Monday, September 21, 2015

1000 hours

In what I like to refer to as "the year in hell" - I loved the job, but it was very hard physically and hard on my family - I did very little paddling, but I did do a lot of yoga.

I came to realize that a lot of the connections that I made in Enlightened Kayaking between paddling and martial arts and Buddhism exist into yoga as well. I am working on a yoga for paddling post because of how strong the connection is.

I got see many new paddling students this past year, and I saw that the problem that a lot of them had was a lack of twisting ability. They literally lacked the ability to rotate at their core, which is a small problem for the forward stroke, but a huge problem for the sweep stroke. I realized that this could be remedied with a simple yoga practice - I have started telling people that everything we do in the outdoors is made easier if you do yoga!

sweep from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

I would like to find yoga positions that replicate the movements of paddling, I think that could help a lot of people with things like the sweep. In particular, I think that everyone can benefit from a simple yoga practice. And like most things, it is best to get that instruction from a qualified instructor.

I started to talk to my yoga instructor about the training process. Not because I am interested in becoming a yoga instructor - believe me I have enough on my plate - but because I am becoming ever depressed with the quality of kayak instructors that I see.

I think what is contributing to the low quality of instructors that I see - and I should stress, I am not talking about any of the instructors I work with, this is when I observe instruction while I am paddling on my own. I always watch other outdoor educators when I have the opportunity.

Here is what I think may contribute to the problem. You can take a week long class to become an ACA certified instructor, and go and teach students. ACA will teach you the format and the skills to teach. But there are no - that I can find - prerequisites for paddling history. Meaning, if you can master the skills in the class you can be an instructor, regardless of real world experience.

But if you want to be a yoga instructor, you have to do 200 hours of training, which my research says seems to take about 10 months. That ends up being 10 months of real world experience.

When I became a Paramedic, I did hundreds of precepted practical hours. In ambulances, in Emergency Departments, as well as pediatrics, nicu, etc. etc. It forced me to spend time doing what I was learning, and gaining real world experience.

All too often I see outdoor educators who did what I like to call "certification hunting". They find the certifications that people want to see, and they take the courses to obtain them, acquiring many along the way. ACA Level 1, 2 or 3 for coastal or whitewater kayaking. Wilderness First Aid, or Wilderness First Responder. Leave No Trace Master Educator. Swiftwater Rescue. High Angle Rescue, AMGA rock climbing. These are just a handful, but you can spend so much time doing it, you don't have time   to practice using these skills.

After getting my Paramedic, which is essentially a pile of certifications - Pre-hospital Advanced Life support(PHTLS), Pediatric Advanced Life Support(PALS), Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) I promised myself I wouldn't go certification hunting again. With the caveat that as soon as I didn't get a job because I lacked a particular certification, I would obtain that one. It has been close to twenty years and I still haven't had that happen.

Now, I don't mean to knock certifications. If you are a paddler, and want to work on your skills, by all means take a course. But I think instructors should be held to a higher standard. I would like to see instructors have to log their personal trips and their teaching time. It would be great if kayaking instructors had to have 200, or 400 or even 1000 hours of paddling time - maybe broken up between teaching time, and journeying time. I think it would give us instructors with way more depth, and experience to draw on.

I did some quick checking, and in the past year, I have taught around 350 hours. That doesn't count time prepping for classes, or reviewing classes and their outcomes. It also doesn't include personal trips. There is no substitute for teaching time - just like when I was a paramedic, there is nothing better than patient contact time! There is nothing better than doing the thing you are teaching people to do.

When I became a NOLS sea kayak instructor, my instructor training was 35 days in British Columbia. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done (Becoming a WMI instructor was harder!) Having the time to do that much paddling with so many wonderful paddlers was the best learning experience of my life. When I looked around the room on day 1, I literally thought "what am I doing here with these people, I am not in the same class as them." I walked away realizing I was an okay paddler, but a pretty good teacher (Today I think I am a pretty good paddler, and a great teacher, it only took me a decade to get to this point!) 35 days gave me so much experience to draw on when teaching today, it is a tremendous benefit.

I am frequently asked by younger instructors what their next step should be for both experience and advancement. I have a couple of pieces of standard advice that makes instructors stand out to potential employers, but the biggest thing I tell people is to do a NOLS Outdoor Educator course. Yes, they are expensive, but you will pick up so much skill, in both the venue (kayaking, climbing, etc) but you will walk away a far better instructor.

My advice to you as a new paddler? Yes, your instructor should have some sort of certification, but ask them about their paddling history? If you want to get into touring, what kind of touring have they done? If you want to do whitewater, what big rivers have they paddled? Get a feel for them as outdoorsmen, not just instructors.


  1. I dissagree about the hours of experience needed. I've got thousands of hours of paddling time but I'm still a bginning level paddler in many ways. As an instructor I'm definately in the lower ranks. However, I've met many paddlers that have far fewer hours paddling and they seem to skill up beyond my level in a year or so. And once they learn the skills they can show them and teach them if the get the training to do that. I think that skills come before experience.

    I also find student who think they are not begining paddlers because they have been padling for years, but in a number of classes I've taught we have had to take it back to the basic skills in the level one classes.

  2. CS, Thanks for your comment, and you are certainly entitled to disagree with me, but let me clarify a couple of things. I am not saying that you should go to an instructor with a 1000 hours of paddling experience and no certification. I am saying that an instructor who has met the requirements to pass an exam, but doesn't ALSO have extensive experience is a weaker instructor than one who has both.

    My description of a yoga instructor who has to pass an exam AND have a minimum of 200 hours is a perfect example, and they will be even better when they have 1000 hours. I think anyone who teaches will do a better job of teaching that topic if they know it intimately. It is the equivalent of teaching to the test - and look at how well that has worked in the US!

    Again, thanks for your comment.