Sunday, September 15, 2013

4 questions for: Steve Macdonald, on Coaching the Mind

Steve Macdonald.
We're eagerly anticipating the arrival of Steve Macdonald, a BCU Level 5 Coach from Scotland who is a technical adviser to outdoor centers in the UK and is also certified in telemark and Nordic skiing as well as mountaineering. Steve is one of the featured coaches at the upcoming Gales Storm Gathering in the Apostle Islands. He will also be offering a number of BCU courses in the Chicago area, which are co-sponsored by Have Kayaks, Will Travel and Summit Sports, during the week before that event.

One of these is the three-hour Coaching the Mind module, which will be offered on Wednesday, Oct. 2 in the evening in Oak Park. We talked with Steve about this course, which is being offered for the first time in the midwest.

Have Kayaks, Will Travel: What excites you about this module?

Steve Macdonald: The fact that it allows coaches to understand a bit more of the psychology that their clients might be experiencing. This can help them get the best out of a coaching episode and, more importantly, their ongoing paddlesport development. Mental skills are very fundamental. People have confidence issues, anxiety issues and all of that stuff, so it’s very relevant.

HKWT: What do you find participants gain from it?

SM: I think it broadens people's coaching, moving it away from just thinking of coaching only in terms of technical skills. You're familiar with TTPP, right? Generally, recreational coaches are focused on techniques and tactics, and [this module] helps make them more holistic coaches.

HKWT: Will it also be applicable to people who teach or coach things other than paddlesports, such as gym teachers, soccer coaches and ski instructors?

SM: Absolutely. We’ll look at how mental skills training is going to help in a training context, in a performance context and even in a competitive context. Some of the key things that we’re going to be focusing on are imagery, concentration and attentional focus. We'll look at how to manage anxiety and deal with confidence issues, making sure people aren’t overstimulated by the environment. It’s all about preparing people to be doing something in an environment when that environment might be stressful. There’s lots of sideways, tangential applications.

Steve coaching a group of students in Ireland.
HKWT: Will this be primarily lecture, or will there be other activities as well?

SM: It should be interactive. There will be information at the front, but then we'll go out and workshop some of the strategies we’ve been talking about. There's no point in doing it unless we're doing it, you know? We're paddlesport coaches; we understand that learning has to take place in a practical context. The games, activities and exercises we do will be to reinforce the theoretical stuff we've been discussing.

You: This sounds great! Can I attend?

HKWT: Yes. The cost is just $35 and you can register online here. We should know the exact location of this module within the week. If you have questions, post them as comments here or contact us at kayak.bp (at) gmail (dot) com.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Outex waterproof cover expands kayaking photography

Alec tests the new Outex system
Up until now, most of the photos we took on the water in dynamic conditions were shot with small waterproof cameras like the Nikon coolpix aw110. It's a very good camera, but it simply doesn't provide the features and photo quality of the the DSLRs we use on land (and, occasionally, on the water in calmer conditions). Early this summer we learned about a new product that allows us to use our DSLR on the water without worrying about it or the lenses getting damp.

The Outex system is modular, making additions or replacements easy.
The Outex system is comprised of a soft latex camera cover, optical glass lens, and a viewfinder or LCD screen lens. The camera cover is sized to fit specific cameras and a range of lenses. You then choose an Outex optical lens that fits the diameter of your lens and screws into the filter threads. The latex cover fits over this and is sandwiched by a washer and threaded ring that fit over the optical lens.

Putting on the washer that seals the cover around the lens.
At the back of the camera, you can choose a simple viewfinder lens or the larger lens that allows you to see the viewfinder and LCD screen. We choose the later to enable us to shoot video as well as review photos on the spot. Either way, this cover slips onto your existing eyepiece and seals in the same manner as the front cover.

The LCD cover allows a good view of camera functions.
The final step of assembly is to install a strap to hold onto the camera. Outex offers a neck strap and a wrist strap. We choose the wrist strap because it's impractical to  paddle with a full-size DSLR hanging over your PFD.
Fully assemble, with an 18-200 mm. zoom lens.
That's it! The brilliance of this system is that it isn't bulky, heavy or expensive like a traditional hard housing. You can operate camera controls easily through the flexible latex (though you can't see them, so you will have to do so by memory). So how does it work?

