Taking Lessons

My wife an I are planning on some kayak lessons and need some suggestions to ensure we are getting our money worth. What should be taught and in what order? I tried searching but didn’t find anything clear. This is a great site with an overload of info. Thanks, GD

Not a pro but
ON land wet exit drills paddle techniques: forward, reverse, sweep (forward and reverse), low brace turn, perhaps bow and stern rudder, draw stroke stretching. On the water: wet exits paddle techniques, boat lean partner and self rescues. You should pay the same attention and respect to an instructor as you would to a martial arts teacher. you pleasure and perhaps you lives will depend on how much you learn from them and practice what you have learned. No need to bow though.

Two sites that are personal & inform

– Last Updated: Feb-23-05 7:42 AM EST –

There is allot of hype, it is an exploding industry with great instruction and terrible stuff, from informed, to rigid, to just plain dogmatic.

Here is a site by a long time educator, Wayne Horodowich, former kayak surfing team person, with a gift for teaching. Very down to earth, great site, read about what good teaching looks and feels like. His motto, do what works for you in the way the works for you, find a teacher that teaches in this manner.


2. A series of articles by Jay Babina, regional kayak builder and kayaker, also with a gift of writing personal and competent articles about how to learn, what order, attitude, and what to focus on. Here is his site, look for the series of articeles that reside there, very very nice to read these before heading into instruction. The article "Good Skills Take Time" is wonderful.


Recommend Sea Kayakers Handbook

You might want to take a look a Shelley Johnson’s book “The Complete Sea Kayakers Handbook”, and then look for a progression of lessons that cover many of the concepts in chapter 5, “Controlling Your Kayak” and chapter 6, “Getting Into and Out of the Water”.


skills and safety
Classes usually are tapered to what the students needs are. Paddle strokes, safety and rescues are a good place to start. Get references for a good instructor. It pays to be picky. There are many well intentioned instructors with limited experience and teaching skills.

American Canoe Association vs British Canoe Union vs Canadian Recreational Canoe Association.

Any opinions??

ACA trains you to teach
A large portion of the Instructor Development Workshops is devoted to how to teach. There is more emphasis in being able to perform in BCU. While there are certainly quality teachers in BCU, if I had to bet (i.e., pay money) I would choose an ACA instructor. I know nothing about the Canadian group.

Intensive Weekend
If you are in Arizona come out to San Diego for an intensive weekend course from Aqua Adventures … two days starting with the basics, rescues and ending with surf skills.

You would get your money’s worth, they have some of the best teachers in the southwest.

Sempei Rei!
I like peter_k’s comparison with martial arts. One of the reasons I love these two sports (paddling & martial arts) is that it’s all about technique. Speaking as an avid student, I like instructors who have both a real passion for the sport and teaching as well as a lot of experience. It takes experience to be able to identify every kind of mistake and know multiple ways to help with a correction. I’ve found a class with multiple instructors is a double edged sword, but is generally pretty good. It can get confusing because each instructor takes a different (sometimes contradictory) approach, but I take the pieces that fit for me from each one and use them.

I think peter_k’s list of content sounds good as well.



Thanks for the replies!!
First, thanks for the replies. It is exactly what I was looking for. Some direction. When running into a new sport or hobby sometimes I get overwhelmed with all the info on forums like this.

When I take the class, I will keep a cheat sheet on me of the posts listed above and what I read on the sites listed above. Any other book recommendations? Thanks again! GD

35 years of MA’s
And I still gag whenever folks get all “kohai” and “sempai” like about the martial arts and parallel sports. There is is the entirety of the person. Just because someone is a better at some activity/aspect of life doesn’t mean a heck of lot when it comes to the totality of the person. Just because someone can paddle well doesn’t make him a nice guy either, nor is it necessary to kiss his butt…


I agree on Shelley Johnson’s book
My wife and I have learned from videos and books and Johnson’s book was very lucid and well-organized.

To get your money’s worth
Take your training with well respected / quality outfitters. Do yourself a favor and don’t walk in presuming to know what they should teach you or in what order. No one here (at least no one that would answer your question) is an instructor and so can only relay their personal learning experience. Personal opinions are fine if what you want to to is learn from the internet, but legit instruction is an entirely different game, much different from what you’ll read here.

If you want to get a jump start of learning to paddle, read a book. Seidman or Hutchinson are classic beginners texts.

Best of luck,



Doctor . .
“A large portion of the Instructor Development Workshops is devoted to how to teach. There is more emphasis in being able to perform in BCU. While there are certainly quality teachers in BCU, if I had to bet (i.e., pay money) I would choose an ACA instructor. I know nothing about the Canadian group.”

The purpose of the IDW is to train people to teach, hence the name “Instructor Development Workshop”. There is no proficiency testing within the ACA except at the point of the certification examination. If a candidate can’t perform and teach at an appropriate level than the candidate won’t gain a certification for that level.

The BCU has a Proficiency Testing (personal skills) scheme as well as a Coach Training scheme (and later an Assessors Training scheme). Note, there is a difference between being BCU certified (personal skills / Star Awards) and being certified by the BCU to teach as a coach. The BCU system is much more difficult / intense and sequencial to get to the level of acquiring a coaches certification. Both systems do a great job of teaching people to teach,

I have worked (and been certified by) both systems for the past 5 years and my personal experience is that the BCU is the more demanding / more critical of the two. The BCU seems to appeal to aggressive paddlers since it offers a robust combination of skills, theory and knowledge backed up by incremental assessments. The ACA system offers participation receipts but little in the way of standards to test one’s skills against except at the Instructor Certification level.

