Valley Mill capped off the season with a visit from Colin Kemp and Eric Jackson for the VMKS annual instructor training, a bunch of paddling clincs, and a party complete with hot grill and cold pool.
For some more, larger, photos visit Potomac Paddlers
Why do some paddling schools give beginning whitewater kayaking lessons without ever taking the students to whitewater? Don’t they want the lesson to be fun? Don’t they want to give their students a reason to learn more? Did the students sign up to learn flat-water kayaking?
I could understand why a school would do this if there were no easy whitewater available. But, then why did they setup a school where there is no beginner whitewater? So what’s the reason for the boring flat-water lesson? I’ve asked and been told things like; “it keeps the students from getting frightened,” “first they should learn their rolls,” “it cuts down on the swims,” or “they should have a proper progression.” Well I’m sorry but, I’m not buying what their selling and neither should the beginning kayaker!
Let’s look at the excuses, oops… excuse me, the reasons:
“It keeps the students from getting frightened.” Unless the student to teacher ratio is too high, so does a good instructor. A good instructor can read her, or his, students and decide how “exciting” to make the lesson. A good instructor exudes confidence, putting the students at ease. A good instructor can get most new students to enjoy whitewater immediately. It’s not really that hard, after all the students signed up because they want to do whitewater kayaking. If the instructor takes them to whitewater in the first lesson then they get the message, “you can do this, this is fun, not scary!” If the instructor keeps them on flat-water then they get the opposite message.
“First they should learn their rolls.” Learning to roll is the most challenging and frustrating part of learning to whitewater kayak. Giving the students some moving-water experience helps motivate them to persevere through the rolling lesson(s).
“It cuts down on the swims.” Any whitewater instructor should be able to give the non-rolling students “hand of god” rescues to keep them from swimming. The trick is to anticipate the flips and position yourself to intercept them and flip them back up (“hand of god”).
“They should have a proper progression.” What’s proper and what’s not? You could argue that they should learn all the strokes and the roll first. Or, you could argue that they should learn just enough to get them to moving-water first. I have found that once students have been on moving water they really want to learn. After that they work much harder at strokes and concepts, and at rolling and bracing.
In conclusion, let me urge the other instructors out there to take them to the whitewater first! Find a good eddy-line with a big eddy for peel-out training. Find an easy wave train and run them through it. Make the lesson fun. They will learn and remember more. They will want to come back to the river.
“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” — Aldous Huxley
Would you put on a wetsuit to go to your local community pool? (Alaskans and other northerners excepted!) How about an eighteen-wheeler to deliver “20 min or less” pizza? No, I doubt you would. I know I wouldn’t. I prefer to use a tool that matches the job. I doubt any one reading this would argue with me right up until this point.
I wonder why so many people use the wrong tool on the river.
Here on the Potomac River, although the summer months have relatively low water, there is still much available to the whitewater paddler. There are plenty of squirtboating and freestyle opportunities. Slalom boaters can still work out in the gates at the feeder canal. The “long” (displacement hull) boaters can do attainments, surf O-Deck, or run the falls. All is good for the experienced paddler! However, for the newcomer to whitewater the options are more limited and here lies my gripe.
Why do so many new paddlers start out at the MD Chute in “long,” displacement hull, boats? For those that don’t know the MD Chute is a popular low water wave/hole good for freestyle in a “playboat” (planning hull, short). A skilled “long” boater can surf the MD Chute in her RPM but we’re talking about beginners here. So why stick them in that RPM, or whatever, and take them to a freestyle spot? I just don’t get it! Now, wait before you RPM owners get mad, please don’t misunderstand. I think that the RPM is a fantastic boat for surfing bigger waves and for many other things, just not for surfing the MD Chute at three point two feet!
What’s up with that?
