Paddling Experience and Ranking

I am not trying to cause any waves here…sorry for the pun…but I am curious as to what people feel makes a beginner, intermediate, and advanced paddler? What separates one experience level from another? Is it miles logged in, expedition experience, pool skills, combat skills, some erroneous star or instructor rating, or all of the above? Or is it just how you feel about your skills?

Theories? Comments? Concerns?

be forewarned
pyranha kelly this subject will get you tarred, feathered and run out of town.

i put “intermediate” because i have a mixed skill set. i have fairly advanced balance and forward stroke skills, and can usually use these to my advantage in handling fairly confused water well. on the other hand, i have an only adequate roll, which i don’t even practice for over 7 months of the year these days, since i’m almost exclusively paddling an open boat. so maybe i’m advanced in some areas and a beginner in others?


it’s whatever you want it to be
I followed the examples of people such as sing and Greg Stamer who are listed on p-net as a “beginner” although to most of the paddling world they would most certainly be in the “advanced” category. If guys like them are beginners, I with much less experience, am also happy to be called a beginner and continually challenge myself to learn and improve.

greg stamer = beginner ?

– Last Updated: Mar-21-05 10:31 AM EST –

if greg lists himself as a beginner, that ought to show you what rankings mean. in MY humblest of opinions, take a look at the BCU skill levels they require for each rank level ... they describe quite well what your skill and associated rank is. it has little to do with how much you paddle, how far you paddle, what kind of boat you paddle, whether your boat is glass or plasic, whether your boat is red or blue and most importantly i think, little to do with how you rank yourself.

i've paddled with folks who rank themselves as intermediate, who couldn't paddle their way out of a paper bag, have few basic skills, cannot roll and are uncomfortable in rough water.

by the same token, i've paddled with guys like greg or the nigels, who, because of modesty and because it's pretty common knowledge how skilled they are, will rank themselves as beginner ... if you ask them, or don't rank themselves at all since doing so is pretty superfluous.

Hmm…loaded question
I would have to go by the structures in the path you studied (CRCA, BCU, ACA), as mentioned above the levels or stars lay out techniques that should be attained in each skill set. Beyond that, I guess its an open world. On the other hand, what of paddlers who never had a day of education (regarding paddling skills) and are self taught? God knows I have met enough paddlers who are self taught and who are top of the game.

It is sometimes about how to not have your Dogma eat your Karmha!

Beginner-does not not what they do not know

Novice-concerns proper boat and paddle

Intermediate-concerns of skills

Advanced-Focus on integration, judgment, anticipation of and coping with people, conditions, and trips. Sees how everything is related to everything and most flexible mentally of all paddlers.

self taught …
you don’t have to have stars ****. self taught paddlers can easily compare themselves to the star levels and determine (if they care) where they would “officially” rank.

Too broad to say

– Last Updated: Mar-23-05 9:36 AM EST –

Time and mileage mean nothing. I've met people who've been paddling for decades and don't have even basic strokes like reverse and sweeps. Conversely, I've met very dedicated paddlers who've attained a high level of skill in a year or less.

I question the validity of most ranking systems, since the criteria they use are too specific and the variation in intructors and assessors is large. Except for some instructor certifications, they also make no demands that a paddler maintain any level of activity or demonstrate their skill level more than once. I've also met some incredible paddlers who have no certifications at all.

The whole area of seamanship and judgement opens up an enormous can of worms. One can be technically proficient, but clueless about wind/waves/currents/weather or be an "old salt", but a novice paddler.

My experience has been that novice paddlers tend to overrate themselves, intermediate padders overrate the importance of certifications and that the best paddlers simply don't care about ratings, even if they have certifications.

Useful Comparison
Just to help along the argument… while the certifications aren’t a be-all and end-all for many reasons given above, they can provide useful comparisons to get a sense of where you may stand in the broad array of skills. Both the BCU and the ACA requirements could serve as a rough cut for level. Someone who doesn’t think they come near the BCU 2 star requirements is likely a beginner, and anyone who could manage the 4 and 5 star requirements is going to be viewed as advanced in their skills. (Whether or not they rate themselves as a beginner, like some on this board do.)

I agree that recert would be good - for the time being the date on the certificate should probably be looked at hard. And there are arguments about specific parts of each - for example BCU allows for self-rescue options other than a reliable roll until about a 4 star. And yeah, no instructor can perfectly predict that a paddler who passes a one day test won’t freeze up and be unable to handle a real emergency.

All that said, after a few years of mucking around more informally I am planning to do some BCU training this season. For me, it’ll serve as a test of whether my informal practice has resulted in anything that’s useful under pressure (performance anxiety). That can’t hurt regardless of the result.

dismissing certifications completely
doesn’t automatically make you an advanced paddler either.

