What is the BCU paddler?

Hello all? This is Kelly and I am the regional coaching officer for the central United States. I am posting this after reading several posts on P.net about the BCU. And specifically about what the BCU is or is not, what type of people are or are not BCU people, and what dogma the BCU promotes and does not promote. It has been interesting as to the thoughts out there on what the BCU seems to represent in the paddling community so I thought I might ask you all what your impressions are on the topic?

So, give me your opinions, good or bad, strong or mild, gut or statistical, on the BCU. I am a big boy and can take it! Remember no one can fix a problem if he doesn’t know what the problem is!

…fire away!

Meticulous, proficient, (some) elitism

– Last Updated: Mar-19-07 2:36 PM EST –

I've read through some of the curriculum. Very thorough. Hence impression of meticulous. edit: I think a better word is "rigorous," which is a good thing.

I would consider the BCU 4 star paddler to be very proficient. I would consider the paddler working through the BCU levels to be committed to improved proficiency.

This next part's just human nature. I don't have a gripe about it really. It's the elitist part. I think most BCU instructors would say that one should always receive instruction from a certified instructor. It's not my impression that I'd find BCU coaches giving instruction outside the BCU umbrella or outside of a commercial fee structure. On the other hand, I can picture BCU paddlers participating in club or entirely un-sponsored trips or rescue practices where they might offer a lot of helpful experience and advice to others on the trip. On the local pdxseakayaker board, I've received some of the very best free advice from people whom I know are BCU 4 star coaches.

The part about BCU paddlers being judgmental or snobby, I don't know. I like judgmental, myself. I encourage it from the people around me, and embrace it. I learn more that way. The few people whom I know to be BCU 4 star coaches don't come across to me as snobby. I think they see clearly the differences in ability level, but that would just be the ability to assess clearly.

I paddled with some pretty experienced and helpful people recently. If they were BCU certified, they didn't say so during the introductions. Is there somewhere that I can look that up if I know the names?

One impression I have is that the BCU curriculum might be expensive. I haven't seen a price structure. Maybe I just missed it on the BCU web site. Makes me think of a fancy restaurant with no prices on the menu. If you have to ask, you can't (or don't want to) afford it.

The thing that has kept me so far from inquiring further is that the nearest location is in Portland, 100 miles from my home. More and more I'm starting to accept the drive time. The gas cost gets worse and worse though.

Paul S.

I’m saving my $ for the ICU
I’m all for the learning, and having someone reference points - just not so much for the branding/ranking/costs(though surely worth it)/and access issues. BCU definitely has a decent system though - at least for their interpretation of sea kayaking.

BCU training/certs always seem to be on my “someday” list, and sort of a one foot in one foot out thing. Of course, I’m only half British by ancestry :wink:

I do have the handbook - haven’t read it all yet. Have looked at the requirements, haven’t worked on it all yet. Mostly, I’m just lax I suppose. Warm waters will do that.

No need for BCU certified skills or coach input today - though I suppose might be open to some feedback on my Aleut paddle technique, from anyone who can keep up with me using one for a couple hours. Nothing special that, just noting that I am not devoting 100% of my skill development to what some in the BCU might call “Modern Sea Kayaking” (and yes, I have than book too). Should I get more dedicated - and stronger/faster/lighter - I’ll dust off the ski. Also not very BCU oriented paddling.

BCU? Someday…

psychological study
I move back and forth between the hiking/backpacking world and the paddling world as time and desire allow. Its interesting to compare the 'king’s and ‘queens’ of long distance backpacking with the ruling elite of sea kayaking. Last fall I attend the ALDHA Gathering and just a few weeks later attended the BCU Skills Clinic on Tybee Island. I’ve always found it extremely thought provoking that grown men have taken a child’s love or toys and playing and figured out a way to make a good living! This moreso with the paddling community than the backpacking community where you’ll meet some who have given up the normal established life in order to work 3 or 4 months and begin their 7th, 10th, or even 15th consecutive thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, or the CDT. For that extremely rare backpacker who has completed mutiple thru-hikes ownership of a car, house, or even a couch or suit is hardly necessary for life. The elite BCU 5 star coach who has risen to the point where he or she has a website or blog that is ranked high in internet hits the lifestyle includes jetting from here to there, sponsorship, and so on.