Okay, I know some of you will say. “hey what about peel-outs and ferries in the wave train below the hole?” Well, I’ve got nothing against practicing basic skills but, what happens when the instructor is not around to drill them and the new paddlers want to just go out and have some fun with their brand new rolls? I tell you what happens, because I see it all the time, they paddle up to just about the safest, easiest, playboat hole in the world and watch the playboaters have fun. After a while, usually a season or two, many new paddlers wise up and buy a playboat for the MD Chute. If they are smart, and can afford, it they hang on to that RPM for the higher river levels when the waves come in. The pity is many others never make the switch, grow bored and drop out of the sport.
Some may argue that, “long boats are the best river runners so beginners should start in them.” Well, let’s put aside the debate about whether playboats are also good for river running and stick to the subject what boat should the beginner start in? When I teach this topic comes up a lot. I always ask the student where and how often they plan to paddle. Their answer determines my answer. They almost always start out telling me that they want a boat that is a river runner. However, when pressed for details about their plans for the paddling season, I learn that they will be coming to the MD Chute ninety percent of the time and that the other ten percent will be river runs that can easily be run in a playboat!
So, once again, what’s up?
Who is giving these new paddlers this ill considered advice? I say to all the new Potomac paddlers get that RPM for your second boat, by then you will be ready to really enjoy it!
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous swims, Or to take arms against a river of troubles, and by opposing end them? To roll, to swim no more, and by a roll to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that swimming is heir to, ’tis a consummation devoutly to be wished!
Okay so now that I have butchered Shakespeare, here are some quotations about rolling. Which roll is best? Which roll is easiest? Is “EJ’s” roll safe?
“Which roll is best? Any roll that gets you right side up with ease. Rolling where you come up on the back deck is much easier and more likely to be successful than a roll on your front deck. (no space for discussion on this subject here, sorry). When you come up on your back deck you are in a good position to do an additional brace to keep you up or finish the roll off. When forward, you are much more likely to fall back in the water.” — Eric Jackson (Owner: Jackson Kayaks)
“Even persons with a lot of upper body weight and those with little torso flexibility can roll successfully with this [EJ's] method.” — Tom McEwan (Owner: Liquid Adventures)
“Leaning forward is the hardest way to finish a kayak roll Except maybe a back-deck roll (aka rodeo roll). When you lean forward it is very difficult to get your power face flat on the water with power. The further forward you lean, the more you have to roll the wrists back. That’s why when paddling, we typically use the low brace if we are leaning forward–the biomechanics are much better. The best chance of success for a roll finish is anywhere in the range of sitting up straight to leaning way back. The more you lean back the easier it is to finish, but the farther you have to go to sit up into a good paddling position. A person with a strong roll can finish leaning forward all the way if they want. But that is because they are good at rolling, not because it’s the easiest way to finish.” — James Sneeringer (Instructor: Valley Mill Kayak School)
“I like to start my students with an easy roll that builds their confidence. So I start them with a C2C or Sweep roll that finishes lying back to achieve a low center of gravity. I believe that 90% of the roll is a head game. If you are relaxed and believe in yourself you will roll up. Otherwise, you will tense up, lift your head, and pull against your roll with the non-hip-snap knee. Doubt will destroy your roll faster than sloppy or weak technique! It is important to start students out with a positive, successful, experience. After they can roll, I encourage them to work on more difficult rolls, with the ultimate goal of rolling from any body/paddle position to any body/paddle position.” — Jim Hubshman (Instructor: Valley Mill Kayak School)
“I’ve been teaching “EJ’s” method for 5 years now and it seems to work well for me. Over those years I’ve had so many students who were struggling with the roll they originally learned who picked up “EJ’s” roll super fast. They are always thrilled with how much easier it is! That is why I teach it.” — Monique Hubshman (Instructor: Valley Mill Kayak School)
