Differing Skill Levels Within a Group Doesn’t Have To Be a Problem [40]

It’s Very Much a Matter of Attitude!

By Jan Murrell

I want to start by thanking Sarah Adler for her article ‘Sea Kayaking as an Individual in a Group‘, and Norm Sanders for the last two paragraphs of his President’s Report, both in the last issue of the Club newsletter. I will present here my related thoughts based on the Club trips I have paddled.

Using the published NSWSKC Grading system, I have limited myself entirely to Grade 1 and 2 outings although I qualify for Grade 3. I keep to the lower Grades to stay within my comfort zone and to ensure I enjoy the outing. I do this also to allow a margin for anything unpredicted or unplanned that might happen which would raise the Grade of the outing and because of the extremely poor quality of the ‘on- the-water’ group dynamics I have experienced in this Club. 1)

Even on NSWSKC Grade 2 outings I have often been unnecessarily outside my comfort zone. It’s not the weather that’s been the problem! I find myself struggling to keep up most of the time, not enjoying myself, and worrying about how I’ll cope if something unexpected does happen — where will I find the extra energy! And I feel uneasy — would anyone notice if I got into trouble? Over-all, I’ve not enjoyed myself — and enjoyment is the whole point of the exercise! Sometimes I’ve even had to (sadly) decide not to go on a morning paddle from our car-based camps — not because I couldn’t do the distance, not because I wouldn’t enjoy seeing that part of our beautiful coast, but because it’s not fun to struggle, struggle, struggle with the pace! 2)

So why have I repeatedly subjected myself to outings that are not really run at the Grade they were advertised, where individual differences have not been taken into account, where there is little ‘on-the-water’ group work, and where I’ve not had anything like as much fun as I could have? It’s because we have discussed this topics many, many times within this Club, and I have continued to hope that we have finally reached the point when things will change and that the next outings will be run to the advertised Grade and that the group will take into account its slowest/weakest member at that Grade, etc. etc. etc.

And, perhaps I need to point out that I have experienced this issue from the other side — in another sport. It is OK to work at a lower level now and again! It is OK to see others enjoy themselves in an activity that’s special to you!

I love paddling and being outdoors! But, it does get pretty silly (and dangerous, and discouraging) to keep going on outings that could have been totally great — in fact did have some great moments — but that were spoiled, leaving me feeling both sad and angry.

The best Club paddles I’ve been on were two in which Norm Sanders had a ‘leader’ role (Mowarry Point on ‘Election Long Weekend’ in October 1998 and the one starting from Depot Beach a month or so later) and the trip David Winkworth led on Lake Eucumbene in1997. These three are the only ones I remember with unconditional pleasure.

In conclusion, I want to confirm that I enjoy the company of my fellow Club paddlers socially. But please don’t anyone (of any level) spoil these lower-Grade outings. Be sure your skills and equipment are up to the level required for the Grade you want to paddle, and treat those in the group who are less-skilled than you, but who still meet the Grade requirements, with respect. And, please, let us all function as a group when we go paddling together, so that every one of us has a chance to fully enjoy every outing.


1) I came to NSWSKC two-and-a-half years ago as a fit and experienced white-water paddler, accustomed to being with paddlers who knew that when you went on an outing together you stayed together and functioned as a group. It’s only safety and good manners!

2) While struggling to try not to loose ground on the front paddlers, my focus must be entirely at the level of my paddle blades. I must ensure that neither one slips in the water — ever — and that I do not miss even one stroke. And still I lose distance. With my focus at so primitive a level, I must put up with the pain of any itch (can not devote time to scratching it), must miss taking in the beauty of the scenery, must not rest any muscle or joint even momentarily, etc. — no exaggeration.