While on the subject of instruction...

There’s been something I’ve been thinking about. Compare the way kayaking is taught with say, a class at the community collage or yoga, Martial Arts or learning a different language, etc. With kayak classes, they are usually set up where you take an all day class on weekends. One might take 2 or 3 of these classes a year. Now, suppose you were to take the same approach with the things mentioned above (Yoga, martial arts, language). How much could you expect to learn? It seems to me that kayaking classes offered (coached) 1 hour a day, 2 or 3 days a week would be a much much much more effective method of learning. I took a playboating clinic a couple of years ago and came away feeling like I really didn’t get my moneys worth. It wasn’t because the instructor wasn’t any good (he is), it’s because when learning a physical skill, you can only absorb the “information” so fast. The process works much better in small, steady increments then large sporadic ones. But, you might say “It’s not practical, time wise, after work to drive to a river, lake or ocean, for that type of instruction”. I think people would be amazed at how much one can improve their boating skills by doing flat water practice drills on a regular basis. It could be done in a pool, or any local convenient water. If the class was run similar to an aerobics class with the instructor in the front leading an hour of nonstop drills. This would be a very effective method of learning, not to replace time out on the ocean or river, but in addition to. It could be set up where you pay a monthly fee to attend.

The reason I got to thinking about this is because about a year ago I got a copy of EJ’s “strokes and concepts”. I started practicing his “10 min warm up” and other drills that he recommends in a small pool. I’ve been doing this after work, only about once a week for an hour at a time and its made a major difference. Has anyone ever heard of kayak classes set up in this manner? I suspect the main reason that this isn’t done is because to do it year-round, the school would have to have access to a pool for a few hours a day, a couple of days a week. Also, it might be hard to get people interested in the concept of boating as work instead of play. Any of you instructors out there have any thoughts on this?


Instructor Or Not…

– Last Updated: Nov-21-04 9:32 AM EST –

how many hours of class or not... The path to improvement is dedicated practice, a lot of it on one's own. Pick a skill, work at it, then test it out. And, I don't think it has to be by external evaluator either. Do it where the skills is needed, warranted and applicable. The feedback is immediate and concrete.

There is a point, for some, where too much tutelage under an instructor's active eyes and involvement is counterproductive. It's call "hand-holding." The student never comes to truly "own" the technique, never develops ability perform the technique outside the supervision of the instructor and falls apart when reality demands the skill's application and the "calming" support of the instructor is not present.

In martial arts, I often run into folks who claim and brag about "WHO" their instructors are. My question and observation are that your instructor doesn't fight the fight (or paddle) for you. My perspective with those I train with is that nothing we do in a drill counts, until you can do it in real time, real speed and real need. You step into a ring with someone, don't let his rep stand for anything. He has to prove to you that he is deserving of that rep and your job is to make that person RESPECT you for what you have trained to do and can do.



time economics
while your idea for practice sessions/ coaching is great the economics of a 1.2hr-2hr. class aren’t very economical for an instructor who has to show up and teach. having a close venue is also a problem.

The DayTripper concept rolls much of this ‘practice’ and slow absortion learning into a day trip which also includes a journey. Stretch it out over a full day and the student and instructor’s time is more valued.

Sing Sing, I know where you are coming from tho this is based on the ol’ theory that “Practice makes Perfect”.

Practice only makes PERMANENT. Practicing a technique over and over engrains it in muscle memory and unless the technique is done perfectly, it isn’t reallt that GREAT to own. I have been there and still to this day have some very lame habits that I can’t shake. They work and were learned in the field, on my own, w/o help. ouch.

btw- these are guitar playing habits, not paddling techniques. I do everything PERFECTLY in my YAK. :wink:

that was a joke, tho I do work pretty hard at providing a near perfect paddling model.


I have a terrible memory and have to write down notes after taking a class. I find that by haveing notes to practice with I can keep working in a progressive manner. It also gives me something to reference to when I’m trying to help someone else learn some new skills. Teaching is a difficult task because we all learn differently.

Club instruction & Practice
The Boston AMC whitewater classes are done as three pond sessions of 2 or three hours, one week apart followed by a weekend on an easy class II river. That is nice for the reasons you mention.

NSPN does weekly “skill sessions”, again two or three hours. This is not formal instruction but there seem to be a number of folks at those who have decent paddling chops and teaching skills.

These both allow the gradual absorbtion of skills while providing some level of instruction.

Since these are both located around Boston they don’t do you west coast folk much good. Perhaps there are similar opportunities near you.

I agree with Flatpick that practicing poor technique only makes you good at poor technique. I suspect that some of us are more susceptable to that than others. I once spent several months practicing a totaly screwed offside stroke before a good instructor got me squared away. Sing, as far as this single blader can tell, seems to use good form almost instinctively.

Gotta find what works for you.

Steve, Steve…

– Last Updated: Nov-21-04 11:22 AM EST –

spoken like a professional instructor that you are.

I understand the concept of integration of body mechanics, wrong and otherwise. I also understand somewhat about performance pyschology as well. You'll just have to take my word for it, even though I'm not "certified." ;)

I didn't say not to seek coaching help but that you have to work on what you were taught as well. Some folks take lessons and then just go off on the water, with no thought of trying to actually work on something. Progression means some concerted practice, even in a framework of going out and having fun.

Frankly, there are some here who seem to be able to, but I don't think the majority of us can afford a "pro" to trail us around everytime we hit the salt, river or surf. I know I can't. And, gratuitously, I will assert that I wouldn't if I could.


