A line is a path you envision ahead of you that runs the safest route through any number of obstacles, including rapids, fallen trees, rocks, etc. When you’re picking a line through rapids, it helps to break things down into individual moves, all of which need to be within your abilities to make. Then, you need to look at how well these moves piece together as a sequence. Your success in running rapids relies greatly on your ability to look ahead and take actions that set you up for future moves.
Like playing pool, thinking in terms of one piece at a time, without consideration for the next move, will only impede your progress and leave you in a defensive, reaction-based mode. This also means you’re not in charge of your situation, which is not the best place to be on the river. Pick a line that you’re comfortable with and not necessarily one that others may think is easy. Realizing your own strengths and weaknesses will affect how you perceive a rapid, so it’s smart to know your own lines and refrain from crossing them. Employing this practice might save your life.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that wisdom gleaned from experienced paddlers should be ignored. It’s smart to learn from your own mistakes, but it’s wiser to learn from the mistakes of others, as well. Experience—first-hand or otherwise—will help you make the right decisions on the river.
You can learn to rely on yourself to pick a good line on the river, but making a good decision about whether or not to run a rapid in the first place is another matter entirely. You’ll need to be comfortable with the consequences of the decisions you make on the water. Keep in mind what you may face should you make a poor decision, as well as how each decision affects the others you’re with. With experience, you can learn to pick lines through rapids, but understanding your own personal limits—as well as the limits of those you’re with—will be a lifelong lesson, as your limits will change year after year.