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Kayak instructors

Great site. I've read and re-read many of the articles listed here, watched numerous videos, and tried to apply what I've read/seen by going out and practicing daily (I live on an inland lake). Also want to take the good advice given by the experts and schedule a few lessons. My questions is: What does one look for in a kayak instructor?


  • What do you want to learn?
    Finding a good instructor should be based on your goals, are you only interested inland kayaking? What type of kayak are you using? Do you want to learn rescue techniques or about proper form? Where are you located?
  • For northern Michigan...
    Your current profile says lakes/flat water, but you are likely near an inland sea. At some point it will beckon, and having the skills needed for that will set you up for anything including a basis to learn whitewater paddling if you eventually want to give that a shot.

    So I would look for a couple of things - BCU sea kayaking or ACA level 3 open water certification, and being well-supported enough to have different boats that they can let you use. That will get you someone who will get you thru strokes, self-rescue and some decent bracing, as well as someone who can put you in boats that might make some of this easier to learn. You don't indicate what boat you have, but most people start out with boats that are not the easiest to learn this stuff in.

    Take a look at the coaches involved in the Ladies of the Lake symposium, see if any are based within reasonable reach of you. The event is full for this year, but its entire focus (and that of the instructors) is probably well within what you are looking for. Link here:

    We also know of instructors who are not affiliated with any major outfitter and have a garage full of boats. It doesn't always mean you have to find a big outfit.

    After that - honestly, be ready to walk away and find another instructor if you try someone and feel more intimidated than helped. Instructors are people too and the match to a particular new paddler may not be ideal.
  • Much appreciated
    @datakoll: Opened your link. Wrong eye candy. I’m a heterosexual woman.

    @Jonathan and Celia:

    To answer your questions: First, I’m from Northern Michigan. I live west of Gaylord. I became interested in kayaking because of the WaterTribe. Learned about them in the dingy forum of Sailing Anarchy and followed the EC 2013 and 2014 via the WT forum. An amazing and admirable group.

    My goals right now are to become proficient enough to move from inland lakes to Lake Michigan and its bays. I purchased a Necky Rip 10.5 as my beginner kayak. I liked its initial stability and weight - but recognize I’ll need to move up. Right now I’m more interested in proper technique. For example, every once in a while I’ll wack the left edge of the kayak with my paddle. I think this is because I’m not raising my right hand high enough. But I’m not sure.

    I learned of a place which advertises paddling lessons “for all levels of skill,” but after doing a bit of checking, I discovered the instructor is a college student who is a recreational paddler, home for the summer. This might be all I need. I don’t know, which is why I asked the question of what qualifications one should look for in a good instructor.

    Thank you for your sage advice, Celia. I’m about 20 minutes away from that wonderful inland sea. I will check out the instructors listed in the link you provided; hopefully there’s someone located in the lower peninsula.
  • Try calling the LOL folks too
    They may have ideas for instructors down your way that for one reason or another were not available to do the symposium.
  • Sorting it out
    The top instructors don't necessarily charge much more, if any, than the unknowns (who might be fine but are...unknown). You might as well ask around, get feedback from people who've actually studied with specific instructors they can give names of. Be aware that some of the "big name" people have advanced mentorees who are very good also. I can think of at least two such examples but neither lives in your part of the country.

    You're lucky to live on a lake! You'll be able to frequently practice, which goes hand-in-hand with formal instruction. Good luck, and let us know how things progress.
  • Contact Keith Wikle who posts here
    as Wikle. Keith knows the paddlers and instructors in Michigan and is also involved in two kayak symposia for skill building on Lake Michigan or Superior.
  • Appreciate the tips
    Serendipity struck, as I learned of a full day skills class on August 4, about 25-30 miles from my home. Given by John Chase, an ACA Level 2 Coastal Kayak Instructor. Am just unsure whether I'll take the Necky or rent a touring kayak. A controlled capsize and wet entry, as well as deep water exit and re-entry are listed on the class schedule. Given the large cockpit on the Necky, seems like it would fill up like a bathtub. I guess it might be worth capsizing it in shallow water here at home to see what happens.