Total Immersion
The best way to learn a language is to do a total immerision course. I did this where you go to the language school and live there for 2 months, after the first day you don’t speak your native language. Within a month you are speaking, reading and writing better than someone with a college minor in the language, and thinking in the language, which is the key to being fluent. Not many ways to do this unless you join some organization like the military, Microsoft, the CIA or KGB. Not sure there is an analogy for this in kayak instruction, but I have taken three day trips where the guide taught basic skills at first , and then little by little kept challenging us more an more, and then dropping back and reviewing. In education this used to be called the “Spiral Approach”. I certainly learned a lot. Trips like that here are inexpensive with Aqua-Adventures. Something like $180 bucks for three days with food, kayak and instruction, you pay your own gas and bring your own camping equipment, slightly cheaper with your own boat. I guess the best analogy are trips where people take off and paddle for a few months, I’ve known several people who have done it but I certainly would not have the time off from work.

Do post-it notes stick to polyethelene?

Three sessions of two hours each
with unlimited boat rental time for three weeks starting fron the first class works for me.

Live in Boston? CRCK did that for my wife. Her class was tought by one of the owners, who are all great peopleand paddlers; and Dave who taught her class is an amazing instructor.

Maine Island Canoe and Kakak
offers week long total immersion courses.

Great if you’ve got the time! Hope tom and June find a way to keep it moving forward.

Positive steps overcome Survival fears
At first there is a HUGE mental block to get over, if you do not pay attention it prevents you from being relaxed and then your mind will not learn the muscle memory steps to putting things together with enough timing to come up! Happens for many many many.

  1. Know that your primitve brain does thinks survival response required when under water inverted and stuck in a boat!!!

  2. Practice hanging out under water in shallows with trusted friend, on your side upside down. Do controlled exits, do reentries and have friend right you. Over and over until really relaxed. Do not skip this step!

  3. Follow “The Kayak Roll” dvd. There are lots of equally good styles of rolling but this is the safest and most generic way to start. Less injury, less timing required, more success encourages more practice.

  4. Have a friend there to support you so that you do ONE STEP AT A TIME and never learn wrong things you must unlearn. Most important, you always finsh that step having done it right and then next time your practice, it will be easier.

  5. Don’t practice more than 30 minutes, take a break and come back to it or wait a day, very important.

  6. Understand that this is NOT somting that you learn in 3 times. It is actually a continuum of learning over many many many times that eventually you beocme very relaxed, and very awre of your body how the boat and you work together where your are underwater, and can come up from any place you find yourself.

    Don’t discourage yourself with I am a failure. Have someone who can have fun and patience with you and enjoy it!

    THis is what I did for me and I did not even end up needing an instructor! However, instructors if they are really good, use this way, just like in the DVD, and they may know how to hold you up better, and they may also know what style of roll is better for your boat, physique, etc… They may also be better able to diagnose what you are not yet doing that will help.

Definitely agree

– Last Updated: Nov-21-04 6:51 PM EST –

When I think about what was covered in my beginner class (7 hours), it's no surprise that I only retained part of it. After early afternoon, I remember feeling lackluster and not really hearing what the instructor said, even though I was not physically tired. It was just a lot of new stuff to absorb, with little practice time for each new thing.

Fortunately, this instructor did have us thoroughly go over wet exits and both assisted and paddle-float re-entries, soon after we got in the water. (Read the article in the latest Sea Kayaker magazine for a horror story on what can happen to a panic-prone newbie, and it becomes clear why I like the approach favored by my instructor. It gets the most psychologically intimidating action over with right away; everything else seems easy after that.)

But back to your post...learning AND practicing in small, frequent, regular doses works much better for me than rare big gulps of all-day classes...with one exception that I'll elaborate on below.

The catch to these mini-sessions is that in most places it's inconvenient if not impossible to line up small bits of instructor time like that. But you could still practice frequently, taking care to watch technique so as not to pick up bad habits. This is the big gripe I have with local paddlers: almost nobody practices at all; they just sign up for overnight or longer trips with no conditioning or skills work other than a once/year mass "paddlefest." Then they say, "Well, I learned how to paddle that day so now I'm ready for [insert name of trip]." But it takes so much more than one quick group lesson to be able to paddle decently even on calm water.

Another good way to learn, as mentioned by seadart, is the Really Big Gulp: a long self-supported paddling trip. But even that presumes some prior knowledge, experience, and judgment. Because without some paddling experience, doing such a trip would be dangerous, IMO. I took one of these big gulps this summer when I paddled with 3 other people for about 400 miles along Alaska's Inside Passage.

When you paddle in varying conditions day after day, often for more miles than you really want to do that day, you have LOTS of time to pay attention to technique. You almost can't help noticing the different efficiencies of slight variations in style, the very *sound* of the paddle blades--repeated hundreds of thousands of times--helping to clue you in. Your own tiredness forces you to become a better paddler. Perhaps your paddling companions paddle differently, and you watch them and try their way, too.

And you have NO EXCUSES: your kayak is always with you, the water is always a stone's throw away, and YOU HAVE NO OTHER WAY TO REACH THE END, HAHAHAHA! (Well, not really: we could have ditched kayaks for an early ferry departure point at two places.)

Before being invited on the AK trip, I was considering taking the 5-day intensive clinic offered by Gronseth. Two people had raved about it (and another offered a dissenting opinion). I chose to go to AK, and I'm glad I did. While I might have learned or polished up a couple of specific things in the 5-day clinic, I would not have had the real-world experience of having to deal with covering many miles in unfamiliar territory, much more varied water conditions than I get at home, finding useable undesignated campsites day after day, pacing myself for the long haul, daily discomfort, and a whole lot more. Then there are the psychological aspects of traveling for so long with other people, and of letting the mind have the luxury of contemplating "what am I doing with my life?". The Really Big Gulp is so much more than a tour or a kayaking lesson. But I don't think it would be wise to jump into it without any previous paddling experience.