Sunday, October 11, 2015

A day in the life of a kayak instructor

This past weekend was my last scheduled group kayaking class for the large organization I work for. By my math, in the last year I was teaching for about 350 hours and probably had 70 or 80 students. People always say "what a great job" or "I wish I had a job like that". It is definitely nice to have my job, and I worked hard to make it happen, and made a lot of sacrifices along the way. It is great to earn the bulk of my living outdoors, and the thing I love is being able to impact people and help them be active in the outdoors and most importantly to do it safely. I thought I would give you an idea of what a day is like on a kayak course for me.

While it is normally a great job, it isn't all sunshine and flowers. When it is cold and raining out, I am still teaching. When it is 103 degrees out I am still teaching. I have to be prepared for a lot of eventualities, and this summer I had my first skin cancer scare - and I am very careful about sun exposure.

I know about classes weeks or a month (or sometimes a little more) in advance. As opposed to when I was teaching privately it was very "hey, you available this week?!" But what I am doing leading up to a course is watching how many people are enrolled in a class. There is a big difference between teaching two, or teaching 6 - and a couple of times I have had groups of 12 or 15.

Two days out - I start watching weather, and prepping my gear, which may change depending on the weather. I think a lot about what I am wearing and making sure it is appropriate to the conditions because I am role modeling for new paddlers constantly. I also don't trust weather reports that look more than 48 hours into the future.

One day out - Actually the night before, I pack all my gear for the following day (as I will have an early start) I make sure I have all the paperwork I need (Blank course evaluations for participants to fill out, roster and sign in sheet for participants, course end report for me to fill out, plus all the emergency reporting paperwork should something bad happen.) My large first aid kit is packed, sealed and in a dry bag. I pack water, and snack food for myself for the day, as well as a surprise snack for my participants. I always pack more gear than I need, for example if someone asks about navigation on a long trip I want to have some charts even though I won't need them where I am teaching. I always have a large dry bag in my bow compartment with extra layers of clothes in case someone should get wet, and I always carry sunscreen and water for people.

Morning of a 9:00am class

7:00 am - Rise and shine, a quick light breakfast out of the house by 7:30, having checked the weather and my email for any cancellations. Load my boat on the roof of my car - I prefer to paddle my boat as opposed to the fleet boats the participants use. I like my boat more. My gear goes in the car in a big mesh duffel, two paddles and the cooler that lives in my car has snacks, lunch and reusable cold packs.

7:45 - stop for coffee and if it is hot, I may be getting a watermelon for my participants (if it is cold they may get hot chocolate!)

8:05ish - At the venue, my boat and gear is unloaded, I unlock the storage container with fleet boats, and pull a boat, paddle, pfd, bilge pump, and paddle float for every paddler. I line them up and make them look pretty. A clipboard for each participant, with a Liability form, and an end of course eval form. They do one at the beginning, and one at the end.

8:30 - Usually everything is ready to go 30 minutes early. This gives me some time to drink my coffee, and relax. If the sky is anything but clear and blue I do another weather check. Usually someone arrives 20 minutes early and I have to make small talk.

9:00 - Usually one person is late and I have to stall while I wait for them. I use this time to make small talk and determine skill levels/previous paddle experience. Someone usually asks a question about my experience, and I can tell good Alaska story, which eats time until the late person arrives.

9:05 - the late person arrives, we discuss and sign liability forms, Paper work is stored someplace dry and safe until the end of the course. Give participants the plan for the day, so there are no surprises.

9:10 to 9:45 - Everyone learns to fit a PFD, what size paddle to use, and how to have 5 points of contact (i.e. how to sit) in a kayak. Then they are shown how to carry a kayak - 2 people per boat please! Don't carry them by the handles please, hold the hull of the boat! and we bring the boats to the water line, where my boat is waiting. While people do a final bathroom run I gear up. Skirt, pfd, glasses strap, final sunscreen application, sandals off paddling booties on. Spare paddle on back deck, First aid kit at my feet. Throw bag within reach. Bilge pump and paddle float on front deck along with contact tow. Watch the time, always watching the time. Phone in a waterproof pelican, in a dry bag, in the cockpit within reach (If I get a phone call my phone will vibrate the entire boat - I am thinking about calls from co-instructors with questions, or a phone call from my bosses)

10:00 - An on the land forward stroke class, followed by how to get into a kayak.

10:15 to 10:20 - I get everyone launched onto the water.

10:20 to 11:00 - paddle to a protected cove to work on skills. This gives people time to get a feel for the forward stroke while getting coaching from me. I always make sure everyone in the group gets one on one coaching, multiple times in a day (it is hard with big groups but people really like it) This gives me the opportunity to see who has a good feel for it, and who is struggling. Who is itching for more knowledge and who can't handle what I have given them. Seek out the people who aren't sitting in their kayak with five points of contact - it will dramatically effect their ability to keep up with the group. This is the time when I start to realize I will be spending the rest of my day paddling as slow as I possibly can so I don't lose anybody.

11:00 - In the protected cove spend time on the sweep stroke, teaching it first as a static stroke, and then how to use it while paddling.

11:30 - continue paddling, coaching the forward and sweep stroke. At this point people start asking about other strokes. Give it to them as they can handle it, but don't let them get overwhelmed. At 12 stop for a surprise snack, use the opportunity to teach the draw stroke to get everyone rafted up.

12:00 to 1:00 Spend the time paddling back to our put in. Keep coaching to a minimum now, peoples brains are tired. At the take out make sure people know that their legs might be wobbly. Help those that need it.

1:15 have people fill out evaluation forms, and thank them for coming, tell them next steps for their paddling development.

1:30 return all the boats to storage. Making sure they are clean and dry for the next course. All gear is stowed, and/or hung to dry. All garbage, and sand is out of the boats. Inspect all gear for damage Take ten minutes to fill out my post course paperwork, which will get sent to the main office.

2:00 Send a text message to the boss telling him the course is complete with no incidents

3:00 unload my personal gear, including my boat, make sure everything is dry, or hang it to dry.

A big part of all my days is self care, and group care, but I come first. Making sure I am fed and hydrated, then making sure they are hydrated and have sunscreen. I am constantly counting participants to make sure I know where everyone is.

It is a lot of work, it can be a lot of fun. The paperwork isn't too bad, the part the drags on me the most is how much time I spend loading/unloading/moving boats. I don't think I am exaggerating when I say I have probably moved 50,000 pounds of plastic kayak in the past year.

I am usually working weekends, when my friends and my wife aren't working which can be difficult, but I also generally have a days off during the week. The best part is when I get to see people who "get it" and understand the joy of spending time on the water.


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