The Education of a Paddler

by Sherri ~ February 5th, 2010. Filed under: Paddling People, Sherri's Musings, Skill Development.

IMGP2133I’ve been reading some kayak-related blogs recently, something I haven’t had a whole lot of time to do before now.  Some are pretty interesting, some just seem to be a clearing house for press releases, and a few are a little scary.  The internet can be a great tool for finding information, just keep in mind that anyone can post pretty much anything they want without having to provide any credentials or other substantiating data.  As a long-time paddler and instructor, I have enough experience and background information stored in my brain’s hard drive that I can usually identify BS when I see or hear it.  The danger is that beginning paddlers looking for answers to their many questions will not be able to readily spot the misinformation.  For that reason, I recommend that anyone, but most especially novice kayakers, view information from the internet with a healthy dose of skepticism.  Start your education by reading some of the many excellent books that are out there.  Publishing companies tend to have much more rigorous standards before agreeing to publish someone’s book than those needed to post something on the internet.  This is not an absolute guarantee that you won’t read something that is a typographical mistake, or information that is old and obsolete (or just flat out wrong).  But if you read the same information in three or four different sources, there is a much higher probability that it is good information.  If you are getting conflicting information from different sources, at least you have enough information to know that one of these sources is in error, or there is some kind of controversy brewing on that subject.  You’ll know you need to continue to research an answer by asking more experienced paddlers, certified instructors, or by reading more books.

DVD’s are also not a bad source of information as it takes some money and effort to create and market a video, which tends to weed out some of the more clueless jokers.  Keep in mind, though, that anyone can take a video camera and post to YouTube.  If I figured it out, then it doesn’t take much in the way of internet savvy.  That being the case, there are some really good instructional clips on YouTube along with some really poor ones.  Again “caveat emptor!”

When I got started paddling in 1988, it was kind of tough to find any formal kayak instruction, let alone good instruction.  Perhaps thankfully, the internet was not an option.  My first teachers were Derek Hutchinson, John Dowd, and Randel Washburne (those were about the only three authors that had books out on sea kayaking at the time), along with people like George Gronseth and the Broze brothers who wrote many articles for Sea Kayaker magazine back in the early years.  All that reading served me very well as became evident when I attended my first symposium in 1993 and discovered that I was, in fact, doing it the right way after being otherwise mostly self-taught.  Later on, when I got hooked up with paddling friends like John Browning and Gary Simon, I started taking lots of formal classes on my way to becoming an instructor.  But I still try to read every book I can get my hands on when it comes to canoeing and kayaking, and those books are the first place I look when I need an answer to a question that I can’t answer off the top of my head.

If you think that you are already educated enough as a kayaker, let me just say that over 22 years, I’ve seen a lot of things change in sea kayaking.  Believe it or not, sea kayaking was just entering its adolescence as a sport when I started.  Paddlers were still making a lot of their own equipment, and those of us who were buying our stuff bought it from the people who were making their own.  Paddle floats were a new idea and there was a lot of discussion about how useful they might or might not be.  If it’s been awhile since you took a class or read an instructional book, it might be a good time to consider brushing up your skills with some up-to-date knowledge.

Now that it’s winter, aren’t you in the mood to curl up with a good book?


(Or maybe a good movie!)

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