For the greatest hiker I have ever had the pleasure to have met -Seiko- home is a one bedroom apartment close to the trail. Few outside of the backpacking circles have met him and few would recognize his accomplishment of having thru-hiked the AT 15 consectutive times. Much like an encounter with Nigel Dennis, if you didn’t already know his credentials post a chance meeting, you probably wouldnt know afterwards-so a commonality amongst the sports very best is without doubt a calm humility, its just what they do. But back to the ALDHA Gathering where close to 2000 hikers/backpackers/thur-hikers/ joined together to exchange knowledge. Countless clinics,classes,presentors over 4 days, all designed to help the wannabe along, saving them from reinventing the wheel, preventing major error. One thing sea kayaking and backpacking have in common is the fact that you are often alone and in a wilderness situation where stupidity or ignorance can cost a life. The difference between the ALDHA Gathering and the BCU Skills Clinic? the ALDHA Gathering cost $10, and that included food! You had to bring your own shelter, I hammocked for the duration and hung beside Ronie from Israel (an Israeli who has completed as thru-hikes all the major trail systems in the US). The cost of the BCU clinic on Tybee? Well let’s just say it cost a lot to fly in coaches from all over the world, provide their housing, their food and their Black and Tan beer. Judgement here? No, not at all. You get what you pay for right? and my coaches for the 3star were surely some of the best in the world and in some ways I felt they had flown to America just to watch me paddle.

The closest thing to the backpacking mentality that I’ve seen in the paddling world is amongst the WW crowd and the Team Zero Greenland group. I move in and out of those worlds too.

In the end you just have to ask where do you feel most comfortable; on the mats stretching out yoga style with a quiver of sticks a few feet away, or comparing the latest Lendle or tweaking a rep. for a free kayak to round the unrounded island with.

So a suggestion to the BCU. Give a little. Look at what goes on in Delmarva…one big free clinic each year would go a long way to dispell the belief that the BCU ladder is an overpriced way to be with the in crowd. Put a GP on the deck even if for appearances only-reality as told me by a BCU coach was that there was no way to advance in BCU coaching with that paddle, well another reality is that Greenland paddling is enjoying a log growth rate, migh want to smell the coffee on that one.

If any of this was taken as obloquy disabuse and rectify. The systematic approach to kayaking is overall a good thing. It will save lives and promote the sport. It could save more lives with just wee bit of emotional tweeking.

Like other certifications, it looks good to the insurance folks. I’ve seen a BCU coach swim in the surf just as easily as an ACA instructor. It’s all fun and games. Seems like BCU folks are always a little more serious.

Great presentation on Kayak Games at Canoecopia, BTW. FUN.

obloquy disabuse and rectify
word up holmes, i’m putting that in grease pencil right down the side of my kayak at the next symposium…

BCU is…
sporty, with a sport science and competitive angle. given it’s origins and history this is to be expected. the US sea kayaking culture is ripe for this approach at this stage in it’s development, hence the BCU’s current popularity.

My impressions
are very simple really. when i was looking for instruction, I wanted some sort of validation and systematic approach to learning how to paddle as I felt that starting with baby steps and getting profficient and working my way up was a logical approach. Still feel that way. This is not to say that I have not benefitted from other ways of imparting instruction whether that was with a Team Zero approach, an ACA approach, or just going out and paddling with people like flatpick who just inherently help wherever and whenever they can.

Learning and labelling paddle presentation, techniques, and strokes along with different rescues is well worth the money for instruction. It is also fun with a GP. :slight_smile: the trick is to keep your level of butt time up after learning some of this stuff so it becomes second nature and not just something you know intellectually.

There is something reassuring in going out with someone that you know has a certain level of certification if you have never paddled with them before and this is why I will be assessing for my BCU 4 Star very soon. I have seen trips labelled 4 star conditions and I want to be confident that I will not be a burden to any others in the group. I do know a lot of people who work very hard to get their assessment and then hang up their kayaks and sew their patch on their pfd though… :slight_smile:


impressions of BCU
we’ve had classes from BCU and ACA instructors and some have been great and others weak. As an ex ski instructor I can see some interesting parallels. The more training you go through and the more expense you have taking all the training and tests; the more serious you are about it and less likely you are as a teacher to be enthusiastic as you once were with beginners. Naturally you’ll want to work with intermediates more than beginners and I can see this with some BCU coaches-they aren’t having a good time with beginners and it shows. It’s human nature to relate to those more on your level better. ACA instructors are sometimes working up the ladder and a little closer to the students and more enthusiastic and less dogmatic from what we’ve seen. But in the end it’s all about your ability as a teacher-not how great a paddler you are!

I hated the rigid training of the USSA as a skier but later understood that you simply must have a common method between professionals in order to deliver a consistant experience. The BCU method most certainly does this and I feel confident that the training is top notch. But again-not every teacher is a warm fuzzy person and students key off that more than anything as beginners and much less so as intermediates. As there becomes more and more paddling coaches-like skiing there will be competition amongst instructors to work harder at their “people skills” and overall instruction will benefit greatly. But in skiing we worried about clients breaking a leg or knee. Paddling instructors in open water have far more serious concerns and it they are too serious we all need to appreciate why.


