Great jobs of our time: “extreme sports correspondent”

Whitewater kayaking
Whitewater kayaking

I’ve come across some pretty interesting job titles over the years: “chief fun officer”, “chief excitement officer”, “chick sexer”, “software evangelist”, “sales ninja”, even “assistant chief artificial inseminator*”.

But “extreme sports correspondent” sounds pretty cool – and that’s the title that Michael J Ybarra rejoices in at the august Wall Street Journal.

It’s his job to go and do risky things – and get paid for them. Tough life!

In his latest outing, the correspondent describes how his favourite sport is akin to pinging around a pinball machine:

“When I’m on a whitewater run, I often feel like a pinball: shooting downstream, bumping off rocks, wildly paddling through waves to keep from being capsized. The potential for disaster seems to be everywhere.”

A laconic style hides a serious bent,  however. While Ybarra casually slips in lines that highlight the dangers – “I asked him if he’d ever been injured on a river. “I’ve split my head open, split my nose open,” he said. “Nothing major.” –  there’s a serious streak to his writing.

Ybarra’s latest quest was to check out a river safety course.

The statistics are pretty numbing: there are about 50 whitewater deaths a year in the U.S. (about twice as many as in climbing). One in three of these drownings is a rescuer.

Ybarra got exhausted during the safety course, which he recommends for all kayakers.

“The accident scenarios grew more complex, and by the end of the day I was cold and waterlogged. In the last one I volunteered to be “upriver safety,” the person who warns other boaters not to run the section where a rescue is under way….I was a bit overwhelmed pondering all the things that can go wrong on a river and what a thin line separates fun from disaster.”

And, as Ybarra himself recounts in another article, however good you are, it doesn’t always go well.

Eagle-eyed readers will note a useful new word in his piece which you could usefully add to your lexicon of canoeing language:  ‘carping’.

In Ybarra’s account of  ‘careening downstream, upside down, on the Salmon River’, he comes up with this description of his survival technique: “My body is wedged into a kayak, the helmet on my head bumping off rocks on the river bottom. I thrust my paddle above the roiling water and try to flip my boat up. It almost works. I gulp a mouthful of air before the boat tips back over into the rapid. This is called “carping,” because you look like a carp broaching the surface with your mouth desperately agape.”

It’s all a gripping read and Ybarra’s a writer who’s well worth following on the Wall Street Journal website.

* OK, so I may have lied here slightly. This job title was a bit of schoolboy humour – someone wrote it on the back of my biology teacher’s white coat some thirty years ago. Still, as jobs go….

(Picture credit: Flickr via creative commons) 

A similar article to this appeared earlier this week but was lost due to a technical fault. Apologies for any inconvenience or editorial inconsistency caused.