Monday, June 06, 2005

Symposium Post #1

Finally – a nice thundery, rainy night to write about the symposium!

The Hudson Valley Outfitter’s first ever Hudson Valley Kayak Symposium was, I think, a success. I’d definitely do it again if they invite me. Camp Mariah was absolutely beautiful – a perfect setting for the type of workshops offered. A beautiful, quiet lake, set in rolling hills – Baltimore orioles flying around (I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of those before – that’s the most astounding shade of orange I’ve ever seen on a living creature) – stars at night, and campfires with s’mores, and that aforementioned somersault-inducing lawn – great.

Teaching-wise, I think I did OK. As usual, this was a situation where immediately afterwards, I was euphoric, then within a day I was reviewing what I’d done & just picking myself to pieces. Laurels have about a 24-hour lifespan for me, max. However, I think that’s one of the traits that’s made me into even as good a paddler as I am – I’m never quite satisfied with where I am and so I work out ways to challenge myself. Going for my four star was challenging myself. So was teaching at this symposium.

During my period as a partner at MKC, I taught a LOT of kayaking classes – but it was always following the same syllabi and always working with people I knew pretty well. This business of being thrown in with a whole bunch of total strangers and just winging it? Whew.

The amazing thing was how well it all actually worked out.

They had drawn instructors from Florida to Maine. Backgrounds were similarly varied – that listing of types of boats I went into the other day? I felt like doing that would help set up the non-kayakers who read this with a little understanding of how many disciplines you find under the one umbrella term, “kayaking”. So – we had whitewater people, Greenland people, and sea kayakers. Just to complicate things more, sea kayak instructors tend to be certified by two organizations – the American Canoe Association and the British Canoe Association – and I think we had representatives of both schools – plus a couple of talented mavericks (ACA or BCU certification is not a foolproof guarantee that an instructor’s going to be good, although it does mean that that person has taken the time and effort to go through the training and certification process, which says something, you do hear some weird stories – the flip side of that coin is that lack of formal credentials absolutely does not automatically indicate that a person doesn’t know their stuff). And if that’s not bad enough already – kayak instruction is a developing art – a person (me, for example) who started out going through ACA training a few years ago but has since spent more time in BCU courses is already going to be “old school” as far as modeling & teaching certain skills (I found that out the hard way on Sunday in the one class that I’d say didn’t go quite as well for me, although I think the students still got a lot & that’s the important thing). Funny stuff. Anyways, you throw all these different types in together and either the flavors are going to mingle as deliciously as those of the lamb curry I made last week – or it’s going to be a complete disaster.

On the whole, I think the clients left with a good taste in their mouths.

It’s all in the mindset, really. I’ve written from time to time about how I like a Greenland paddle for one thing, and a Euroblade for another, and wings go with surfskis, and even a 25-year old, beat-up, aluminum Grumman canoe has a good, just, and right place in the world of watercraft – well, it’s the same with these different schools of thought. In the end, it’s all about imparting the ability to be a confident, capable, and aware paddler, at whatever level the student chooses to work for. ACA & BCU are just different ways of arriving at the same goal, and an ACA coach & a BCU coach & a Greenland coach can all work together perfectly well if they don’t take the “my way’s right, your way’s wrong” attitude, but rather recognize that there are going to be differences in styles, but maybe one thing is going to work better for one student & another for another. And that’s pretty much what happened here.

HVO started out with a staff meeting on Friday night, which had a lot to do with that. Making a quick count of the sessions, there were 13 workshops spread over 7 2-hour sessions. The organizers went over the syllabi for each, so we had a general understanding of what the clients were expecting to get. In general, beyond that, the modus operandi for the sessions I co-taught was that the other instructor and I would put our heads together before the class & talk through how we planned to approach it. That worked fine for the most part.

I found that there were definitely classes that lent themselves to team teaching, even with only a 5-minute preliminary planning session with my co-instructors. Some were a little trickier & I’ll definitely be mulling over how to approach better next time.

