| Outside magazine, September 1994|
Sports You Can (and Should) Do with Your Eyes Closed
By Mark Jannot
According to Gary Kamen, the motor-control expert at Boston University, most athletes spend too much time looking where they're going. After all, it's not your eyes that help you balance your kayak--it's your body movements, which you want to become second nature. "We tend to use our vision when it's available," says Kamen, "even when we'd be better off using our kinesthetic sense." Try practicing the basic moves of a new sport--or a new move at a sport you know well--while blindfolded. If you don't peek, you'll be amazed at what you can pick up.
Being able to move smoothly from the inside edges of your wheels to the outside edges means you can turn quickly, and hence avoid dicey situations. With your eyes open, practice rolling from edge to edge in an empty parking lot by slaloming around cones, soda cans, or whatever. Once you're familiar with the sensation, practice the motion without looking, or at least without looking down. The next step is roller hockey--a sport that demands a lot of edging--but you'd best skip the blindfold.
Good skiers use their knees not only to absorb the bumps, but to keep from tipping over. Try this dry-land simulator: Lift your right foot behind you, grab it with your right hand, pull it toward your butt, and balance. Now stay up by bending your left knee every time you think you're going to topple--it's the same action you'll use on the slopes. Try it with the other leg, too.
Concentrate on transferring your weight so it's always over the limb, toes, or fingers that can support it best. Practice blind chimneying (inching your body up between two faces) in a door frame; mantling (hoisting your body onto a ledge) on a short brick wall; and bouldering...on a boulder, as long as you have a spotter.
Close your eyes and ditch the paddle? The key to basic kayak control is your torso--trying to right yourself with the paddle will only cause you to flail. Descend a benevolent Class II rapid, once with your eyes open to make sure there are no surprises, then again with them closed, using your outstretched hands and hips and waist to stay upright. Once you're comfortable doing that, paddle closed-eyed into a slow current. It takes good balance to keep the upriver side of the boat high enough to avoid flipping.