Flow State with James Shimizu

Whitewater kayaker, James Shimizu, shares his thoughts on Flow State.

Flow state can be found anywhere.

Flow state is defined as a mental state in which a person is completely focused on a single task or activity. All of their attention is directed towards said task and not many thoughts besides the activity at hand are experienced. Being in the flow state is a big part of what I love about kayaking. When I started kayaking, I would feel somewhat focused but not fully engrossed in it to the point of flow. My mind would wander, and even now it still does, but it’s gotten much easier to stay focused on the water after years of paddling and spending endless hours on the river.

Nowadays, shortly after leaving the last eddy or point of no return I find that I snap to and become fully present and focused on what’s right in front of me, running the rapid and nothing else. I believe there are variables that you can influence that will help make getting in and staying in the flow state easier.

Slow down the heart rate, slow down the whitewater.

I have a process I do before most big rapids and waterfalls to achieve a calm state of mind and body to set myself up for a good line. The simple action of walking around and scouting a rapid alone will get your heart rate up let alone the fear and other chemical processes of the brain. Once I am secure in my boat I close my eyes and start deep breathing to slow the heart rate down. In the nose, out the mouth, while visualizing the line and what I have to do with my body. A big, game changing realization I had in my kayaking journey was understanding the connection between heart rate and kayaking. Slow down the heart rate, slow down the whitewater. I believe that keeping the heart rate low helps to make things feel slower and my actions smoother. Having an elevated heart rate will make it harder to stay focused and have efficient, calculated movements.  

Like trying to knit a sweater from spider silk, it’s hard to truly put into writing how it feels to experience flow state. It’s a conceptual and personal experience that varies slightly from person to person.  Flow state can be found anywhere, not just in extreme sports.  From driving to washing dishes in a restaurant you can get into the zone of almost any task if you are determined. I encourage you to go do what you love, whatever it may be. Chase that feeling of focus and peaceful, smooth execution. Find the little tricks that make you go deeper into the flow state. You will then understand what I mean if you don’t already. I love the moments of flow when there are no thoughts. Just me and the river, doing what feels right and natural. 


The first rescue PFD that I ever owned was not a Green Jacket but a rival brand’s.  Its construction style was one of having 1 big bulky piece of foam in the front. The shoulder straps were adjustable, however the straps would flap around and slap you in the face and would also loosen during use.  At the time I didn’t know what I was missing because it was all I had owned up to that point. But after switching to a Green Jacket, it was like night and day!

The Green Jacket has The Foam Tectonics architecture. This allows the user to move freely and unencumbered by a large bulky piece of foam on the chest. Instead, it has multiple separate pieces of foam working together to allow a full range of motion. The Foam Tectonics design eliminates the bulk in the front of the torso, allowing me to stay forward with proper form for rapids and waterfalls.  Less bulk in front makes it easier to lean forward to peer over the transition at the lip of waterfalls, spot the landing and tuck up for landing.  I believe the Green Jacket is excellent for waterfalls because of this.  Bulkier PFDs make all these steps more challenging and thus running waterfalls more difficult and less enjoyable. 

The pull over style keeps all the adjustment straps out of sight and out of the way of the user.  To me, the Green Jacket feels like an extension of my body and less like a piece of gear. Being able to forget that I’m wearing it and to be fully present in the moment allows me to tap into the flow state and experience the true magic of whitewater in its entirety. 


James’ PFD of choice is the GreenJacket. Designed and tested for use in the most extreme environments by the world’s best paddlers.

Written by James Shimizu | Obsessed whitewater kayaker with a propensity for finding and flying his craft off waterfalls.

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