    Even though I'll sign up for the August 4 class, definitely will contact the LOL folks and Keith Wikle for recommendations. I know from experience that bad habits are hard to break.

    Thanks for all the suggestions!
  • Rent the boat AND bring yours
    You need to
    (a) learn how to do a successful re-entry. Easiest to learn in a touring boat. And
    (b) figure out how to adapt things to manage the same in your own boat, if possible. Easiest to do by bringing your own and getting some advice with the boat in front of you.

    Sounds like a plan. Have fun and hope for a hot day so the swimming will be pleasant.
  • 2nd Keith Wikle
    You can even call him to chat at 0300 if you are really snockered....
  • video
    Buy and study Wayne Horodowitch USK instruction video's

    Wayne coached at Santa Barbara, he overstands.

    Ford's roll video is excellent. Ford's animation allws analysis of your problem...which is lack of practice.

    My roll learning and brace exercise is tops. Available here in PaddleMess

    If you're totally inept then instructors are necessary otherwise you need practice and analysis TIME which is unavailable in group therapy instruction.
  • Ignore datakroll
    -- Last Updated: Jun-10-14 9:30 AM EST --

    Rhymes with troll and gee what a shock...

    This entity has been posting aggressively lately and every one is a winner in terms of bad writing or downright misdirected advice. It has a point of view to promote and an individual's own needs or preferences are irrelevant.

    The therapy instruction in this one is a beaut. I know many talented instructors, but not one of them claims to be a therapist.

    You are on the right path to go work with someone. Just keep along it.

  • you're unqualified to offer advice
    Datakoll. Based on your constant hard-on for instructors and your ridiculous "foam blocks and paddle floats fix everything" philosophy.
  • ?

    A free speech Forum in America is for civil reasoned opinion and thought not judgement.

    You owe the poster that.

    As I wrote, I'm eating lunch using your thoughts for broadening my knowledge thru the internet.

    Surely, I would not think of your thoughts without help from the free speech forum. God forbid !
  • troll all you want
    The rest of us are just trying to caution new forum members. Anyone here long enough to read your posts can figure out the value of your contributions.
  • a new teacher to the area
    A friend of mine recently relocated to MI to take a job at U of MI (he is one of those PhD types for his day job). He taught kayaking out here a lot, is an ACA Level 5 instructor, and even was president of the Bay Area Sea Kayakers for a while. Loves the sport. Great guy and great teacher, if you ever find your way down that way. His name is Steve Lidia. Looks like he is teaching for a shop called The Power of Water in Lansing.
  • datakoll's posts
    seem like what you'd get if you combined one of those refrigerator magnet word games with a hand grenade.
  • My thinking
    Based on your description as having done a fair amount of self-study and practice, my sense is that unless you are focusing on a few discrete skills (e.g. rolling), you might be better off trying to arrange for at least one private session with an instructor that comes well recommended. This would allow the instructor to identify where your relative strengths and weaknesses are, and recommend potential drills/classes/etc that would help you get the most bang for your buck, both in terms of time and dollars.
  • I like it!
    In fact we have some of those word magnets on the fridge right now. :-)
  • more trolling
    As a general category 'INSTRUCTOR' you experience several positive teaching inputs. The instructor can alert you to basic flaws in your activity, try helping you correct, and urge practice.

    The video route, you have a practice area, surpasses what an instructor can offer. The video is well thought out and planned, an on water session not so much.

    A group on water experience plays out as peer group support prodded as that by the instructor, milked. Could be the peer group effect is the most important effect of the instructor experience...unless your paddle is held backwards.

    I'm advocating the double float hip snap practice as vastly superior to anything an instructor can provide.

    Buy one foam paddle float, one inflatable float and USK Horodowitch's bracing video. With both float attached you may lean your kayak 90 degrees to the water surface, stretch out one arm on paddle shaft supported by floats !

    Hip snap ! experience the hull's edging areas, practice slap bracing then take the bladder float off and practice rolling.

    Buy Ford's video.

    The instructor cannot coordinate this experience as you by yourself practicing. Instruction here is only confusing.

    The double float practice is like electricity. Instructors are like before electricity.

    BTW, Paddlenet sells this stuff ?

