Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Another perk of paddling: an international network of friends

Tom Motte, our Rhode Island connection.
While we were in Maine, we briefly met Tim Motte, who tossed out a casual invitation: "Come to Rhode Island!" As with many invitations of this type in the paddling world, much more is implied. The full invitation is, "Come to Rhode Island and I'll take you on some amazing paddles and introduce you to my kayaking cohort." And in this case, "You can stay and my house and I'll make you lunch!"

Today's menu: Peanut butter, banana, pumpkin seed and raisin sandwiches. 
So, of course, we went to Rhode Island, where we got to know Tim and the Rhode Island Canoe/Kayak Association (RICKA) crew.

Meeting on the beach. 
Tim is a BCU five-star leader. According to the British Canoe Union, this means he:
has entered a higher level of performance, involving a high level of personal skill and leadership in advanced situations. It is a leadership award and the appropriate test for paddlers who wish to lead  groups of other paddlers in appropriate locations in advanced tidal waters and  dynamic weather conditions typified by the Climate of the British Isles. The five star leader has the skills and judgement to select appropriate trips for a  range of ability levels.  
Tim points out the intended route on a chart.
We were privileged to spend two days paddling on the Rhode Island coast with Tim and the RICKA paddlers. Rhode Island has only 40 miles of shoreline if you look at its general coastline, but it has 384 miles of tidal coastline, which includes coast, islands, bays, sounds and rivers 100 feet or wider. In other words, it's a craggy place, perfect for rock gardening and rough-water paddling.

It was great watching Tim lead a group in these waters. In keeping with his five-star award, he adjusted the trip for participants who had varying degrees of comfort in the conditions. It was also great to meet more than a dozen RICKA paddlers from Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts, who realize how fortunate they are to live so near this amazing kayaking environment.

Kayaking brings a diverse range of people together, creating strong bonds between people who otherwise would never have crossed paths. When we meet kayakers from other parts of the country and the world, we recognize in them the same passion for paddling, delight in sharing it, and desire to protect the places where it's possible.

Thanks, Tim and RICKA. We'll be back.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Four-star training with John Carmody: what we learned

Planning a coastal journey during the four-star training.
First, a disclaimer: We can't possibly summarize everything we learned in this post. But we can hit the highlights and explain why this training matters.

Second, a little background: The four-star leader sea kayak award recognizes that a paddler has the personal paddling and leadership skills to take a group of four on a short journey in a moderate tidal environment, meaning up to two knots of current, up to Beaufort sea state 4, and moderate surf (up to one meter). This sounds fairly modest, but it's actually a rigorous program. Candidates are expected to:
  • possess solid personal paddling skills in force 4/5 winds
  • be able to journey 15 to 20 miles in three-star conditions
  • plan safe trips in tidal environments
  • understand practical coastal navigation
  • understand basic weather forecasting
  • understand tides and currents
  • bring and maintain appropriate equipment
  • understand rules of the road 
  • understand issues of access
  • conduct a dynamic risk assessment and use this information appropriately
  • execute rescues
  • provide basic first aid
  • deal with various situations that arise with people, equipment and boats
  • know when and how to contact appropriate emergency services
And, in addition to all this, assess the skills of participants, make use of their assets on a journey, and offer helpful hints and timely tips to maximize their enjoyment and accomplishments.

Safely landing a group on a ledge during the four-star training.
We found that the skills we developed in the Great Lakes--paddling in rough water and current, executing efficient rescues, and assessing risks--transferred well and enabled us to be comfortable in the environment. We knew we would need to concentrate on navigation and tidal planning, and this proved true. And we discovered that we need our navigation skills to be as comfortable for us as our paddling skills in order to fully concentrate on leading groups in a tidal environment. This is definitely where we need to do the most work.

Working on surf landings with an injured paddler.
An element that intrigued us was figuring how much control to exert in a given environment. This is tricky because it involves staying within the remit of the 4 star award, understanding the environment and conditions, and knowing whether you can fix any problems that arise. And it must be done not in the context of coaching (which is what we do most of the time) but while on a journey with friends, with a club or with paying clients. This means they ought to be able to explore and engage with the environment on their own terms as well as on ours.

