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  • Writer's pictureDean Macken

Paddlesport Instructor Course - May 2021

Sunday, 16th May 2021

Paddlesport Instructor: Two-day training and assessment - 15th-16th May 2021 Written by Anneka Jones Last weekend, Sonal and I gate-crashed Hinckley Canoe Club’s Paddlesport Instructor course. We were meant to complete this a few weeks ago with the other 12 PaddlePlus’ians but due to my broken elbow and Sonal’s ear infection we were bound to wait it out.

After hearing all about the course from our friends and seeing the photos on Facebook, along with all their messages of congratulations etc, we were all fired up!

We were both excited but also a little nervous.

I’ve had many years’ experience in my boat, across various crafts really, and in different situations/environments, from touring and competition, and pootling up the canal with Penny, to running Grade 4 rivers in our peer group. Being a beginner myself was a very long time ago and except acting on the water as support for others, and hosting a few small sessions myself, I’ve not done a lot group management. This is where my nerves come in.

The Paddlesport Instructor course is the foundation for anyone wanting to encourage people into paddling. It aims to give instructors the knowledge and confidence to provide that safe-but-fun first-time experience, to give the newbies something to come back for. It’s also a first stepping-stone into a paddlesport coaching career.

From the FSRT (Foundation Safety Rescue Training) we had completed prior to this weekend, we already knew the rescues we would be asked to perform, but some practice was very well received from Mark Beasley at Kilby the Tuesday before. Some rescues were very successful and a couple not so. We reckoned it was too late for constructing an arm-stretching device and weight training now. But from this, we re-remembered the techniques, and what to do if the boat was, quite frankly, too heavy or cumbersome to manage upright with a person inside – simply leap out and grab them. Where there’s a will there’s a way!

So, with my boat strapped on the car, packed lunch packed, kit ready to include first aid kit, and all the other safety bumf I thought I might need, I was ready for the first day.

After the bumpy drive down the track along the side of Stanton Lakes, we met the rest of the soon to be instructors, 7 HCC members (all choosing kayaks as their craft, like us) and of course our providers, Dave Beecroft and Andy Oughton. After a quick hello we started on the question “what does a Paddlesport Instructor look like” and “what qualities should they have”. Soft skills we shouted out included good communication, enthusiasm for the sport, being inspirational, and helpful to those around us. Hard skills included being on time, managing rescues, decision making and being risk aware. All skills we were confident we had. We also talked about what kit a beginner could buy, our remit and assessing risks in our ‘very sheltered water environment’, and boat checks and features.

It was time for a bounce around the car park for a bank side/pre-paddle warm up. Dave had us standing in circles twist-jumping while he reiterated the importance of trunk rotation and Andy got us laughing as we dashed up and down the aisles with our pretend trolleys and slapping our legs like penguins travelling over ice.

After lunch it was time to get on the water for some games. We played Dragons & Shields (my new favourite) and World Domination - turns out we’re pretty competitive! This taught us the importance of Plan, Do, Review, even in the middle of a game. I’m looking forward to putting these into action on my sessions – making sure they are always inclusive, and everyone is kept active. We also learned that instead of teaching old-skool sweep strokes to turn, a ‘stern squeeze’ is much more effective. Instead of ‘painting a rainbow’ or marking out a ‘D in the water’ you correct the stroke at the back where the boat is actually turning from. Light bulb moment!

On to the wet bit - rescues. Over about half an hour, all 9 of us managed to successfully complete all deep-water rescues (all craft), getting a swimmer to the bank, rescuing an unconscious kayaker and paddleboarder, and an entrapped canoeist. This was a fast paced but controlled tick-in-the-box exercise for Dave and Andy to manage over their two groups. Sonal and I aced the deep-water rescues but were a little apprehensive over the ‘hand of god’ (pulling up an unconscious kayaker) and the entrapped canoeist (also righting the craft with a person inside). Lucky for us Ben was our willing victim in his Ripper, a much slicier kayak than anything I’ve tried this with before – one sweet push and pull move and he shot out of the water – Bang! ‘hand of god’ DONE. Another nice light boat was to hand for the entrapped canoeist, a Royalex Bell, again so much easier than the Polyurethane Ace that we struggled with on Tuesday.