    Troll Out to two float practice.
  • Now, THAT'S a good one
    -- Last Updated: Jun-10-14 7:34 PM EST --

    I still say it's too much drug use. But I'm getting a kick out of the imagery you provided!

  • Lansing
    Thanks for the info. Have noted his name. The lovely Red Cedar River flows thru the MSU campus. Never kayaked it, but have walked along it plenty of times years ago.
  • Bingo.
    You've precisely described what I'm looking for right now. While I'm signing up for the session with John Chase in August, I think I would benefit from paddling with an expert who could point out the errors of my present ways - before I get too set in them. I have no desire whatsoever to attempt learn how to roll my Necky Rip. I don't think it is a kayak designed for that purpose. Capsize and re-enter it? Yes, and that will be handled in the August session, or maybe before. I have a pontoon boat with a swim ladder and a couple of neighbors who would probably be amused to see me flounder around while they sit in my pontoon, shouting encouragement. Actually, that might be fun on a hot July day.
  • Interesting
    Though I have to wonder if "stir-the-pot" might be a better handle for you. :)

    Yes, videos are wonderful. By studying them I've learned how to move my kayak forward and backward, how to turn it, and how to move it sideways. But anyone can manage that, even without videos.

    The problem with videos is the lack of creative feedback and outside analysis of the student's movement. You can't ask a video questions. Nor will a video tell you if you're holding your paddle backwards.

    So while I'll continue studying videos, I'd like someone to watch what I'm doing and tell me that a) I'm doing it correctly, or b) doing it wrong - and then suggest how to fix it. It makes no difference if you learn something in a class or in a private session, it's still education.

    Thank you for your suggestion about the Hordowitch video. Do you have a link where it's sold?

  • that would be Michigan State
    Not U of M -

    U of M is Ann Arbor

    the Harvard of the Midwest
  • double float
    Remember public school ? Examine teacher quality.

    Worse, a number of instructor based 'accidents' suggests training may not be similar.

    No, you did not learn to turn your kayak. Turning involves body movements finesse as with surf boarding, luge. Against the hull design/water currents.

    Once past basic paddle manipulation.

    The kayak is paddled as a violin plays, not a fiddle.

    My observation is instructors do not have skills coordinating what they see to what you should do at that level, beyond holding the paddle.

    But you do....we can give you that despite your mis-brained attempt to name me.

    The video's are thought out by expert instructors for application to your viewing and PRACTICE.

    The place where the double float activates as a major learning tool. The float allows direct sensation of kayak and body at a comfortable speed allowing analysis then muscle planning ...back into the video learning experience.

    So with practice you go back and forth video to brain to flat to brain to video.....

    then you roll and brace off video instruction.

    Should be obvious that is not possible in a school situation. School's too quick, transient, for some emphemeral. A blur.

    try the double float. Video's are sold here in Paddlenet with Ford's last on the page.
    'datakoll' is a science based name game based on the animal behavior research I pursue with Orca/Boat tail grackles and humpbacks soon off Point Adolphus.

    this is a public service message

  • you need to work on your vocabulary
    -- Last Updated: Jun-11-14 10:24 AM EST --

    When you describe and recommend the "double-float" technique, you are, in fact, instructing. Only in your case you're not very adept.

    If what you said was true, you could just throw a pair of paddle-floats to someone, or a blank DVD, and say, "figure it out".

    I'm sorry you had such a damaging experience at the hands of bad instructors. But I'd take a good instructor over a video any day of the week. You can't interact with a video and a video can't adapt teaching methods to fit a student.

    Lastly I'd like to know your credentials regarding observing instructors. You seem to want to have the last word regarding instructors, which really needs some support other than a bunch of words and phrases mashed together where they don't belong.

  • so now you're blaming your public school
    It's probably important at this point to ask your teachers what kind of student you were. And what happened.
  • This
    is funny....and very entertaining , Once you actually learn to roll, I hope you saved these posts to read.