When I signed on to P-net and read the question about how to rank myself, I figured that if I said “beginner” I would mislead some folks into believing I had less knowledge and experience than I did. Likewise, I was pretty sure that I wasn’t an “advanced” expert. It seemed like “intermediate” was the best answer.

The folks who have seen me paddle know the truth, and I can only hope that most of them would call me “intermediate” rather than “beginner”, lest they damage my pride.

However, my pride won’t stop me from listening to some advice I consider good that comes from someone who is a “beginner”, and once in a while I might decide that advice from a bona fide “advanced” expert whom I otherwise admire and envy is just a bunch of BS.

Bottom Line: these classifications are helpful but not THAT important.


over simplistic
you have no cert’s and don’t care about cert’s - great. fine. understood. this is not to say that you aren’t experienced or skilled. and it isn’t to say that you are or aren’t an expert. that’s ultimately for you to judge within the sphere of what your experiences have been.

but for you to say that only experts don’t care about cert’s? could that come across as a little self aggrandizing to you? you know…since you don’t care?

if there is a point to certs it’s that a cert offers a standardized benchmark of skills/judgement at a particular time/place. simply a standard.

regardless of expert status though, when it comes down to it, i agree that cert’s aren’t the end all, be all…who does give a sh&t? you either know the folks you are paddling with or you don’t and if you don’t i wouldn’t have someone tell me they are anything - anyone can puff out their chest. check it out with folks you know in common or ask questions that are salient to trip/event you are planning…see what answers you get and see if they pass the sniff test.

even less value here on p-net
I know that I, as well as most of the folk here, will not take something posted here at face value just because the poster listed themselves as “advanced.” Over time we learn to trust and value the opinions of certain people here and we could care less about what level their profile lists them as. Of course it is rather amusing when a newcomer questions the validity of someone’s advice because they are a “beginner.” :slight_smile:

“Experience” - What? Where? When?

– Last Updated: Mar-21-05 3:45 PM EST –

An "intermediate" open water paddler might have more solid skills than an inland paddler of many more years. A "beginner" WW paddler might have a pretty solid roll - while some long boaters (to avoid the sea/tour terms of the other thread) consider rolling "advanced".

Much to consider - no two will have same experience - even if they've shared every paddle.

As for me, I'll stick with what's in my profile.

On the water - same thing every time: I go out a beginner (open mind) - and hope to come back an intermediate (meaning I made some progress/learned something).

What I Read In A Book
For what it’s worth:

Pam Malec, author of “Guide to Sea Kayaking in North Carolina” wrote:

Beginner: I categorize a beginner as someone having a basic working knowledge of common paddle strokes and braces. You should be able to perform a self–rescue and an assisted rescue. You should be comfortable paddling in mild conditions with winds up to 10 knots, and for up to four hours at a time.

Intermediate: As an intermediate paddler, you should be comfortable paddling in winds up to 20 knots, in waves 2 to 4 feet, and be able to paddle up to 20 miles per day in good weather. You should be proficient in self-rescue and group-rescue techniques, have good bracing skills, and be able to perform an Eskimo roll.

Advanced: You should be comfortable paddling in winds up to 30 knots, and waves 5 to 6 feet in height. You should have strong bracing and paddling skills and be able to paddle in very rough conditions. You should be able to paddle up to 30 miles per day in good weather and have mastered self- and group-rescue skills. Advanced paddlers should be highly proficient navigating with a map and compass and possess good first-aid skills.

Pam Malec’s Criteria
In terms of basic strokes and conditions (wave height, wind) that sounds like what a lot of people would use to categorize.

But even that list points out the problems of trying to come up with an absolutely complete list. Re the distances - for most people building up to more than 20 miles a day is more a matter of having time to train than skill. That involves some serious straight paddling and gym time to have the muscles strengthened so the joints are protected. As to navigation - even a beginner on the ocean needs to know how to take a heading and get to land if they get caught out in really thick fog or rain. (Or they become a statistic.)

Rolling seems to be all over the place depending on the rating system used. I suspect that since rolling is getting much more prevalent in sea kayaking circles it’ll be moved into less advanced levels than now, or at least an assisted roll-up with something like the BackUp RollAid device.

After 32 years paddling, I start every
season as an intermediate, and if things go well, I end the season as an advanced paddler, at least in some boats, on some kinds of water.

One day I was paddling my c-1 with the masses on the Mohican in Ohio, and nearing the takeout, I rolled once to cool off. As I pulled to shore, one of the livery teens walked over and said, “Wow, did you roll that over and back up? You must be some kind of expert!”

Under promise and over deliver.
“Under promise and over deliver” applies to paddling as well as business.

Just go
by my own ranking. I can get into and out of situations fairly well and am confident in my skills for where I go.