Some adaptation is needed

– Last Updated: Mar-19-07 10:45 AM EST –

This goes for the ACA as well...

There's massive acceptance of the Greenland paddle by very skilled paddlers many who came from Euro paddling for many years. On the E. Coast of the US, you see them everywhere and people paddle along with 4 star and more paddlers all the time. I think there is a subliminal prejudice toward it's usage as not hard core or "the paddle can't handle it" type of thing. This also presents a bit of a problem for a teaching curriculum that focuses entirely on the use of a Euro paddle.

I think in the future as GP users win races, surf and prove to the world that's it's a viable paddle for all uses, both the ACA and BCU will have to adapt on a full doctrine level.

I think rolling is not given the importance it deserves in the star system. And I think the use of a Euro paddle always from the normal paddling position in the center of the paddle is not using it to it's full potential and some extended paddle sweeps and rolls could be taught or at least accepted.

Overall both the ACA and BCU have brought education in paddling to the public and I think it's good. Also - good job on branding and marketing too by the BCU who is pushing strong while the ACA was asleep at the wheel with white water.

One more prediction…
Other certification/education agencies will be born, just like it happened in Scuba Diving.

As someone going thru it…
My sense of the BCU has been from the start that it encourages the following attributes in a paddler, and is particularly well geared towards sea kayaking. The approach, skills and areas of strength are a very good match for where I want to go. This is not to say anything bad about the ACA - I just seem to find myself in more easy fit with the BCU folks I meet.

  1. Continued growth and development, and one that is very shall we say interactive. Lots of discussion, lots of exchange in points of view
  2. A prudent, some might say pretty anal, way of looking at risks and responsibilities, especially in a group
  3. A progression that gets you on the water with some decent safeties in place for the time period it takes to get the easier solutions, like a reliable roll, as part of the normal inventory
  4. A real focus and sense of base in the environment of the ocean
  5. A coaching and assessment system that has reasonably clear parameters but still allows for some fine-tuning based on the coach’s and the candidate’s particular strengths

    As to where the roll should come in - this has also come up on other forums. The reality is that, despite what is officially written, we have heard of maybe one person in several years who has made it thru a 3 star assessment without at least a flatwater, emergency roll. That is because there is very little likelihood that anyone will have gotten to where they can pass the bracing and sculling part successfully without having learned a lot about boat roatation and done considerable swimming or rolling. So what really happens (and I still am not sure this isn’t intentional) is that most people end up demonstrating a roll in the process of either warming up for or performing the assessment. That was the case for 3 out of 4 in our group and we were probably on the low side of that count.

    The greenland thing above is getting some discussion. The old hands have a point that, for the majority of the paddlers they serve who will want to go out and do major expeditions, they’d better be solid with a Euro. But as more people show up with pieces of wood in their hands, that may get a lot more interesting.

USA-Pretty much irrelevent
Realistically the BCU only affects a small proportional of folks who get out on the water in the USA. Most recreational paddlers have no clue what the BCU is. Whitewater paddlers could care less, surf kayakers… know a few BCU coaches who also surf. Only a small proportion of those who own seakayaks get involved with the BCU, viewed mostly as high-end yuppy past time.

Local BCU coaches in San Diego are excellent instructors but I’m not into the rating, ranking assessing as a pass time, I like kayaking because it is a free form sport — do your own thing. Was thinking about taking a four star surf weekend but too much travel and expense. I am surfing with a BCU coach in a few weeks, maybe I will be converted.

thoughts from a greenlander…

– Last Updated: Mar-19-07 11:55 AM EST –

As a greenland style paddler, it's been interesting to see how both the ACA and BCU adapt and react to the skinny paddle. While I plan on getting my ACA Whitewater certification in the near future, I'm torn about the open water certification because the ACA would require that I use a Euro paddle. That's not a problem for me in terms of actual use of the paddle since I started sea kayaking with a Euro, still paddle Euro for whitewater, and also use a wing with an offset, but more in terms of the principle of the matter. I give the BCU credit for letting folks assess for both star awards and coaching awards with the GP although I still feel it is a bit of an awkward subject for them.

