The Engine Room [56]

NSWSKC Training Group Report

By Mark Sundin

The Sea Skills II programme is off & running for 2004, with an unprecedented number of trainees & trainee instructors enrolled in the new course. In response to the hordes of Club members putting their hands up for SSII, the Club has invited some Sea Skills II qualified paddlers and Sea Guides (Level 2) to help with the training & in the process they are in turn attempting the Instructors course at Level 1. The aim of the training to date is to get as many of our Club members qualified with the new AC Sea Skills II ticket (replacing the old Sea Proficiency), with the added benefit of also simultaneously qualifying instructors to help ease the burden being carried at the moment by so few in the Club. Given the fantastic response to the course, this burden seems destined to grow, as a number of members had to be turned away from the course due to limited places. At present there are 33 paddlers attempting SSII, eight Instructors at L1, hopefully one at L2 & at least one (maybe two) at L3.

What’s involved? So far we have had an informal paddle in Pittwater & an overnight stay at the Basin and two entire weekends at Bundeena devoted to forward paddle stroke, assisted rescues & sweep strokes. The main group has been allocated among the trainee instructors, with the emphasis on getting the strokes correct (according to AC guidelines), with a view to combining the arsenal of knowledge & strokes as the course progresses. Trainees have been off practicing in small groups in between sessions, and the result has been a striking increase in the overall skill levels & competence, even in the small time elapsed since the course began.

Week 1 began with an on-land display of forward paddle stroke, emphasising the ‘three pillars’ of all paddle strokes – hand position, torso rotation, & paddling within the ‘box’ (demonstrated with a purpose built box, of all things). Trainees were then let loose on the water for a morning session of forward paddling, concentrating on these three elements, followed by the first of many dunkings as we established the competence off all paddlers to successfully wet exit. The afternoon was a further development of forward paddling – all under the watchful video camera of ‘Peckinpah’ Browning – with assisted rescues & a few more ad-lib swims to finish things off. The evening session at the Bundeena Rissole involved a viewing of the Brent Reitz video on forward paddle stoke, followed by a communal viewing of Vince’s video of all trainee’s forward paddle stroke. This ‘truth’ session produced a few contented smiles, but mostly a mix of mild horror & revulsion, as people realised that what they thought they were doing was in most cases mere fantasy, when the cold hard lense of Browning zoomed in… Most people left the evening videos with a much clearer impression of what the key elements of a good forward paddle stroke involve, and the results in the weeks that have followed have definitely justified such an intense weekend of scrutiny. The Sunday began with our now customary bout of Yoga, with guru Shooshi, the tree climbing pixie (I’ve been banned from all forms of Yoga by the WYF after a disgraceful giggling fit at the Glebe Town Hall in ’02), and a brief & more casual paddle to get everyone attempting to start afresh, with the horrors of seeing themselves on the big screen the night before still crisp.

Week 2 was a sweep stroke weekend, with paddlers taught the fundamental elements of forward & reverse sweeps, and also the mystical skills of edging & leaning to turn. Rudders were removed for the weekend and again an initial on-land presentation was done to get everyone straight on the basics. The on-water session began with instructors in the water, helping the trainees to find their edges, followed by attempts to turn using sweep strokes only, and then sweep strokes with edging. Trainees were encouraged to be brave with their edging, and the courage of all resulted in more swims all-round. The afternoon session introduced the reverse sweep, and paddlers were then off to practice pinpoint turns, edged sweep turns, & dog paddle. The Rissole gathering involved a gripping presentation on weather & sea state from former 1st Lady Betteridge, and a session on risk assessment from Richard Birdsey. The physical exertion of the day took its toll, with everyone rolling into their sleeping bags boogered by 11 pm.

Summits to come include a three week, 4 session rolling program, a weekend devoted to support strokes, recovery strokes and towing and the final one on combining all skills together, in and around moving water (including more rolling for those competent). Paddlers will then be assessed, if they consider themselves ready, a little later in the year. I think there will be a lot of paddlers ready to be assessed, judging by the trainee’s commitment & enthusiasm.

How has it all been? From my perspective, as a relatively new paddler with my Sea Skills II and a membership period spanning two training regimes, I am amazed at the clarity of instruction the Club has devised for the trainees. The unambiguous direction has made teaching a breeze, and I’m sure the trainees are just as positive about the simplicity of the program. Strokes have been paired down to the bare essentials & presented as such, without complications or vagueness – no mean feat when you consider the range of opinions on almost every aspect of sea kayaking (check out the chatline if you need any evidence!) I have learned new angles on my own paddling technique each week, and I suspect I’m not the only Trainee Instructor with at least a tweaked forward paddle stroke! We’ve also had a lot of fun – an important & often-overlooked aspect of training – and have all had to endure some form of ritual humiliation & dunking, with smiles all round. Personally, I’ve appreciated the opportunity to put back some of the time & effort expended on me by Club members, as I’ve always considered a club to be a credit & debit institution – so far I’m way in the red!

Put simply, the more competent paddlers we can get out on our waterways, under our Club umbrella, the safer & more enjoyable our sport will become. The Club has done a terrific job with this SSII program, and we all stand to benefit from the concept.