“I mostly teach using the “EJ” method because I think in most cases it’s the best method to teach those aspects. But the goal of the whole instruction is to help the student develop a fluency with the roll, rather then to inculcate a particular “script” for rolling. Thus once someone has a reasonably reliable roll, we no longer allow them to set up before flipping over. Once someone can roll up every time leaning back, we try to get them to roll up leaning forward. The ultimate goal is to be able to roll from any position to any position. This aspect of EJ’s instruction plan is typically neglected in discussions IMO.” — James Sneeringer (Instructor: Valley Mill Kayak School)
“In each instance above [CtoC or Sweep or Sweeping CtoC (with upright posture or with lying back posture aka EJ's roll)], the roll that was best was the roll that best suited each person’s body type. And here I feel is the answer to the question of ‘which roll is best?’ Master the three basic elements of rolling to the best of your ability, and put them together in a roll that is the best for you.” — Tom McEwan (Owner: Liquid Adventures)
“So as to not confuse “EJs” roll, with the already named Back-Deck roll (a common rodeo technique), and to not imply that EJ invented the roll, I call this a Low Center of Gravity (LCG) roll. The only difference between an LCG Roll and a non-LCG Roll is the finishing posture. All other aspects are the same. Is the LCG Roll really safe? LCG Roll is at least as safe as other rolls. When initiating the roll your face is exposed no more than non-LCG Rolls. If you miss your roll and start to flop back over, you are in position to brace, if the brace fails your upper arm is in position to protect your face. Is the LCG Roll really easier? Pull out your old physics text book. Do the math. The lower the center of gravity the less force needed to roll up! Less force over the same rotational distance means less work. Last I heard less work was good ) ” — Jim Hubshman (Instructor: Valley Mill Kayak School)
… or so I was recently told by a paddling buddy at the MD Chute. I think this is the same thing as saying that “history is written by the victors.” The scientist in me rebels against this but I know that it is true more often than not. In a more rational world, fewer things would be subject to debate and dispute because empirical evidence and/or simple logic would dictate the truth. But, that is not the world that we live in.
We live in a world where people dispute known fact all of the time. An obvious example is the idiocy over evolution. Proven conclusively, over and over by science, the theory remains under attack. Innocents fall victim to the propaganda spun out by those with their own political, social, and/or religious agendas. Those who exploit the moment to take advantage of the naive.
Political/social manipulation is nothing new, nor is it reserved for just the big issues like what we are and how we became. Actually, it is most often practiced in tiny little doses applied to minor issues. Doses so small that we usually just ignore the often obvious manipulations. This happens everywhere. I goes on everyday in many ways, yes even in the paddling world. For example some paddling instructors spread fear and misinformation about the techniques taught by their competitors. Are you shocked? I thought not, so much the sadder!
Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” I think we all know this and believe it when it comes to big issues and easily recognized evils. But, we often loose sight of this when the evil is minor, not really evil just not very nice. We shrug it off because we are nice. We choose the path of non-confrontation because the other path is less pleasant. In some ways this is good. Society would suck if everyone was up in everyones face about everything! However, it is a “slippery slope” that should be carefully tread.
Do we really want to be sheep following along thoughtlessly in any direction we are pointed? Do we want to be easy prey for the wolves of society? I think not! I think that we should all stand up for what we believe is right, on all issues both minor and major. I think that a democratic society only gets positive outcomes when people of good conscience speak out for truth and justice.
So, “for god’s sake” take a stand! Don’t just listen quietly while the manipulators twist our world. Or, if you can’t bring yourself to standup at least don’t do like the other sheepeople and trample the sheepdog that is standing up to the wolf.
Well this is my first post on Leaves & Sticks…
I’m not particularly inspired now so I’ll just tell you that I plan to be fairly blunt on this blog. The opinions will be my own and I will feel free to express them. If you disagree you could comment. If you are offended you could stop reading, or you could suspend your outrage, open your mind, and give some thought to my side of the debate. Then, if you like, you could comment. I commend you for standing up for your beliefs. Perhaps you will change my mind. Perhaps I will change yours. Or, maybe we already agree!