6 Things Teaching Kayaking Taught Me

The other day I read an article about teaching your friends to kayak, which I really enjoyed. The advice was solid. I think it should be a must read for people who want to expose their buddies to this sport. Too many times, people throw their friends on rivers harder than they can handle because they learned that way, or they simply don’t realize a good progression can make the difference between getting hooked or having a traumatizing experience.

One of my first pictures from kayaking!
One of my first pictures from kayaking!

I learned to kayak around 8 years ago. I learned a roll, spent a long, frozen winter kayaking easier rivers near me, and then headed to the Ocoee for a season of cooking. I swam almost every rapid on the Ocoee, but got out almost everyday. By the end of the summer, I was average. Because I was so comfortable on the Ocoee, I figured I was something special and decided to go to Sect IV of the Chattooga river, where I promptly got a head entrapment and broached pinned upside down in the same day.

The Ocoee River
The Ocoee River

After that, I stuck to the Ocoee for a while and slowed down my overall progression. Now I’m pretty comfortable on Class V-, and I have been teaching for a summer. I’ve learned so much through teaching, and I know there is so much for me to learn still. I’m excited about next summer, because I know my knowledge base for teaching will grow exponentially. For now, I wanted to write a little list of the things I learned this summer.

  1. You can learn a lot from your students. A lot of the ways I phrase some concepts come from my students. Kids will explain things to each other in ways I couldn’t have thought of. Never think just because your students don’t know the technical moves doesn’t mean they don’t understand the concepts behind them.
  2. You never stop learning. Some of my mentors have been teaching for 8, 12, 16 years and we still gather around beer every night to discuss new ideas, or even how some of their older ideas are maybe wrong. They never think they have it all figured out, or are completely right. Be humble. They also say they learn from me, and I’ve only been teaching for 4 months.
  3. Learn how to explain everything in a dozen ways. Everyone learns differently. The best part of teaching is unlocking this puzzle. I love trying to figure out how someone learns and then adjusting and catering my lesson to it.
  4. Keep yourself relatable. Let them know you were once exactly how they are, and its ok if they choose not to sell themselves out to the sport like you. If all you do is talk about how awesome the drink beer every night and huck a class V waterfall the next day lifestyle is, they aren’t going to be very interested. They want a hobby they can do on the weekends and get fairly decent at, not a fringe lifestyle.
  5. Make them run rapids for themselves (when they’re ready). Don’t let them follow you down every rapid or hand of god them every time they flip. You want them to learn how to make decisions safely for themselves. You won’t be there every time they kayak, and they need to be able to survive.
  6. New paddlers tire faster than you do. On an average day I will do yoga, go on a run, teach kayaking all day, jog the shuttle at lunch, clean up, then go for a post work paddle or bike ride. I’ve had years to condition my body (and a plant based diet which allows me to recover faster and thus train harder), but most people get tired after a few hours of easy lake paddling. Don’t wear people out, and learn to tell when they’re getting so tired they will begin to make mistakes and then get frustrated.
Pre-Green lap this past winter
Pre-Green lap this past winter

I’m sure there’s so much more I learned (bring a skirt and dry swimsuit so during lunch at least you can be somewhat dry, pro deal the crap out of protein bars), but these are perhaps the main things that stood out to me.

I believe kayaking can change lives for the simple fact that it changed mine. It doesn’t have to change every life, but if I can change a few every summer, its worth the long days.


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