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To Instruct or Not to Instruct…That is the Question!

Posted by on November 16, 2012

For many kayaking instructors paddling is much more about passion than work and you’ll often find us out on the water without a class in tow. I always enjoy the chance encounter with fellow members of the paddling community on my “off-the-clock” excursions. It’s nice to see others enjoying the sport that I love so much and being safe while doing it. However, there have been times that I’ve found it challenging to separate myself from the instructor role. Certain common mistakes such as holding your paddle upside down, improper forward stroke technique, or stowing your PFD under the back bungees (instead of wearing it) creates an itch deep within my instructor soul. The question to examine is whether or not it’s our duty as instructors (or otherwise experienced paddlers) to address that itch and provide unsolicited advice to our less-experienced, fellow paddlers? Here’s what the KayakDave.com staff have to say about this:

Kayak Instructors love to teach…but when is our 2 cents too much??

Kayak Dave’s Take:

I’ve really tried to adopt a stance that deals with this conundrum conditionally. For the most part, I tend to play the indifferent bystander in cases where the safety of my fellow paddler is not in jeopardy. As much as holding the paddle upside down may irritate my “instructor soul” I don’t feel as though providing unsolicited advice to the contrary is any of my business.

There are other times when I feel morally obligated, as an experienced paddler, to make comment when I witness behavior that is or may become dangerous. Specific examples that come to mind include alerting paddlers of impending severe weather (which they seemed to be ignoring), reminding a woman wearing a bikini that the water temperature is severely cold in New England  during the month of May and that she should consider wearing a wetsuit, and warning someone to the fact that their spray skirt’s grab loop was tucked into their cockpit. I feel that withholding comment in any of these scenarios would be negligent on my part because I’m well aware of the dangers associated with these risky behaviors. I’d hate to see someone get hurt when I can do something to prevent it and I always feel better having intervened to the best of my ability in these circumstances regardless of  whether or not they are receptive to my warnings.

What I really struggle with is the grey area in between. When I see a PDF tucked under the back bungees I really want to say something to the tune of “why bother bringing one along if you’re not going to wear it” but mostly I just leave these folks to their own devices. Ultimately, it’s their decision whether or not to wear their PFD while paddling.

-Kayak Dave

PFD stowed under back bungees makes me batty!

Boreal Alvik’s Take:

Unlike our Point/CounterPoint debate concerning wet exit training, this one is very simple. I agree with KayakDave. The deciding point is the acceptable risk for someone who appears to be a novice paddler as well as for someone who appears to be a more experienced paddler.  Here are four scenarios and four possible answers that more experienced kayaker’ and/or instructors may encounter:

A) A kayaker fishing off of a stable SOT kayak with their PFD under the rear bungees 25 yards off shore in fairly quiet coastal waters with a leg over each side of the SOT for added stability; where the only event of note are occasional boat wakes that roll in from larger power boats 200 yards offshore.

Answer: No need to offer a comment.

B) A group of 6 recreational kayakers on SOT’s and wide recreational kayaks are heading out to a small tidal island who may encounter short choppy waves of  12′  of less as they cross a sandbar approaching the island. The waters are shallow enough to stand up in in that crossing area and substantially deeper on either side. The paddlers do not appear to be in great physical shape and it would be questionable if they would have the skill set and/or the upper body strength to re-enter a capsized SOT or rec kayak.  Several are leaning way back in their seats as if on their living room recliners with legs resting on top of coolers, like they were hassocks. Their paddle stokes were quite haphazard in nature.

Answer: Say nothing or consider starting a conversation and base your feedback on how receptive they appear to be to any suggestions you may want to offer.

C) Two paddlers in sea kayaks who appear to have sound forward strokes who are heading out of the inner harbor at a leisurely pace through a channel crossing of < 75 yards into the outer harbor with a 45’ sailboat with all sails down leaving the harbor at 4 or 5 mph under power with very little bow wake to observe.

Answer: Yes, I would comment about the typical afternoon business of the harbor, the importance to quickly crossing the channel for one side to the other and that a sailboat is closing on them in the next 90 to 120 seconds.

D) Two novice kayakers in 10’ or less recreational kayak one with their PFD on and the other with it under bungees. One of whom is holding their paddle upside down who are heading out late morning towards the outer harbor when it is already showing early signs of white-capping conditions and the forecast is for winds building to 17+ mph and seas to 2’ to 3’ in the afternoon.

Answer: Come within conversational distance and ask if they are familiar with the area, what their destination plans are your own experience with wind, wave and tidal conditions in this area and “suggest” a more protected paddling destination from where they are presently located.  Depending on how receptive they are you may need to say that if they continue with their plan they may have a difficult time paddling back and may very well find themselves in capsizing conditions where re-entry could be challenging. If unreceptive to this conversation, you may want to change your own paddling plans and head directly to the harbor master’s office to notify them of the potential risky behavior and of their paddling plans.

These are some of the situations that I have encountered. What would you do??

-Boreal Alvik

3 Responses to To Instruct or Not to Instruct…That is the Question!

  1. Bryan Sarauer

    Bryan Hansel addressed his thoughts on this issue in his post: http://www.paddlinglight.com/articles/whats-our-burden-as-more-experienced-kayakers/. You may find it of interest.
    Cheers,
    Bryan Sarauer

    • arrudad

      Thanks for the heads up, Bryan! I’ve been following PaddlingLight.com for a few months now (it’s a great site) but I must have missed this article! -Kayak Dave

      • B.Alvik

        It was good to read the posts on both sites back to back. They highlight the issues of the ethical responsibility to warn and the issue of fostering a “teachable moment”.
        B.Alvik

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