A club kayak instructor perspective on the WW Symposium

Submitted by kentford on Thu, 04/03/2008 – 22:03. We, Ellen and Jack Moskowitz, attended the WWS in 2007 at the ASCI WW park in McHenry MD.

We have to admit that we were both a bit skeptical about signing up for it because the information seemed geared toward industry professionals, but the lure of seeing the big names in the sport and learning a few tricks from them as well was enough to convince us to give it a try. Jerry McAward’s enthusiastic endorsement didn’t hurt either.

We were pleasantly surprised by how well the WWS met our expectations and we had a great time. The professionals were very friendly and open, both in the formal sessions and informally. We had the opportunity to participate in sessions with a number of them and learned some valuable tricks to help us with our own teaching and our own paddling skills. The WW park is an ideal venue for this type of event. Everything is close together, no long shuttles between events, food, warmth and bathrooms close by and reliable water levels. What more could you ask for aside from warmer weather?

What was missing was other non-professional instructors and kayak enthusiasts. People from the general paddling and club communities were not to be found. We did feel a bit out of place at times in spite of the friendliness of the group. Where were they? We received several mailings and e-mailings about the event, so I assume that other paddlers did also. There are certainly enough paddlers in the mid-Atlantic region that could easily attend. We even invited a few friends but no one seemed interested.

We are passionate about the sport of WW kayaking. OK, we are totally addicted. We are so passionate about it that we also want share that passion in our teaching. We want others to share that addiction with us. As club instructors, we are volunteers and do not get paid for teaching. So why do we teach? Why do we love it? Our reward is that big smile on our student’s face when they make that first time accomplishment: the first roll, the first combat roll, the first surf etc. We think what separates us from many club level instructors is our attitude of professionalism that we bring to our instruction. Just because it is not our career doesn’t mean that we don’t approach it with the same attitude of striving for improvement and constantly learning. We do everything that way. So a WW symposium full of professionals attracts us. This may not apply to the majority of club instructors, but we hope it does.

We recently had some email correspondence with Kent Ford about this subject. We assume that the organizers of the event are interested in attracting the non-professional but enthusiastic instructors, to the event. We feel strongly that the industry, the clubs and the public all benefit from collaboration between the groups to support the sport. The professionals, manufacturers and retailers need a steady supply of new paddlers. So do the clubs. Most clubs have a lot of events and trips for newcomers. Clubs fill a need for new paddlers to provide the support and training to progress in the sport. The camaraderie and friendships that develop during this phase are key to keeping people hooked on the sport. Clubs provide a way to for the newcomer to bridge the gap between the first WW lesson and the becoming a frequent paddler. Is there more that the clubs can do to benefit the industry and is there more that the industry can do to support the clubs for our mutual benefit?

So this leads to the questions: Is the WW Symposium a suitable venue for promoting this collaboration? If so, how do we get this going? We’ll provide a few of our own ideas, but this article is really the starting point for a discussion on the topic. We will address these questions from two angles, the first is how to get the club instructors to the event and second is how to maximize the benefit of their presence.

First: Marketing

If you want club participation in the event, the marketing materials need to attract this group to the event. Obviously this did not happen in the past as the lack of attendance in spite of distributing the materials shows that the marketing was ineffective. How can this be changed?

1. Change the name: “Symposium” reminds of us of business meetings and work. Sounds like a lot of boring classroom stuff. We are in it for fun.

2. Capitalize on your strengths: The draw for non-professionals to the event is the big name people who are there and the extraordinary opportunity to learn from them. The opportunity to contribute to this community and be accepted as part of is also a big draw. Make this known and make sure that they offer as much as possible to the attendees. This happens to some extent at the event: improve on it and make it the appeal.

3. Put out the actual schedule of sessions further in advance and make sure that it is clear that there is plenty to offer the club paddlers. We were still trying to sort out what things to attend when we got there.

Remember that the symposium will most likely attract only local people. Cost is a factor. Being able to bring your own boat is a factor. The benefit of the event has to be perceived as worth the cost. While the cost seemed reasonable to us and we were able to drive to the event, it may scare some away. Perhaps you can reach out to the local clubs directly (depends on the venue) and offer group rates for a club. Maybe the ACA, AW or other sponsors of the event can support attendance by non-professionals. If the event is close enough to local clubs, can you offer one day or shortened attendance at a lower rate? Most of us work at full time jobs and may not be able to afford the time off on Monday and Friday.

Second: Program

As we mentioned above, the draw of the big names and what can be learned from them is what will pull people into the event. The draw is to actually learn directly from them both formally in the sessions and informally. This was the main benefit to us of the 2007 symposium and also the reason why we came in the first place. The weak point of the 2007 program was partly scheduling. Sometimes two parallel sessions appealed to us, and sometimes there were gaps where nothing interesting was happening.

More participation from the manufacturers and retailers such as more demo equipment etc would help. A chance to try out the prototypes and the latest gear might draw some to the event. We applaud Liquidlogic for their participation, but where were the rest of the manufacuturers? How about discussions from the manufacturers to help club instructors answer students questions about gear, such as what type of boat should I buy? What’s the advantage of this one or that one? How do I get it to fit?

How about a few seminars that are geared specifically to the club instructors? How about a whole track geared toward this group? That seems a bit risky given the low attendance so far by this group but might be what is needed to bring them in The club instructor track can have a variety of on and off-water sessions with the pros on teaching and paddling techniques as there was in the 2007 symposium.

All of the sessions that we attended were interesting, but the ones with Mary, Janet and Anna had direct relevance to our goals and were especially valuable. Watching EJ do tricks in the hole was fun, but getting tips that we could actually use was more valuable. Maybe add some additional coaching and feedback from the pros on how we can improve our lessons and programs. Also in the club track can be discussion sessions between clubs, the schools and the industry that address the question about how we can collaborate to benefit the sport and our own interest groups.

If you want attendance and participation by club instructors then it should be clear that there is something in it for them. These are only our own ideas but we open the door for suggestions from other paddlers about what would attract them.

Ellen and Jack Moskowitz

Kayak and Canoe Club of NY

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