I had the opportunity to work with several different BCU coaches this year and most of them were warm, generous, and gifted instructors. I had a lot of fun in the training and learned some valuable things in the process. With that said, I had less fun in the assessment primarily due to the assessor's misgivings toward my paddle. The assessor made me feel as though my paddle was inferior and expressed surprise each time I did standard sea kayaking manuevers with the paddle. I even had to show some moves with the assessor's Euro blade to prove that I could do them with a different shaped paddle which. I guess my problem with the extra scrutiny was that it made for an assessment experience which was not enjoyable for me. I was welcoming the opportunity to show my skills and learn a lot of things that I'm lacking in, but I was not looking to defend or justify my choice of a paddle. Please note that this was one experience and several of the other coaches I worked with gave me no grief about the paddle at all. Also, the assessor is a nice person but was simply not familiar enough with the paddle to really be comfortable assessing it which obviously isn't an ideal situation for the instructor or the student.

Kelly, with that said, what is your take on the Greenland paddle? I have a couple good friends who are planning on taking your 4 star assessment this summer and both will be using greenland paddles. If I can spare the vacation, it would be fun and valuable to learn from you as well but only if you'd feel comfortable teaching someone using a GP.


I had forgotten about that
My husband and I were talking - we have recently heard more about paddlers assessing for the BCU with a GP. We weren’t aware of this until lately - as time goes on this alone may effect a shift.

I think of BCU as a personal challenge. I’ve noticed more interest in this area since last year, and that translates to more courses offered close to home (an hour or so away). With ACA, there isn’t really a skills progression - you’re taught by a certified instructor, and then you’re a kayaker.

Unless you want to become an instructor, there’s no real feedback of how you’re doing as there is with BCU (at least from what I’ve seen). I know I’m getting there if I pass a star level evaluation, and on to the next.

Thoughts from a bass playing kayaker (Hi Kelly)…

my view
disclaimer: i have a natural urge to run from any organization in any aspect of a recreational activity.

i don’t know much about the program, but gut instinct tells me it’s good for people that like checklists and need approval from others to step up to the next level. i’ve always been the impatient type and like to push myself and move up quickly. not for everyone, but my guage is a local college that teaches whitewater classes, and you could take classes from them for years and never get beyond class III, and that’s kind of where i lump all organized teaching, training, or certification organizations. the people i regularly paddle with are much better paddlers than any “instructors” i’ve met, mainly due to the ease and efficiency of paddling without distracting restrictions that often hinder quick development of skills.

also, i have mainly a whitewater background, and the mentality seems to be much more independent and aggressive than the sea kayakers i know. acceptance of regularly getting one’s ass handed to them and taking a good beatdown also helps speed up the process.

“sporty, with a sport science and competitive angle”.

I have never seen or heard of a BCU organized race/skills competition, or BCU studies/info on physical training and nutrition, or any BCU info on latest gear developments…

Perhaps I have a different idea of what sport science and competition are about, or have just missed this stuff in BCU context since I’m an outsider.

Please tell us more.

PS - Does the thermos of tea count as a sports drink? :wink:

BCU is irrelevant to me
I am really turned off by merit badge systems. I don’t need the approval of others or a star rating to learn stuff. And, unfortunately, some of the people I know who have BCU ratings are real prigs. I enjoy teaching beginning students, helping them to enter the sport and learning basic stuff like strokes, rescues, rolling, safety, etc. I have an ACA certification because I think a student should have a way to choose competent instruction. And I have learned a lot from the various IDW’s I have taken. But basically I am not enthusiastic about organizations and teaching systems. It would be a waste of time for you to pay any attention to people like me.

warm, generous, and gifted instructors

– Last Updated: Mar-20-07 12:50 AM EST –

This has been my experience of most BCU coaches as well.

Until I took part in a weekend of 2/3* training a few years ago, the BCU seemed remote and elite. Now having spent alot of time with BCU coaches and paddlers, it feels comfortable and well reasoned.

IMHO, the organization of skills and progression of the Star system seems about the most thoughtful and considered organization of skills acquisition. For me, the BCU Star system and coaching levels are a positive contextualization of skills and experience.

Most I know who have worked with BCU coaches have enjoyed the experience. Most I know who dislike the BCU system have not worked with BCU coaches.

My most often recommendation to dedicated paddlers is that if they want to pursue whitewater then seek out ACA coaches, if they wish to pursue sea kayaking then seek out BCU coaches.

Most BCU coaches I know are also ACA certified.

As far as the original question: 'What is the BCU paddler?' I don't have an answer. Most paddlers I know have enough mix of ACA, BCU, and free form instruction that it would be hard to characterize them as "the BCU paddler."

If I were to characterize 'the BCU paddler,' I would say she is cognizant of conditions, equipment, and skills to a degree to not become rescue bait or a mortality stat. However, this does not differentiate the BCU paddler from other well trained dedicated paddlers.