Teaching Ideas when a Thunderstorm Rolls In

Monday, 24 August 2009
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Low Brace LessonThis past weekend, I had the pleasure of helping to teach a Paddle Canada Level 1 sea kayak course with Andrew Green (@drumbopiper) at the Harbourfront Canoe & Kayak Centre in the Toronto Harbour.

Throughout the weekend, we worked on the usual list of foundation paddling skills including strokes, navigation, weather, risk management and kayak rescues (both assisted and solo) with success.

Ask any instructor and they will agree that weather always plays a big factor in ultimately dictating your teaching schedule. Wind speed, wind direction, precipitation, and thunderstorms are all factors that you need to take into account when developing your daily lesson plan.

We pretty lucky is past weekend since we were able to stick to our decided schedule even though the weather was threatening to turn really nasty both days. There was only one hour where we had to hide under some shelter waiting for a thunderstorm to approach. Gladly it decided to track south, missing us completely.

This got me thinking that a good instructor really needs two complete game plans for the day, the master lesson plan and a back-up plan of things to do or talk about when you are stuck on shore waiting out a storm.

Here is the classic scenario. You are out on the water and mid afternoon, the wind picks up and clouds roll in. It’s to early to call the lesson for the day and it looks like the storm will last an hour. What do you do? You have 10 students staring at you asking, “What Now?” That’s a lot of pressure if you can’t think fast on your feet.

After stumbling through a couple rough afternoons, I decided I needed to work on developing some resources for just that occasion. I decided to learn up on relevant topics that could be easily taught with little or no prep or equipment.

Navigation LessonA couple of possible topics or time fillers could be helpful:
  • Weather - If you are sitting under a shelter waiting out a storm, students are always interested in what is going. You don’t need to be a meteorologist so do a little research and chat about low/high pressure systems, storm fronts, and where lightening comes from including how to stay safe. It’s always super relevant.
  • Navigation – haul out your topographic map or nautical chart and explain some basic navigation techniques.
  • Knots – I recently rediscovered a little bag of rope that I have been carrying around in my kayaking man purse of odds and ends. It’s perfect to hand out and teach 3-4 of the more common paddling knots.
  • Wind, wave and shoreline interaction. Ever wondered where waves come from and how surf forms? The Google will tell you where to find several surfing websites with great resources about wave formation.
  • Gear Show and Tell – Get everybody in your group to tell about their favourite camping or paddling piece of gear. What makes it so good?
  • Recent Adventure – Go around the group and get people to share a recent adventure or misadventure. Didn’t have one? Make it up.
  • Boat Packing and Waterproofing Gear – Move a boat into the shelter (if possible) and talk about how to pack a boat. If you can’t do that, then share simple tips on proper packing and waterproofing techniques.
  • How to Buy Gear – New paddlers could be imitated to go in and talk to salespeople so break down that barrier and arm your students with things to look for when buying a new PFD or paddle. You aren’t selling them anything so you are in a good position to share a non-biased opinion. Explain the benefits (or disadvantages) of some bells and whistles of various pieces of gear.
  • Boat Design – If you have room to bring a boat into your shelter, explain the basics of boat design without getting to technical.

Above is just a rough working list of things that I keep in my back pocket and pull out as necessary. Remember, you don’t need to be an absolute expert, but being able to carry a conversation with your students will go a very long way in making an otherwise boring sit-and-wait into something much more engaging and practical.

Have you got some time fillers that you wanted to share? Add them in the comments below.

Below is a quick slideshow of a couple photos that I took while teaching with Andrew this past weekend. Enjoy.



David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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