Training [63]

Debut Year – An Instructor’s Perspective

By Mark Sundin

Well, it’s a year since I gained my official Instructor’s certification and I thought it might be a good time to look back on what I’ve learned, observations about training in general within the Club, and to reflect on the broad range of experiences crammed into the year.

The overriding feature of training in the past year has been the sheer volume. A quick look back at my schedule reveals eight Sunday clinics (my own little bit of mayhem, all held at La Perouse in Sydney), four learn-to-roll days at pools from Wollongong to Homebush, seven full weekend training courses covering Sea Leaders, Intro Sea Skills and Sea Skills II, as well as the inevitable instruction on each and every Club paddle. With growing (literally) family commitments, my expedition plans are now in a holding pattern for a while to come, so it’s good to be able to put something back through these short, sharp, shocked instruction days.

From my perspective, it’s given me a terrific, intensive year to hone my eye to the vagaries of paddlers’ technique, as well as plenty of practice trying to find the best way to get your point across to people who might not actually know what you’re talking about. Now, what was I saying again..?

The training program we’re now teaching is very consistent about the basics, so I can easily identify a paddler who has already been to a Club training session by their overall skills, as opposed to one who has been to a commercial operator for training, or is self-taught. I think this is a crucial attribute, as it means everyone new to the Club is being taught the same basics of paddling in the same way, regardless of the instructor, rather than being swamped with ten theories from ten different people. So many novice paddlers I’ve come across this year have had their heads severely messed up!

The hardest thing to teach? Without a doubt, forward paddle. Any idiot can jump into a kayak and make it go forward, so developing your own forward stroke comes quickly, naturally, and almost without exception, badly. Once someone has a set paddling technique, it’s damned hard to get them to change – the horror of video analysis is usually the only way to get things moving in the right direction. The basics remain firm; good forward catch, rotation of the torso through the stroke, and a nice early exit. Remember, once you draw your paddle past your waist you’re going sideways!

My background in sport tells me it doesn’t matter whether you learn to tackle in Whakapapa or Toulouse, or to bowl an outswinger in Delhi or Birmingham, you’ll still be taught the basics of technique in the same way (actually, you might get taught to tackle a wee bit higher in Whakapapa.)

So it should be the same, in my humble opinion, in our noble sport of paddling (the consistency, not the high tackles). As for what happens once you’ve got the basics right, well, that’s up to the individual – get out there and emulate Doug Van Doren with your Greenlander paddle, set up a Tassie sail rig, or velcro your salty head to the back deck – you’ll have a good set of concrete principles on which everything else can develop.

I’ve preferred the informality of trip-based instruction, rather than the full-blown training weekends which we’ve run for the past couple of years, more from a self-centred angle, in that it allows me to engage my fellow paddlers and enjoy a bit of merriment as well, rather than just churning out an instruction service. It’s also the way I learnt to paddle, which helps. The recent RnR paddles out around the Port Stephens Islands were just about as good as it gets from the perspective of having a beaut day on the water, with a bit of skills training thrown into the mix. They combined a mix of variably skilled paddlers, sea conditions within everyone’s limits, a good long ocean paddle to get the blood pumping, and an hour or so of rescues and drills.

My La Perouse clinics have involved everything from forward paddle tune-ups, to rolling, to higher-skilled activities like bouncing around in rebound, effecting rescues, tows, and manoeuvring “in combat”. Awesome fun.

There have been a few clangers – the surf session at Greenhills involved me running about 85km up and down the beach fishing paddlers, paddles, boats, sunnies, muesli bars and pummelled gear out of the soup as my group learned how to brace into the surf, paddling perpendicular to the break. Harry Havu rode shotgun on the seaward side of the line-up, preventing any defiant boatless contestants from floating off to Norfolk Island. In the excitement a few decided to really give it a rip in the surf and the fallout kept everyone amused for the duration. I’m not too sure everyone is up for those sort of adventures in and out of their kayak, and I guess we need to be mindful of throwing people in too deep, but hopefully once the bruising had gone down and the stitches were out most of those guys were better for the experience. I know I couldn’t walk for a few days afterwards; my frame is built for comfort, not speed.

The breadth of people within the Club constantly keeps me amused. Where else do you get to drift along with a scientist, pilot, engineer, professor of English literature, marine biologist, baker, candlestick maker, you name it. It’s everyone’s fun time away from the pressures of their daily existence, so the experience is almost always positive, fun and damned interesting. We have to keep on making sure it is also safe, otherwise we’ll find ourselves legislated out of existence in this timid, scared, weird little world.

The buzz from getting someone to nail their roll for this first time is a definite highlight of any instructor’s day. In the year to date, I reckon I’ve had the pleasure of seeing more than twenty paddlers pass their rolling rite of passage. I feel a bit like a rolling midwife, without the blood, screams and gouged forearms. While rolling isn’t the panacea for all paddlers safety that some make it out to be, it’s a damned good feeling when you finally get a roll up, even if you do look a bit like a cock-head if you’ve learnt the Club version. Once you get it, you can stand on the beach, point, and laugh out loud at the recalcitrants doing the “lay back” and generally display a morally superior air about everything you do in and out of the water. So, keep at it, those of you who are yet to give birth to their roll.

For the year ahead, the program looks to be even more comprehensive, with all of the clubs instructors (Andrew Eddy, Rob Mercer, Stuart Trueman, Sharon Betteridge, Keith Oakford and moi) now aiming to add in their own trips-based sessions, while the dazzling, organised weekends remain intact. Mark Berry and Harry Havu are also looking to get their license to kill, so the gene pool is expanding. Make sure you get involved if you haven’t already – remember a small amount of information can be dangerous.