    By the way there are two different types of kayaks as far as rolling goes, those that roll like planks and those that roll like logs.....different methods in the teaching....
    Best Wishes
  • And you don't understand violins either
    I play violin in classical orchestras and spend occasional time with fiddlers. Between your rigid attitude and butchering the language I suspect further development of that simile would place the posts clearly into the land of LSD.
  • my bad
    Michigan has more than 1 school?!? Just kidding.

    I don't know Michigan well, just that he left the coastal paddling center of the world known as Northern California for there. He is having fun gloating about the house he bought for what we would consider a down payment, but that is just getting us back for when we were gloating about going out paddling and his local waterways were kinda hard and cold.
  • Good thread
    Yes, it has been a fun and informative read. Thank you for the good wishes. Was your profile photo taken this spring on Lake Superior? Heard the ice finally melted around June 3-4.
  • I hope he can keep a secret
    That had to be tough making that move - Lansing is as landlocked as you can get here - but I've a feeling he's going to like the coastal paddling he finds here.
  • ?

    Ima semi academic from the NE. I'm involved in front edge field biology from kayak, national defense, and founded my very own science field as one of the few people on the planet to it.

    You miss the point. The exercise exists of itself. The exercise is real, available, and more effective than instruction for reasons stated.

    The double float exercise is not relevant to what I do, did or plan to.

    and so I leave. Chow
  • Options
    Michigan Training Camp
    -- Last Updated: Jun-12-14 12:55 PM EST --


    What to look for in an instructor?

    1) Certification (ACA, BCU) is a good start. At least someone in a position to evaluate that instructor's performance has done so. That said, I know many good instructors without certs.

    2) General area of expertise. If you are looking at sea kayaking (open water, longer crossings, distance), look for a sea kayak instructor. A whitewater instructor can teach you loads of useful stuff, especially about body/boat/blade control and reading water, but if they are solely WW, they might miss some important safety stuff that applies specifically to sea kayakers, like crossing busy boat channels and navigation.

    3) As far as the intangibles, I think an instructor needs to be patient, creative, empathetic and positive. Of course, you can't tell this about someone you have not yet worked with, so consider your kayak instruction to be like dating. Spending a day with someone could be a wasted day for you, or it could be like a spark to kindling. Date around - one size does not fit all.

    Also, regarding the value of multimodal learning. I agree with others who say watch the videos, get an instructor, practice in controlled conditions (with a spotter), videotape yourself practicing, discuss online and in person. Further, work with different instructors; we all have different approaches, strengths and weaknesses.

    Here is another direction to consider: Michigan Training Camp. http://www.qajaqtc.org/ It is one of the gatherings for traditional paddlers under the umbrella of QajaqUSA http://www.qajaqusa.org/QUSA/events.php Rather than "instructors," you are immersed for several days among "peer mentors" as everyone has something to share. Some really good mentors will be there, like Dave Sides and Chris Crowhurst. I don't know how far this is from you, and you may not have yet been exposed to Greenland-style paddling, but if you have the opportunity, I recommend it highly. This would be especially good for learning to roll, even if you do not switch to the "skinny stick."

    FWIW, I'm an ACA Level 3 Coastal Kayak instructor in Maryland, BCU Coach 2 and QajaqUSA member.


  • no, you miss the point
    An exercise has to be defined by someone to be an exercise. Often it has to be demonstrated.

    I have to tell you I'm not that impressed with your practical application of all that alleged academic accomplishment. But you shouldn't judge all instructors just because yours failed you.
  • “The more I learn...
    ...the more I realize how much I don't know.”

    Have spent a fascinating hour reading about Qajaq, Greenland paddles, the Michigan Training Camp, and even the BCU. Will go back for more, but wanted to get out on the water for a bit.

    The Michigan Training Camp is just a two hour drive from my home, but this year's camp was filled as of June 1. Perhaps it's just as well, as inviting as it sounds. I am truly a rookie, having owned a kayak only since May 23. While I know it would be a great learning opportunity, I don't think I have enough on-the-water experience for such an event. Definitely will keep it on my radar for next year - and I sure would love to try a Greenland paddle.

    Thank you, Mike, for your great input and suggestions about instruction. Loved the analogy about dating. While I'm set for my first session with an ACA instructor, he lives in Illinois. So my search for someone more local will continue.

    Again, my thanks.
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