My first class was “Getting on the Water” – that worked out GREAT in every way. First off, this was the perfect venue for teaching all the basic variations of launches and landings – nope, no surf, but we had a sandy beach, a high dock, and plenty of rocky shoreline. My co-instructor Bill and I actually had very complementary skills – he & his wife Elizabeth are guides in Florida, so they’re really good at assessing natural shorelines for landing potential – we were both fine with beach launches – and as an urban paddler, I’m particularly comfortable with dock launches & landings.

2nd session – Rescues! Rescues are always great classes to co-teach. There are a couple of really basic assisted rescues that any paddler should be able to perform either as a rescuer or a rescuee – so the 2 instructors just take turns rescuing & being rescued, then you pair off the students & they rescue each other (“being the teabag”, I heard one of the instructors call it) & besides being a fundamental must-have kind of skill, it’s really kind of fun (falling out of boats can be fun – kids know that but us grownups tend to forget it). Evan, my Maine Guide co-instructor, was very tall, so one nice thing about the 2 of us being paired off to teach this was that we got to demonstrate that a smaller rescuer can rescue a bigger person. Unfortunately, with only an hour and a half, and some fairly cold water too, we only had time to demonstrate a couple of uses for the paddlefloat (a self-rescue device consisting of an inflatable bladder that slips over the end of your paddle to act as a steadying outrigger while you get back into your boat – the concept may sound simple but this only works when you need it if you practice it a lot when you don’t, a demo’s not really enough). Oh well. Lots of good assisted rescue work & that’s a very good thing to take away.

After lunch, Gillian, who does a lot of Outward Bound work, & I taught a forward stroke class. This, I’d say, is one of the skills that might have been easier for one person to teach – I don’t know, it just wasn’t as easy to team-teach as the other classes that had offered more natural segue moments for the instructors to “pass the baton”. We did work to hand it off to each other but the handoffs felt a little more arbitrary, at least to me. I should’ve asked Gillian what he thought afterwards – that would’ve been helpful. I felt myself rushing stuff at the times I was leading because I didn’t want to hog it & that was one of those things I think I could’ve done better on. Not quite sure how, but I’ll have that in mind for next time.

Also – an hour and a half somehow just isn’t enough time, the way I’m accustomed to teaching basics. A good strong forward stroke is THE basic building block of kayak technique, and it is completely counterintuitive, and you have to spend a WHOLE lot of time convincing arms to let torsos & legs do the work for once, and once you get everything working sort of ok on land, you go put people in boats and it all goes away again. Hour and a half class, I was mostly looking for flashes of the stroke working right – I’d let the student go until the stopped, then I’d say “How did that feel?”, and they’d have the light bulb look & say “Great”. And I’d say “Yeah – that was it”. Then even if they couldn’t QUITE get it working in that short hour-and-a-half – they’d have some idea of it stashed away in their mind to work towards at home.

My fourth & final session on Sunday was Women on Water. Or, as it turned out, Women Sitting in a Circle on a Lush Green Lawn Under a Clear Blue Sky Swapping Paddling Stories. I was ready to go do some intensive skills work – technique being where it’s at when you’re a woman paddler – but after 3 intensive sessions everybody seemed happy to stay dry & warm, so it became more just a discussion. I did lead some – but not a lot, there were some women there who may not have had my training and technical skills and blah, blah, blah, but had been paddling for a long time & when they started sharing – well, that was great. Here I’d done all this stressing and sweating & straining over finding resources & handouts & what have you – and darned if the students in the class didn’t turn out to be resources every bit as good!

Now that was the one I was the most unsure about teaching – but boy, it came out fun. Relaxed, yet people did say it was informative. Somehow I think if I’d written some big lecture & planned every moment of the class – it wouldn’t have been half as good.

Anyways – I think Saturday’s sessions are enough for today. I can’t quite edit my first symposium EVER down to a single post!

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