Better Know a Kayak Instructor - Tim Dyer

Monday, 30 October 2006
Tim Dyer
Welcome to our second in a 276 part series, "Better know a Kayak Instructor". Today I sat down with Tim Dyer the owner of White Squall Paddling Centre in Parry Sound, Ontario, Canada.

Tim has been a fixture in the kayaking/guiding scene in Canada wince the early 70's so I was excited to sit and talk with him.

PI – Welcome Tim, glad to sit and chat. Let's answer the question for all those people who respect people only on the basis of your certification. What level do you currently hold?
TD – I've always thought us kayakers are an odd bunch, and that's one reason you've just mentioned. Well, I have my Level 3 Instructor Trainer and Level 4 Skills all with Paddle Canada.

PI – How long have you been teaching?
TD – Well, I got started way back in the early 1970's . First in Ontario, and then over the years in Alberta and BC. That was all before we moved back to Ontario around 1983 and started White Squall soon after.

SKI - Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not out paddling/teaching?
TD - My life circles around our family (Kathy-my wife, Jesse-15 yr. old son and Benji – our aging but very wonderful big dog- and our chickens!) I play pick-up basketball through the winter, and back-country ski as much as possible. Throughout the seasons, my joy is going on wild adventures in the bush and elsewhere with friends and family. It's great to be with folks you don't have to worry about or entertain-everyone knows what to do and supports the group. Oh yeah-in an oddly successful attempt to spend time with Jesse, Kathy convinced me to get a trappers snowmobile. It's light and small – and just right for camping with my tipi and woodstove! I never dreamt I would ever be a sledder, but here I am and it's quite a bit of fun.

PI - What got you interested in teaching kayaking in the first place?
Tim DyerTD - I was lucky to get some great summer jobs through school – with camps, outdoor centres and project DARE - and often found myself teaching in a canoe or kayak. More than that, I was able to connect with some very strong mentors who set me straight about life. While working in the Alberta foothills with a wilderness challenge programme for young adult inmates – I discovered the "Blue Lake Centre" – one of the first whitewater schools in Canada. After crashing and burning down some cold Rocky Mountain rivers with their instructors (for some reason most of them had British or German accents and the women instructors were beautiful), I ended up on the west coast guiding for Strathcona Outdoor Centre in a totally different water environment. It was there I fell in love with coastal and surf paddling. Coming back to Ontario in the early 1980's – Kathy and I found ourselves on the lee side of Georgian Bay and just north of where I grew up. We were both school teachers and taught skiing and paddling for fun. One day, (maybe after several beers?) we decided to open up a paddling and skiing business - and Stan Roger's song "White Squall" about a young kid on a lake freighter seemed to work for us as a name.

PI – That is a great history. I will need to make something up like that some day. What is the best thing about teaching kayaking?
TD - Teaching kayaking is like opening a window to a whole new world for folks. They soon have big grins on their faces when they understand how fun it is and how they can be the captain of their own ship to all sorts of new adventures.

PI - What is the funniest experience when out on the water?
TD - Gee, that's a tough one. My whole life seems to be a thread of funny things - but maybe the time that a lady in her sixties told myself and my co-guide Gary to "f-off" in front of the rest of our group ranks up there. We were on what should have been a simple daytrip with White Squall when the weather began closing in. We announced to our fiery friend that a tow was necessary to get her (and by extension the group) to safe waters. She was going to have none of that, and made her feelings known in language that unfortunately Gary and I were well versed in. Coming from an otherwise quiet senior was a bit of a shock – but it didn't change our minds, and you can pretty much guess her mood when we hooked her up to a line.

PI - Any close calls?
TD - Sure, any guide or instructor who is in the game long enough is bound to have them. I think the oddest thing was when I was guiding on the west side of Vancouver Island. An older fellow ( what is it about seniors anyway?) who was a major pain from day one – announced late one afternoon that he was going to explore further down the coast with or without us. No amount of talking would convince him that this was not a good I had to officially sign him off our trip in writing. A day or so later he showed up again, and I had to take him back as the silly bugger couldn't have got himself off that coast and knew it.

PI - The rest of your group must not have been too impressed to see him back in the group.
TD - No, they weren't. I think he was on dishes duty for the rest of the trip...

PI - What advice would you give to a new instructor?
TD - It goes back to what we were chatting about earlier a little bit. Hang your ego up on the nearest really isn't about you and how wonderful a paddler you are or what great equipment and boat you have. It's all about listening and watching and helping others. And please, when you meet a fellow instructor, don't spew out your paddling cv in the first 30 seconds – and spend the next five minutes name dropping. I'm way tired of people introducing themselves as a "level something from somewhere who learned everything from someone named Nigel" We have to get away from the exclusive cult of being a sea kayaker "in the know" and get on with including everyone in this wonderful way of getting around. And we all need to lighten's only paddling.

PI - Words to live by for sure. Let's get serious for a second. Most recent movie you saw.
TD - "Wah Wah" set in Swaziland in the late 1960's. It's a tale of a family caught up in major dysfunction – trying to resolve things in the backdrop of British snobbery. Being British born, I'm saddened to know what idiots some Brits were in the so-called "colonies".

PI - What is playing on the old 8-Track?
TD - "Old Dan's Records" by Gordon Lightfoot. This album is one of his earlier ones and one of his best I think. I grew up with his music, but Kathy gets worried on a rainy Sunday afternoon when I stare out through the window with Gordie playing in the background. But I'm ok...really.

For more information about White Squall Paddling Centre, please visit

Tim Dyer is the owner of White Squall Paddling Centre in Parry Sound, Ontario. He also sits on the Sea Kayak Program Development Committee for Paddle Canada.

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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