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  Washington Kayak Club
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WKC Workshops with Body Boat Blade Provide Valuable Lessons in Leadership

Published on 3/31/2014

By Dave Ortland

WKC Instructor and Coach Workshop
WKC provides the club with a strong training program that brings many new members into the club.  Our lead instructors are ACA certified.  We encourage them to develop their teaching skills by partially subsidizing this training.  Last year we started to provide a 2-day workshop for instructors and assistants in our classes. The workshop is taught by Shawna and Leon at Body Boat Blade and focuses primarily on how to teach and assess students.  This year I had the privilege of attending with six others, and found the workshop to be incredibly enlightening.

The workshop this year was taught mostly in the classroom, since motivation was low to head out on the water in a blizzard and temperatures below 30!  In both the workshop and the leadership class (described below) Shawna and Leon start by introducing new concepts with short explanations, then provide fun exercises to help reinforce these ideas. Watching their instruction technique is highly instructive in itself! 

We learned about:

  • the physical, psychological, strategic, and technical aspects of paddling that need to be taught, and how to use these aspects as rules of thumb to assess a student’s progress.
  • the stages of learning and how to not overwhelm a student with too much information at once
  • The four on-water fundamentals of kayaking skills: posture, connectivity, power transfer (P-P-P-POWER! Leon would say), and feel.These are of course related to the Body, Boat, and Blade components that go into every specific skill.
  • Use of video to analyze technique, an amazingly useful tool.
  • Risk assessment
In addition, we also practiced explaining skills and learned how to do many more correctly ourselves (stern draws, maneuvering backwards, efficient turns, etc.)

Leon Somme asks students to 
think about what it means to lead


WKC Trip Leader Training

Our club is in great need of trip leaders, so we are doing everything we can to encourage more experienced members of our club to provide adventures for us.  We do not have stringent requirements to become a trip leader, in order that a strict training regimen is not a discouragement.  On the other hand, we need to have responsible safety-minded leaders with the skills to prevent or manage any on-water incidents.  We will try to provide these skills through a mentorship program and clinics.  Paddlers who frequently show up on trips and who demonstrate the necessary skills are encouraged to lead trips themselves.  Trip leading should be no more difficult than taking a group of friends out for an excursion.  In my own experience, there is nothing more rewarding than providing fellow club members a fun day on the water, so I really encourage you to try it!  Other leaders and instructors are here to help with this in any way we can, please ask. 

But there is one difference between a WKC trip and a group of friends going out – trip leaders offer paddling opportunities to members they may not know.  Although one goal of our club trips is to offer challenges that will help to improve a paddler’s skill, new leaders may be nervous because of the uncertainty of having a trip member who is not qualified to handle potential conditions.  To alleviate this difficulty, mentors serve as co-leaders and guidance is provided to learn how to assess trip members. 

And there are things club members can do to make trip leading as stress free as possible.  If you sign up for a trip with a leader you have never met, please provide them with an honest assessment of your skills.  Leaders are often uncomfortable in asking you about this, so help them out.  Typically what you should tell them is your level of experience is in doing rescues, about the most difficult trip you have done so far (distance, conditions), classes you have had, and about your boat, immersion wear, and safety equipment.  When on the water, be an attentive member of the group, and remain in communication.  Ask how you can help.  Think like a leader yourself when on the water.  Buy the trip leader a beer afterwards!  Following these guidelines will be to your advantage, because more club trips will be the result.

The leadership class on March 8 was as much about what it takes to be a leader as it was about what every trip member should know about paddling in open water.  Twelve Budding Trip Leaders were in attendance and experienced a day of fun learning from Shawna and Leon.  We started out with a discussion about what it means to be a trip leader.  The answer ended up being rather complex, including:
  • Someone who inspires
  • Competent to take initiative, makes decisions, is in command,
  • The person with primary responsibility
  • Planner and organizer
  • Someone with sufficient knowledge and skills
  • Familiar and comfortable with environment

Leon and Shawna share gear 
recommendations with future trip leaders

Leon summed this up as the leader is the person with Duty of Care, which he summarized as: to ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to ensure the safety of everyone. 

As an aside, I believe 'Duty of Care' should be the goal, formally stated or not, of WKC trip leaders.  There are many meet-up type groups whose purpose is to primarily organize  trips.   I think our club can offer more, and attract members as a result, by also providing this Duty of Care standard.

The leadership class was then essentially about how to provide this Duty of Care.  A multitude of topics were covered including:

  • Risk Assessment
  • How to manage a group
  • How to assess members of the group
  • Safety gear and how to use it (radio, tow rope, repair kits, first aid, etc.)
  • Rescue and incident management skills
  • Navigation skills
  • How to make a plan, including contingencies
  • Tools for understanding future weather and sea conditions
We hope to provide future clinics that focus on many of these individual topics.  Please let us know what may be of interest to you, so we can arrange it.

One of the more important topics was on group management and the principles of C.L.A.P.

  • Communication – means of communication amongst the group and the need to be in continual contact.
  • Line of sight – group leaders need to see and be aware of everyone at all times
  • Avoidance – the best way to manage an incident is to avoid it!Know the weather before you go out, know the sea conditions, how to find alternate routes, where to take out, etc.
  • Position of maximum usefulness.Where should the leader be in relation to the group in various circumstances?

I recommend that a trip leader should discuss C.L.A.P. with the group before every trip, and that all members of a group be aware of it as an underlying dynamic of a trip’s successful execution.  

Body Boat Blade pictured with future WKC Trip Leaders:
(From left to right) Shawna, Leon, Steve Goodson, Mike Germanni, Dave Ortland, Emily Crawford,  Tyler Sellon, Jon Sheriff, Doris Glykys, Bonnie-Lynn Robertson, Tim Bever, A.J. Mallory, Peter Babler, Brenna McVety, Tomas Tabisola.

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