While I am by no means a fan of romantic comedies I did enjoy this clip of Jason Segel from Forgetting Sarah Marshall attempting to get a surf lesson from Chuck (or Koonu, his Hawaiian name according to an internet website) who is played by Paul Rudd.

For you paddling instructors out there teaching, the take-away lesson here is to basically do the exact opposite of everything Chuck does and you are guaranteed to be a more effective instructor than him.

Published in Funny
Tuesday, 10 December 2013 16:21

What is Sea Level?

I will be honest with you, up until today I had never really put much thought about how they determined that Mount Everest was 8,848 meters above sea level.

Wait; let me back up first lest you think I'm a simpleton. I always understood the concept of elevation but I had never thought about exactly how they figure it out considering that most times the sea is hundreds of miles of away. Also, with all that ocean sloshing around and going up and down, how do they know where to start measuring from?

Leave it up to gang at MinutePhysics to figure it out and explain it to us like the simpletons that we are.

Spoiler alert: Gravity has a big role to play in the whole thing.

Flickr photo credit: cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Jimmy Emerson

Published in How Stuff Works

Watch this video that was just recently posted on the Youtube.

Published in Teaching

This past weekend I was out paddling with by buddies Erik and Wilber here in Toronto on Lake Ontario. The three of us have been working with a group of intermediate paddlers introducing them to the wonders of late season paddling and the joys of rough water. It has been a lot of fun.

So, after several weekends of fairly calm conditions we decided to push the envelope a bit and take the group out in rougher water since the SW winds on the lake was finally bringing us really a nice 2.5-3 foot swell.

Out paddling in the rough water we had two people tip out into the water (not at the same time) and quickly got them back up and running again so there was lots of learning for everybody throughout the day. I know I walked away with some interesting insights and things that we should emphasise more so students are more prepared about rescues. Here they are in no particular order:


1) As instructors, we need to teach students that not to be a passive victim if you find yourself swimming.

For some reason we always teach swimmers take direction from the paddler in the kayak and not to take any action until she tells you to. That makes good sense from the perspective that it teaches the paddler how to take control and give directions in an emergency situation but the reality is that in real life conditions, if the swimmer is perfectly fine I believe they should take a more assertive role in helping the paddler help them. As rough water partners, both should know their roles and the steps to rectify the problem. It just speeds the whole thing up considerably.


2) We need to really, really, really drill home the idea of holding onto your gear and boat.

My students understand the concept but when they are floating in the waves everybody forgets about their paddle. The concept grabbing and keeping your stuff from floating away really needs to be drilled home, over and over again as you can’t swim faster than a boat blowing away. Never let go of your paddle or boat. Never.


3) Teach your students how to use their own paddle to swim faster.

If you need to move around in the water it’s way easier to use your paddle to help pull you through the water. This really rings true if you need to go any type of distance greater than 2-3 boat lengths. It’s also a lot easier then swimming with one hand and the paddle beside you so teach it to your students and they will thank you for it.

If you are not sure what I’m talking about here is a quick video I found demonstrating it.

What do you think instructors? Share your own tips or insights below.


Published in Teaching

The fold able pocket whiteboard.

I recently stumbled upon this interesting teaching tool: a foldable, pocket whiteboard.

It peaked my interest because there were several times over the past year when I was out teaching and wished I had a writing surface to get a complex concept across to my students. Beach sand and a stick can only go so far when explaining the wonders of a developing cold front.

The whiteboard is made up of 27 mini pieces that folds up to roughly 3”x5”x0.2”. It folds out to 15”x27” giving you lots of whitespace to work with. The kit comes with a dry erase market and a microfiber bag which doubles as an eraser.

More info: thinkgeek.com

Published in Teaching

One of the toughest challenges for canoe or kayak instructors is to teach with another partner. This could be with a stranger that you have just met at a symposium or a fellow staff member at your local paddling school or club.

On the surface it seems to be a simple matter, after all you are only talking half the time but the reality is that more teaching disasters take place as soon as you add in a the second instructor. Like a complex dance routine, you need work together in harmony to ensure that your students are learning effectively.

