, Ken.
From Bonnie Barrett & Anne Carlisle
Thanks for all your help!!


“Ode to Attila” was written by two ladies, Bonnie and Ann, who came to me and asked me to teach them to be how to kayak around 1990. The two came in one day, sought me out and said, “We want you to teach us because we heard you were a good instructor but more important, you never let folks say no or get away with anything on the water.”

I laughed and said, “Be careful what you ask for!!”

We had some remarkable times together. Both Anne and Bonnie became really good paddlers. They both ended up paddling rivers in Colorado, the Gauley and several trips to Costa Rica. Both were in their forties when they began paddling

When I look back on what to attribute to them becoming such good paddlers, it all boils down to their attitude. Whether on a river here in North Carolina or Costa Rica…they never said “NO!” when asked to try new things on the river. There were times I had the two of them practicing the same skill over and over again until they really had it down. They never complained. And never ever did either complain about practicing rolls, even on the Nantahala! They were serious about learning kayaking and I knew it because they took the time to practice at home.

Using positive not negative energy—it is a personal choice. Bonnie and Anne focused their energy on improving even when things were at times difficult. They are such good examples that it does not matter whether as a kayaker you are male or female; what matters is keeping a positive mental attitude and continuing to try until you succeeded.

So perhaps here is a lesson to be learned. Don’t focus on fear. Fear is something we all feel when trying new things. A little fear is a good thing, as it helps develop the adrenalin that can help create the energy to enable us to perform difficult skills. Uncontrolled and irrational fear is something completely different.

So what is the best way to control irrational fear? Paddle at your comfort level. If you are totally terrified every time you get into the boat, maybe this isn’t the sport for you at that time. Figure out where that irrational fear is coming from. Is it an issue with not being able to swim? Then take the time to work through that skill development first. Or is it a complete terrified fear of the water? This is supposed to be fun! Maybe take time out and try mountain biking to see if it is a better option. Still have a desire to get back in a kayak after that? Then go back and try it again! Remember, this is supposed to be fun and you should be doing this for yourself, for your enjoyment, not for anyone else—spouse, boy friend, girl friend.

Once you are committed to learning, find someone that you truly trust to help you and develop an “On Water Trust Relationship”. Bonnie and Anne knew I would never ask them to do anything that would put them in danger relative to their skill level. They also knew that 100% of my attention was on them when we worked together and they knew I would be there for them when they failed. They knew that I was teaching them correct technique and that I had a plan on how to get them to improve. And they say that plan come to fruition.

Feeling uncomfortable doing something that is well within your ability but not your comfort? SUCK IT UP! Just try it. I know that sounds insensitive, but what I know that you don’t is that you will be surprised how good it feels to accomplish that goal. Find a way to relax, a song to sing, focus on something positive, and remember that after all: it’s just water and rocks!

Ken Kastorff