The first we took.
We have to admit that even though Outex rates this system to 30 feet, we were nervous at first. In fact, it has performed flawlessly. Here is what we have learned using this system so far:

  • Auto focus works most of the time with the cover on (though it sometimes has a hard time in lower light without the auto focus light).
  • Because of the depth of the lens ring, there is some vignetting when using wide angle lenses.
  • On our Nikon D90, the big LCD lens on the back of the camera can make it difficult to operate all of the controls on the back of the camera.
  • The wrist strap system is very comfortable and secure. We wish the strap was a bit longer; 12 more inches would make a normal forward stroke easier with the camera at the ready in your lap. Practice capsizing with this system if you are going to be using it on the water. Rolling worked fine for us, but your camera and lens may get knocked against your boat. 
  • Depending on your comfort and balance, this system is great in rough water. But unlike point and shoot cameras, a DSLR requires both hands and is heavy, and if you use a zoom lens or telephoto lens it can throw off your balance (due to a loss of depth perception). For these reasons, it won't completely replace our small, one-hand-operation waterproof cameras.
  • The whole system is modular. This means that if you puncture a cover or change cameras, all you have to buy is a new latex cover. The Outex website has a very friendly shopping system that will help you to choose the right parts for the camera and lens your have.
  • How much does it cost? Depending on the options you choose, the basic setup for a Nikon D-90 runs about $330.
A waterproof cover expands the angles you can shoot from.
Overall we are very happy with what the Outex system does for us. It does take some practice, but it allows you to bring the image quality and shooting options of a DSLR on to the water.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Video Review: Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown, volume 3

A rescue scenario in Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown, volume 3.
If you're jealous of the paddling opportunities and access in Scotland, Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown, volume 3 will only exacerbate that emotion. This two-and-a-half-hour DVD begins with "Handling Emergency Situations," which involves staged rescues by HM Coastguard helicopter and Royal National Lifeboat Institution boats. Why can't we do that?

The scenarios aren't extreme; they're quite realistic examples of situations that start out small and grow to be life threatening, such as losing a paddle. They also aren't entirely simulated; Gordon and friends actually do get cold and suffer bruising from parachute flares. Best of all, they answer questions about the effectiveness of various types of emergency equipment we all carry but few of us ever get to use. This dramatic, 46-minute segment includes everything from initiating a distress call to attracting the attention of rescuers to preparing for the downdraft of a helicopter--all the things you need to know to facilitate a smooth rescue. It also takes a realistic look at how well flares, strobes and other signaling devices work in rough seas, shows us the operation center where calls are received and rescues are coordinated, and discusses what can be learned from the deliberate mistakes Gordon and friends make in these scenarios.

Did we mention being jealous? At the end of "Handling Emergency Situations," we realized that Andy was Andy Stamp, BCU Level 5 sea kayak coach. And he is just one of many denizens of our paddling bookshelf and CD rack who appear in this DVD. The 47-minute "Navigation" section features Franco Ferrero, whose friendly book on navigation helped us gain basic competence without getting overwhelmed by the "dark art" of finding your way. Ferrero's approach is keeping it simple, and his explanations of tides, bearings, charts and transits are accessible and practical.

Franco Ferrero is one of several members of the paddling pantheon in this video.
And then there's Rowland Woollven of Wilderness Emergency Medical Services Institute, who presents the 20-minute section on "First Aid Kits" (which includes handling medical emergencies). Woollven shares what he carries in his "ouch pouch" and first-aid kit, and demonstrates a few first aid techniques, but emphasizes that each paddler should carry what's appropriate to his or her training and needs. If you're expecting a video first-aid course, this isn't it. Rather, he makes a compelling case for taking a wilderness first aid course.

The last section of this video is the weakest. "Rolling Clinic" involves Gordon Brown working with a group of students at a swimming pool. It's clearly not staged; these are real students with little or no rolling experience. What made us cringe was watching them repeat errors without correction, reinforcing bad habits that become increasingly difficult to break. After all, it was in Gordon Brown's book, Sea Kayak: A Manual for Intermediate and Advanced Sea Kayakers, that we first encountered the idea of 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to learn to do something well.

Producer/Director Simon Willis of Sunart Media has clearly put in his 10,000 hours. Volume 3 employs many of the innovative filming devices he created for earlier volumes; the multiple camera angles he uses in the rescues section are effective and unobtrusive, and the viewers' attention stays on the action, not on the filming that captured it.

You can watch a preview here:

It will be available in October, but you can preorder it here. (Make sure you order the NTSC version if you are in the US, Canada or other countries that use that format.)