Here is a very small selection of some of the crazy stories or situations I witnessed over the years:

  • Verbal arguments in front of students on the proper way to teach something as simple as the forward sweep.
  • Once teaching with two other instructors in a large group, one of the instructors decided to jump out of his boat in the middle of a class to give an impromptu lesson on how to stay cool on the water. All this happened while the other instructor was teaching the draw stroke. Totally derailed the lesson.
  • I heard of an instructor who once decided to arbitrarily change the lesson plan half way through the morning and announced on the spot that it would be more effective for him if he just took half the students and split the group.
  • I once took over my co-instructors boat design lesson because I really, really, really wanted to share some newfound knowledge. He was pissed and I still feel bad about it. Sorry Andrew!

Here are a bunch of random tips and ideas to help make teaching with another instructor a whole lot more fun:

  •  Meet before the class and map out exactly who is responsible for what elements of the lesson. This is critical and I can’t stress this enough. Even if you are one of those types who can teach on the fly, deciding who is teaching what during the actual lesson is not only unprofessional but a guaranteed recipe for disaster.
  • If you are not on stage teaching the stroke, keep you’re your trap shut. Students can only learn from one person at a time so show your co-instructor some respect and let her teach the lesson.
  • Check your ego at the door. Co-teaching is about sharing the spotlight so out of the way and don’t hog the attention.
  • Unless the lesson is sinking out of site or there is a danger to the class, don’t take over the lesson unless invited. Everybody has a bad day on the water or maybe it’s the first time teaching the skill and very nervous. Let them learn from the experience while you look for a place during a break in the conversation to gently help out.
  • When done your teaching segment always provide an opportunity for fellow instructors to add their tips at the end. That’s a good place for them to come in and add last minute tips or show another way to do the skill.
  • Like a car can’t have two drivers, you need to figure out who is going to run the lesson plan. The lesson plan driver takes the roll of dishing out the tasks and keeping everybody on time.
  • Finally, remember to share the teaching love. If you have new assistants out there helping you so make sure you give them a chance to do some teaching and build up their experience.
  • When you are done, a quick debrief about what worked and what didn’t will really help the next time you teach together.


You have a teaching tip? Share it in the comments below. 

Published in Teaching

You might have noticed that things have been a touch slow around here over the past little while. The reason is because I was away in Calgary, Albertafor the past two and a half weeks teaching several sea kayaking courses with my good friend, Tony Palmer from the local paddling shop, Undercurrents.

Over the 10 days I was teaching we ran a bunch of Paddle Canada courses including Level 1 Skills, Level 2 Skills, Intro to Kayaking Instructor and a Level 1 Instructor course.

I know that there are those of you who are thinking, “Alberta? Sea Kayaking? What?”

While it’s true that Alberta is known more for canoeing and whitewater kayaking there is some nice places to get out in the long boats including the many lakes all over the place and the long rivers that are perfect for the weekend of week-long trip. Also, the ocean is a quick 12h hop from Calgary to Vancouver if you are planning a paddling vacation.

Waiting to Go

A couple of quick highlights from my time out there include an overnight on the Bow River just south of Calgary. Along the 50km stretch that we paddled, the Bow is a meandering class 1 swift that runs along a valley carved out of the prairie grasslands. It was a totally fun experience.

We also got a chance (also part of the level 2 skills course) to get out on the Kananaskis River at Canoe Meadows and play in the moving water there. In the part that we paddled it wasn’t massive but a lot of whitewater kayakers did get kinda weirded out watching 16-foot sea kayaks take over the little eddies. Good times.

View Larger Map

Check out the Google Streetview of the Canoe Meadows parking lot below. I’m not sure what they are doing but it looks like a game of tag by a group of adults all topless and in wetsuits. I can understand why the Google car kept driving by. I would have done the same.

View Larger Map

One of the major goals of the courses in Calgary was to increase the number of active sea kayak instructors in the Province. Before this, there were only 2-3 SK instructors as well as only one instructor trainer. I was very happy to add another 9 instructors and 1 more IT to the ranks.