After lunch we were back in the classroom/event shelter for some more theory and Andy set our challenge for the next day - All of us were to come up with a game or activity for the group. Take away books were shared and ‘Javelins’ claimed by John R.

I had lots to tell Nath when I got home - as usual I chewed his ear off, and he patiently sat and listened over dinner. That night I trawled the books we had at home, course material and good old Google, for a game that would excite beginners but not be too lary for their first experience, be long enough for them to learn something and most importantly inclusive for all (kids, adults, the confident and the shy). This was the hardest thing over the whole weekend! Nath said I was over thinking it, I probably was. After going round in circles and a bit of tossing and turning I came back around to my original idea of a version of ‘Simon Says’.

Day 2: As we all got nestled back into our seats over coffee and fresh baked banana loaf, courtesy of Alison, we discussed the previous day – what clicked most in our heads that we’d definitely take away, and any improvements for them as providers. We chatted in our pairs for longer than intended, all having lots to say with regards our learning and which games we liked the best. Also, who rinses their kit after each session and who doesn’t… I never even knew it was a thing! The 9 of us were split into two again and our group played the Paddling-on-one-side challenge (Andy), Sharks & Fishes (Ben), American Duck Tag (Sonal), British Bulldog (Chris), and my take on Simon Says. After each one we had time to review and suggest feedback on how to improve the game or how better to communicate the rules. The other groups activities were a Portage Relay, Javelins, Sideways Tug-o-war and another British Bulldog. Some were just plain fun, dashing around (or maybe not so for beginners) and others more skills based, but all had their place on a session for varying groups.

A quick lunch and back on the water for our ‘journey’ around the lake in varying craft. I decided on a solo canoe as it’s something I am out of practice in. As we paddled, we talked about the different kit we should carry on a trip with beginners. We also covered ‘line of sight’ with a nice demo from Jonathan around the island in the middle. Next, we practiced towing a tired paddler in all the different craft, and a few more activities to perk up a tired group, this included paddling in a V formation like flying geese conserving energy, paddling in a line with the back person swerving in and out of his team on his way to the front of the line, and throwing a ball ahead, passing then throwing ahead again. This last one resulted in much merriment and a few swimming paddleboarders! I began to miss my whizzy nipper, manoeuvring this beast isn’t so easy, particularly in the wind.

Another quick change and a wee (I’m sure being able to wee in a bush should have been one of the soft skills mentioned in the beginning), the group gathered back in the shelter in time for the rain to hit. More treats, this time in the form of chocolate cornflake cakes and millionaires’ short cake – and the providers announced that we had all successfully passed our Paddlesport Instructor course! Wahoo, engage clapping and hollas…

Andy explained the importance of practicing the skills we have learned, and our continuing professional development – taking groups out, learning from each trip and each individual, reviewing what works and what doesn’t, talking to each other, developing our own skills, having fun on the water, using a log book and attending online webinars and first aid courses. Eventually we moved on to the ‘where next’ in our paddlesport journey – more courses and qualifications, more challenging waters, or maybe we’re happy where we are.

As part of my debrief with Dave at the end of the course, I told him how much I had enjoyed the weekend; that I am now more excited to lead groups and the confidence it’s given me; all the brilliant game ideas we inhaled and the new ways in which to instruct/lead our groups, not simply keeping them safe but how to motivate them to return for more!

I felt truly inspired by Andy and Dave and the way in which they engaged with us, but Paddlesport Instructor will do me just fine for a while yet - I have some more white water training to bash out and I want to get to know a paddleboard a little better.

Here’s to PaddlePlus and the great opportunities and encouragement everyone gives, and to HCC for arranging the course and your company, lets hang out more often! A couple of sweet little acronyms to finish:

My name, your name Activity Boundaries CLAP (Communication, Line of sight, Assess the situation, Position of usefulness) Doctor (any medication) Equipment

Safe Empower Learn Fun! Thank you for reading, Anneka

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