If it doesn’t end with “well that was stupid” then what’s the point?

It’s the end of February, 2015. I find myself in a small blue kayak hurtling down the white-water Nile River in Western Uganda. I can hear them before I see them. I start repeating my new mantra, getting louder and louder as the din of the rapids fills the air: what am I doing?…what am I doing?…WHAT AM I DOING?!
My kayak collides with the first rapid and crashes through a three foot wave. I lean in and pull hard on my right side. Suddenly another wave crashes to my left. I see another coming, then another, then another, all from different directions and all getting larger and larger. White water crashes into my face and adrenaline coupled with the instinct to survive courses through my veins. Suddenly a massive four foot wave appears directly on top of me. Too little to late. The wave crashes into me and I feel the tiny plastic kayak topple over upside down.

Some Facts:

Between 2009-2010 approximately 15% of the population 12 years of age or older suffered an injury severe enough to limit their usual activity. 1 This accounts for approximately 4.27 million Canadians, with 2.14 million being males. 1 In the European Union (EU) injury is the first cause of death in people 15-24 years of age. 2 While the majority of these injuries are from road traffic accidents (74%), there is still a sizable portion related to unintentional injuries (16%) 2 – a.k.a. doing stupid things we shouldn’t be doing.
Back in Canada, we have some common themes for generally risky activities, one of them being winter sports. In a 2012 report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) it was estimated that 5600 Canadians were hospitalized with serious injuries from skiing and snowboarding (among others), with an estimated 10x that number having a visit to their local Emergency Department. 3
And not just in winter, many Canadians are hurt during summer months engaging in adventure activites like mountain biking. In fact, in the 2009 season at the Whistler mountain bike park, close to 900 people were injured, with 86% of them being male most commonly close to 26 years of age. 4

Why me?

An important question is why people take risky behaviours, and what motivates men in particular. As might be expected there are many factors that play a role. Some of these are mood-modifieres like caffeine, 5 alcohol 6 drugs 7 and even tourism 8.
In other cases, people are driven by over confidence and a sense of adventure and excitement. Specifically, in a study of almost 1300 new drivers in Australlia, being an adventurous male put you at almost double the risk of the opposite counterparts for getting into an accident in the first year of driving. 9
Being male comes with our own unique biological risks. A study in the Journal of Evolutionary Psychology looked at 11 specific leading causes of death, and compared the number of years lost for males and females, and how different they were. 10 They found that the number of years men were loosing from car crashes and non-car related trauma was a total of 19% higher than the fairer sex! 10

How to stay safe

New Zealand is a gorgeous country that touts one of the oldest national tourism organizations in the world (over 100 years!). 10 As of 2014 the country had over 2.8 million visitors representing more than 9.6 billion dollars in revenue. 10 In a 2008 survey of 127 tour operators representing over one million people across the country they found some key factors that can help you keep safe during adventure outtings. 11 In particular, when getting involved in things like horseback riding, eco-tourism and (as above!) white water rafting things like not following instructions, having a low skill level and/or fitness and going out in bad weather all made the difference. 11
That said, one of the most common-sense and easy-to-do ways of keeping yourself safe when getting into the saddle of a mountain bike or staring into the abyss of a couloir at the top of a mountain is…wear a helmet! Four researchers from across Canada published a study in the British Medical Journal in 2013 that studied 66,716 cycling accidents that took place across Canada over the course of nine years (1994-2003). 12 Even though they didn’t see a clear impact of legislating helmets across the country, they found that rates of head injuries in biking accidents decreased on average by more than 24% in Provinces that implemented legislation compared to those that didn’t. 12

Take Aways

When push comes to shove safety is paramount. But going back to Uganda, I was in an amazing country that I was not about to leave without taking a flying leap down the Nile River. I was in way over my head, and I flipped my little boat, but, I made it out in one piece.
Here are some reasons why I think it was more than luck: I was well rested, the weather was great, I was completely drug and alcohol free, I wore a helmet, I used a guide and I had a strong experience of paddling in alternative situations back home.
The moral of this story is that most of us are inclined to do stupid things in our lives, because, well, what’s life without a little adventure? The trick to me is doing it the right way so you can keep on adventuring and have a story to tell.

  1. Health at a Glance. Injuries in Canada: Insights from the Canadian Community Health Survey. [Online] 2015. [Cited: February 13, 2017.] http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-624-x/2011001/article/11506-eng.htm.
  2. Risk taking and injuries among young people. [Online] [Cited: February 13, 2017.] http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/158181/Policy-Briefieng-9-Risk-taking-and-injuries-among-young-people.pdf.
  3. Ubelacker, S. Canadian Snow Sport Injuries: Over 5000 Canadians Hurt; Skiing And Snowboarding Top List. [Online] 2012. [Cited: February 13, 2017.] http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/17/5000-canadians-injured-snow-sports_n_1210655.html.
  4. The epidemiology of mountain bike park injuries at the Whistler Bike Park, British Columbia (BC), Canada. Ashwell Z, McKay MP, Brubacher JR, Gareau A. 2, 2012, Wilderness Environmental Medicine, Vol. 23, pp. 140-45.
  5. Effects of acute and chronic caffeine on risk-taking behavior in children and adolescents. . Temple JL1, Ziegler AM1, Graczyk AM1, Crandall A1. 2017, J Psychopharmacol.
  6. Effects of alcohol intoxication on the perceived consequences of risk taking. Fromme, Kim and Katz, E, D’Amico E. 1, 1997, Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, Vol. 5, pp. 14-23.
  7. Traffic Risk Behaviors at Nightlife: Drinking, Taking Drugs, Driving, and Use of Public Transport by Young People. N. Blay, M. Juan , D. Adrover , M. A. Bellis , K. Hughes , P. Stocco , I. Siamou , F. Mendes & K. Bohrn. 2, 2009, Traffic Injury Prevention, Vol. 10.
  8. Drugs and risk-taking in tourism. Natan U, Yaniv B. 2, 2006, Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 33, pp. 339-359.
  9. Behavioral Factors as Predictors of Motor Vehicle Crashes in Young Drivers. Stevenson MR, Palamara P, Morrison D and Ryan A. 4, 2001, Journal of Crash Prevention and Injury Control, Vol. 2, pp. 247-254.
  10. New Zealand tourism: Facts and figures . [Online] 2014. [Cited: March 5, 2017.] http://media.newzealand.com/en/story-ideas/new-zealand-tourism-facts-and-figures/.
  11. Monitoring Injury in the New Zealand Adventure Tourism Sector: An Operator Survey. Bentley TA, Page S, Edwards J. 15, 2008, Journal of Travel Medicine, Vol. 6, pp. 395-403.
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