So now, I’m back in Toronto and getting ready for more stuff coming up. I checked the schedule and I’m teaching a bunch of land navigation and weather clinics at the upcoming MEC Paddlefest next weekend as well as another sea kayak instructor course coming up the weekend after that so I’m back to work on refining my lesson plans based on what worked and what didn’t out in Calgary. After 10 years of teaching instructor courses, lesson plans are a constant evolution.

Published in Teaching

1930's Swimming Leeson

I love this photo from the 1930’s of two kids learning how to swim. Somebody tell me that wasn’t how everybody was taught back then.

Via Black and WTF

Published in Photography


GCaptain had a great article yesterday called, Emergencies at Sea – Practicing What Can’t be Practiced. The takeaway message from the article is that it’s critically important not to forget the little details of any rescue and practice them as well. This also includes inspection of all emergency gear. A good example they provide is to actually pull the man overboard life ring from the wall and toss it overboard. Apparently the rings are difficult to get off the wall as they are designed not to get lost in the daily business of the ship and it takes more time then people think.

This got me thinking about rescue practice for canoes or kayaks. As paddlers we tend to focus on the primary element of the rescue which is getting yourself or your partner back in the boat. With time we get that dialled down but as you know there is a whole lot more little details that often get overlooked.

3176 canoe rescue (#5 of 9)

Here are a couple of thoughts and ideas to think about the next time you get out practising rescues:

  • Try to calling for help using your VHF radio or waterproofed cell phone while floating in the water in the actual conditions you are likely to swim in. If you have to pull gear from your boat, don’t let water get in.
  • If you had to call for help at any point throughout your day paddle, could you be able to describe verbally your location to authorities over the radio with relative accuracy?
  • Pull out your flares and do a full inspection. Are the instructions still legible? Are they expired and need replacing?
  • Fire off an expired flare. Ever done it from the water? In a real emergency, can you reach them from your canoe/kayak while floating in the water? Update: Sheilap reminded me that it's illegal to do. See the comments below.
  • Practice rescuing your partner while they are fake-injured. Common injuries include sea sickness (no balance), shoulder injuries or weak arms. How did your technique change? A dislocated shoulder can easily be faked by shoving your arm in your PFD.
  • If you are not the “PFD-on-at-all-times” type paddler, when was the last time you fell out of your boat and tried putting on your PFD in the conditions you will likely swim? Was it harder then you thought?
  • Have you given a good blast of your whistle lately? Does it still work and can your paddling partners hear it in high winds?
  • Try swimming with your boat to a nearby shore.
  • Pull out your mini first-aid kit while on water to fix a blister. Was everything you needed within arms reach?

Have you got ideas for lesson common things to keep in mind? Share them in the comments below.

Top Photo Credit: BASK-Rescue-06292008--0106 / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Bottom Photo Credit: 3176 canoe rescue (#5 of 9) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Published in Safety
Friday, 16 September 2011 16:41

The Limitations of a Paddling Class

Sometimes students taking an intermediate paddling class grumble that they wished they had learned the new skills during an beginner paddling class.

Of course you can’t learn everything in one day and some skills can’t be taught to absolute beginners and must be taught tomorrow.

Wayne Horodowich has written an interesting article over on paddling.net on these limitations and why an instructor needs to push some skills to an intermediate level class.

Another factor to consider about learning is, "you don't know what you don't know." If you don't even know the possibility exists you may never perform certain actions. That is why formal education is so important. As you learn more possibilities your base of knowledge expands. As the base gets bigger you can build more upon it. As a side note, if an instructor can build creative thinking skills and experimentation into their curriculum I believe students will discover more options on their own.

How does all off the above relate to a kayaking class? Obviously, as we learn our basic skills we are limited by what we have learned with respect to the points I was making above. At the end of your basic kayaking class your base of kayaking knowledge is what you have learned in your class unless you have had additional exposure to the sport. You are unaware of all you do not know about kayaking.

Read the full article here.

Published in Teaching
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