Watching as John demonstrates how boats behave in surf without paddlers.
In the end, we received loads of timely tips and handy hints from John Carmody. Ten highlights:
  • start trip plans with the big picture (and keep it in mind throughout the journey)
  • break a big trip into smaller pieces
  • remember the remit
  • gather information from multiple sources
  • identify landmarks
  • always look for ranges
  • spend time before launching comparing your chart to what you see from your launch site
  • keep the pre-trip beach briefing simple, concise, and general enough to allow for changes
  • deliver concise, constructive suggestions when and where they can be assimilated
  • always feel comfortable changing your plan 
John creates a low pressure system in his back yard.
This four-star training included all the elements we wanted and some we hadn't expected. We acquired a better understanding of and respect for the remit. We got a taste of a new environment and how it can be used. We came away with things we need to work on, and ideas for activities that will enable our Great Lakes students to be successful when they paddle in tidal environments.

The goal of all this? To safely lead a group, even in fog.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Good coaches continue to train, and widely

This we believe: becoming certified is more of a commencement than a conclusion of coach education. We gained our first certifications five or six years ago, but that was just the beginning of our journey toward becoming capable coaches. And we're still progressing along that path.

For us, continuing coach education takes several forms. These include:
  • Training in a variety of environments
  • Training in a variety of paddlesports
  • Training with a variety of high-level coaches
This process is time-consuming, expensive and often humbling. But it's also engaging, exciting and eminently rewarding.

Over the past few years, we've had the privilege of working extensively with Shawna Franklin and Leon Somme of Body Boat Blade, International on Orcas Island, Washington, and Scott Fairty of Summit Sports in Brighton, Michigan. Last month, we spent five days in Chicago working with Nick Cunliffe of Kayak Essentials in Anglesey, North Wales. And we just returned from eight days with John Carmody of Sea Cliff Kayakers in Boothbay, Maine.

John Carmody.
We chose to work with John for both his reputation and his location. He's a BCU Level 5 Sea Coach -- the highest coach certification in the BCU system -- who combines a deep knowledge of seamanship and human biomechanics with paddlesport and coach education. And he's based on the craggy Maine coast, where an understanding of tides and current, weather and navigation are non-negotiable and provide good preparation for paddling in the UK (home waters of the BCU) and other ocean environments.

A lighthearted moment on the beach.
We signed up for a BCU four-star leader training with John, but he also invited us to observe a private lesson and a three-star assessment, as well as observe/assist with a three-day course for a group of eight students and their coach, Sylvain Bedard, from Quebec. This gave us seven days on the water with John, along with two days of navigation training on land--experiences that expanded our understanding of the ocean and his approach to coaching in ocean conditions.

A conversation before a daylong journey along the Maine coast.
Because we recently completed a BCU Level 2 coach training, we appreciated the opportunity to see the principles we've been thinking about put into practice by someone who makes it seem effortless. Like any good coach, John chooses a progression based on the students' goals and skills, and selects a venue to match. The Maine coastline offers plenty of opportunities to work in current, tides, swell and surf, as well as chances to maneuver around, over and between rocks and ledges.

John consistently displayed many of the coaching strategies we are working on:

  • individualizing instruction for each student
  • leaving room for experimentation
  • making use of the environment
  • incorporating a journey
  • using varied practice to keep students engaged and learning
  • keeping a sense of humor

John demonstrates proper paddle position while ruddering in a boat made of sand.
John has travelled the world, but there's one place he's never paddled: the Great Lakes. We're thrilled that he'll be a featured coach at the upcoming Gales Storm Gathering symposium, October 11 through 13 in the Apostle Islands. Registration is limited to 60 participants, but there are still some spots available. Register today and you'll be able to work with John, too, without the trip to the east coast.

It's not unusual to find John coaching from the beach or standing in the water.