This is not to say that one system is better than the other or that one system’s coaches are better than another system’s instructors. They are different systems developed for different conditions, locations and clientel. YMMV

The Canadian system is modeled more closely to the BCU format than the ACA’s format. Bear in mind that no governing body can guarantee that every instructor it certifies is top-quality. There are plenty of non-certified instructors that are great and gifted teachers. Any established outfitter will have a program that will serve you well at the start. Once you’ve gotten a taste of training and some skills, you’ll soon learn how to pick your instructors.

Cheers and good luck!


My Not So Pet Peeve…
the whole kohai/sempai/sensei relationship is very hierarchal and comes from another cultural milieu. When transported unquestioned into another context or culture, it can be wholely misused or abused.

I reacted as I did because I have seen the abusive behavior that comes out such relationships. You can respect the knowledge but don’t mistake that with automatic respect and certainly not unquestioning deference to the man, until much more is known.

So after I wrote the previous post, we hear in the news of a high school wrestling and judo coach who apparently has been sexually abusing his students for years. I hazard to say that too much deference by students and their parents allowed the situation to occur for so long.

Beware of those who exhibit a “sensei” or “guru” complex. Likewise be wary of those overly obsequious. These can indicate emotional needs that are that not wholely healthy.


Not quite right.
“The purpose of the IDW is to train people to teach, hence the name “Instructor Development Workshop”. There is no proficiency testing within the ACA except at the point of the certification examination.” An important component of teaching, according to the ACA, is modelling and in the two IDW’s I have participated in there was no question that you had to demonstrate skill proficiency. One of them even did video taping and analysis.

I just participated
in the ACA Coastal Committees annual meeting and we are a pretty picky group when it comes to modeling skills. More picky than most BCU coaches. BCU is a bit more ‘goal’ based. I have never seen a BCU program with a video camera and I alway video tape my IDW/ICE both coastal and ww.

The ACA has just recently approved a pilot ‘award based’ program that is quite similar to the BCU * awards.

more soon


Video taping is not testing per se
We used video to analyze our strokes in both my IDW (ACA) and the Coach 2 Training (BCU). I agree that it is quite valuable and a brutally honest way to correct any self-image irregularities but is not proficiency testing per se.

Please don’t think that I’m disparaging the ACA system here. I’ve been through both (currently a L3 aspirant and waiting for my AW instructor’s certification) systems and each organization aspires to train people to teach with quality and depth of skill in a level-appropriate manner.

My prior response above was in comparison to your post:

“ACA trains you to teach

Posted by: Dr_Disco on Feb-23-05 10:19 AM (EST)

A large portion of the Instructor Development Workshops is devoted to how to teach. There is more emphasis in being able to perform in BCU. While there are certainly quality teachers in BCU, if I had to bet (i.e., pay money) I would choose an ACA instructor. I know nothing about the Canadian group.”

In the ACA system, personal skills are considered and examined during the IDW but are not relevant until the ICE. In the BCU system is is not possible to take the L2 training (the equivalent of the ACA flat water IDW) without first having a 3 Star certification (the equivalent of ACA OW instructor skill set) for personal skills. Likewise it is not possible to take the L3 training (ACA AW equivalent) in any discipline without first have successfully assessed for L2 in that discipline and holding the relevant 4*. It’s a one-step-at-a-time scenario with a well-defined and not-easily circumvented progression.

The BCU coaching “system” is not about performance of strokes rather than learning to teach. But it does insist on proof of proficiency before one os allowed to train as a coach at any level. It’s a chicken and egg thing. Does one learn to teach after they have the skills or as they are learning those skills. Either way could work and both systems address the issue in different ways.

The ACA system is more inclusive and more flexible leaving the equivalent assessment for various levels of instructor level determined at the time of the ICE. I can see how each system addresses the various issues and I’m comfortable that the majority of successful candidates from both systems paddle away with significant value, training and skill.

THe BCU’s progression speaks more clearly to my heart than does the ACA system but that is purely a personal thing. I felt that my ACA training was top-notch and I’m still learning today from the lessons I learned those years ago.

The ACA is looking towards a more BCU-like system in order to close some loopholes. The BCU is watching the ACA to see how it might become more inclusive and less confining. Each will learn from the other and we will all benefit from the exchanges.

The systems are different just as each of us is different. I don’t lament the differences but rather am encouraged by the depth and variance of what is available. I’ll continue to train with both systems because each brings unique strengths and approaches to the challenge. I do not see any of this as an “either / or choice” as your post implied.

Cheers and best of luck to you in your efforts. It’s an honorable and powerful challenge to aspire to teach paddling to others.


the benefits of comparison

I have heard rumblings about this type of thing for sometime. Back in 2000, if memory serves, the Coastal Kayak Committee met in Maine and there were discussions then about bridging the gap between the two systems and addressing the lack of proficiency testing within the ACA system specifically.

I suspect that the majority of people backing this effort are certified in both systems. it’s a good thing to take what has been proven to be successfull elsewhere and adapt it to our needs. Good luck with your efforts.



PS We still need to duke it out over the “climbing blade angle vs the tendency to rotate the boat” rolling controversy from some time ago. :wink: Maybe when you come east we can dip a paddle and resolve all of these pesky paddling controversies once and for all. ;-0

sounds good
I will be at the Kittery event with pool time slotted and may be out for the Gulf o Maine in July!

steve (rollin’ w/a divin’ angle) :sunglasses: