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Paddling Skills seems to be a missing issue in all the discussions concerning the recent outings and the rescue problems that we're experiencing. Isn't it a mismatch of our paddling skills with conditions that have us swimming in the first place? Maybe it's an obvious and well understood issue and does not need to be discussed, or maybe its overlooked?

The purpose of the rough water sessions was to work on paddling skill, but out of those sessions, it seems the rescues have emerged as the more interesting discussion topic. There were a few very detail questions about paddle placement and other technicalities, but none about developing the "feel" for the boat, the paddle, and the water. These are the skills the "instructing stars" like Bob Foote and others try to teach. You get a few one on one minutes with the "star", but then its really up to each of us to learn to paddle.

What is it that good paddlers have that allows them to be comfortable in conditions that tip the novice? Can this be gained by "instruction" or is it just understood that years in the boat are needed. How much time in the boat is needed to get good at this sport? Can we get good at it with one or two 5 hour trips per month? At that rate how many years does it take to become an intermediate level paddler good for level 3 conditions like we had in the second rough water session? Maybe at this rate we'll never experience a "break through" to the next level and we stay fixed where we are.

Is there a way to help each other, to develop paddling skills within our club with a new intensified priority? Do people have to force themselves into situations beyond their limits and swim, as in the rough water outings we had? I don't know, really. I'm just asking myself these questions. Maybe the swimming and rescuing are to be considered standard operating procedure. The other alternative is to point out that there's nothing at all wrong with enjoying this sport on warm, windless, flat days and that all the rough talk is not for me and you. The fact is, our coast line is pretty tame most of the time. By being conservative, we can easily avoid windy, or choppy days that tip people over.

I often look at John Lull's book. John Lull points out that paddling, balance and seamanship are the primary and most important skills to allow you to paddle difficult water. Backing up these primary skills are the recovery skills of bracing and rolling. He makes it clear that rolling is the gateway to becoming more advanced level paddlers. Going to the pool this winter and developing a 100% roll will go a long way to "staying in the boat".

John Lull goes on to say that if all your skills have failed you, and you're out of the boat, then you employ the various rescues you've practiced in the pond or experienced in true situations. It seems that every "rescue" is different and demands some level of adaptation and improvisation and often does not fit into any previously demonstrated or discussed format. You need to know the basics, but you've got to be able to "wrap them around" a variety of situations, many that you've never seen before and may never see again.


It seems to me, to be good rescuers, we must first be good paddlers, and if we really are good paddlers, we'll stay in the boat and need less rescuing.

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One of the things I liked most about John Lull's book (if anyone reading this still has the copy I loaned out I'd like it back) is the progression in skills he lays out.

I now know myself well enough to understand that if I am scared or intimidated by the conditions I am not going to learn anything. The point at which that kicks in seems to vary a bit but I know it when I feel it and I pay attention. Being scared, as opposed to excited, means being tense and stiff: not good in a kayak. To learn a new skill I have to be relaxed and have confidence that the instructor (whether one of the terrific professionals or one of our great club volunteers) is not going to push me too far out of my comfort zone. I often have to back up to the basics, get comfortable again, then move on to nibble at the next step. I have noticed that others thrive at learning at the edge of the envelope. They likely will go farther in this sport than I will or at least progress faster than me.

I think Ken has a really good point about hours spent paddling. Learning how to do something, say torso rotation or bracing, is different from spending enough time in the boat to be able actually do it, reliably, comfortably, without thinking about it - so it is there when you need it.

Liz N.

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Great points! I found myself thinking I was comfortable in East Coast storm conditions until I hit the west coast. Life on a very steep 15ft swell with a breaking 5 ft wind wave at the top was very scary at first. Having spent time alone in those conditions brought me to the realization that seakayaking, true seakayaking only happens when the paddler applies a full compliment of paddling skills. When you're alone in those conditions, bailing isn't an option. As many of the old guard will remember, I always pushed skills through boat control exercises as a coach and instructor. Too many folks never practice anything but forward stroke 99% of the time. To be a strong paddler takes not only TIME in the boat in conditions, but a full compliment of practiced strokes for those conditions.

Skills, skills, skills! You've heard it before and I hope those of you that remember my teaching will take it up a notch and teach others to carry it on.


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Liz, an appropriate quote - "stay while you're scared, leave when it's dangerous" (some wildlife photographer filming bears, and I believe he's still alive).

Ken, well said. Surely prevention is as important as the cure, and there's only one way to get motor skills hard-wired - Repeat, Repeat, Repeat.

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I know what you mean, "Surely prevention is as important as the cure", I'm glad you brought this idea up.

I'm not suggesting that paddling skill is for "prevention". Your paddling skills are why you're doing it in the first place. This is it, to paddle. We need to do less thinking about staying out of trouble, and being defensive. Don't paddle in conditions beyond your skill level and you'll enjoy the day and can be alot more aggressive and physical. I think too many people must be scaring themselves and paddling boats way too tippy for their comfort. I'll bet this kind of discomfort leads to "arrested development."

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While in general I agree with the senitments, I must disagree with the illustious commander on one small point.

>Too many folks never practice anything but forward stroke

>99% of the time.

I think most people don't *practice* their forward stroke nearly enough. They may *do* a forward stroke most of the time, but few actually practice it, train it, give it the attention it deserves. A strong reliable forward stroke can get you out of a hell of a lot of trouble.

I think a lot of new-ish kayakers (new-ish = 2 years or so... or however long it takes you to want to be in conditions, but not yet be ready for them YMMV :) spend more time on bow rudders and low brace turns because they're fun and cool and not enough time on really getting the basics down. (please note, I sheepishly admit to being firmly in this group)

>Skills, skills, skills!

Now that is a sentiment I can agree with wholeheartedly.


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You raise several great points, time in the boat and seamanship are two often not discussed skills. However, would you not agree that sessions like the Rough Water class are excellent places for a aspiring paddler to determine what level of comfort they are in and what level they want to aspire too. Seems to me with a cadre of good paddlers like we had, more than one to one the paddler need only be concerned on his skills and have comfort in knowing we can keep him safe. The real point I gleaned is that the instruction given weather by Pro of club level is the first step. Practice is then the challenge of the recipient of the lesson.

I personally describe my misfortune on the water as it may assist others from the same mistake or keep them thinking about an alternative to what I attempted to accomplish.

Also just as every kid starts out in a sandlot playing baseball only a few reach the big league. The practice one gives any sport is equal to what they gain until they reach their natural ability wall. Most of us will never paddle with the speed of Greg Barton, or Roll with the grace of Karen Knight. But as you point out we can learn to stay in our boat, we can learn to brace so as never to need to roll. All good things to make us better paddlers, of course there is a large group of paddlers who are very happy in pleasant conditions, not interested in the wind or waves and have a jolly good time and only feel at one with the ocean. That is one of the fine points of this sport, its for all that love it and at their own way.

Jim B

Thought for the day: Never be afraid to try something

new. Remember that amateurs built the Ark. Professionals built the


P & H Orion

Yellow over White


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I certainly agree with you that seamanship and time in the saddle are two topics that don't often get appropriate coverage with regard to discussions here or on other message boards. With regard to the "Rough Water class" format and learning to paddle in the larger sense, there are several schools of thought on this kind of thing. Bare with me here for a minute, I'm not sure if I have a point to make or a line of thought to explorer.

As I read this thread, I wonder if we might want to define various types of paddlers and the ways in which people choose to approach the sport. I offer the following as a starting point. Sorry if this seems like I going too far back to be of any value but I find that as I ponder these types if issues, it's helpful for me to think of people's actions and responses to different events as related to why and how they paddle. Firstly I tend to think of people as coming to this pursuit for several, very different reasons. Consider the following:

Types of paddlers:

Nature Paddler - most of us are at least part nature paddlers. The immersion in nature is an inescapable part of what we do so unless we embrace this aspect to some degree we would never willingly endure the challenges and obstacles that we do.

Athletic Paddler - not everyone finds this aspect of the sport attractive but for some paddling is a great athletic pursuit, people like Leon come to mind. Every time I've seen Leon over the past 4 years he's been a sweat-drenched mass, grinning from ear to ear. Most will agree that Leon only has one speed.

Social Paddler - very few of us, if any, can claim not to have some of this as our motivation. Paddling is fun, meeting like-minded people in sometimes raw, sometimes serene settings has an obvious appeal. Suzanne's love of feeding people doesn't hurt either.

Spiritual Paddler - the lone wolves of the group. These people aren't especially attracted to the social stuff but paddle for emotional health and/or spiritual cleansing. They may paddle as a moving meditation or alternately as a mental or spiritual challenge. Preventative medicine for life in these hectic times?

Now imagine applying the following paddling goals specific to each of the above types of paddlers and imagine how each type might have completely different goals, motivations and strategies:

Skill Development - the basis, the fundamental parts of paddling

Judgment Development - learning to staying safe and stay out of trouble

Seamanship Development - those intangibles of coming to understand the sea

Network Development - finding like-minded and/or similarly motivated paddlers.

As I look at the above paddler types and try to imagine them in various settings working towards their goals, I definitely don't see a "one size fits all" type of scenario. I think that we as paddlers, as students of the art need to assess our motivation and seek out methods that serve our varied needs. For instance, while I know people that paddle for the same reasons that I do and I know people with the same goals that I have, I don't know many with both the same reasons and the same goals. So I tend to paddle with different people for different things as my interests of the week ebb and flow.

Please feel free to add, correct, comment, discount any or all of the above. I don't have the answers. I'm not even sure I understand all of the questions. But I find the whole subject enormously interesting, captivating, rewarding and inspiring.




"The ability to defend an opinion with absolute certainty . . .

. . . is inversely proportional to one's actual experience."

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Hi Jim,

You asked..."However, would you not agree that sessions like the Rough Water class are excellent places for a aspiring paddler to determine what level of comfort they are in and what level they want to aspire too."

My answer is ...yes of course this was a good thing to do, under those ratios of one to one and with 3 advanced level padders per group to provide some safety. The grouping of 6 in a 1:1 was a good thing to do, and conditions were simple level 3, and all that was just great.

My point is, lets work on our primary skills of paddling and then rolling, the things that make you a rough water paddler. I just don't think we should put so much faith in our ability to perform rescues as a ticket to rough water paddling. If your in conditions that roll you out of your boat and someone helps you back in, you're right back in the difficulty that rolled you initially.

I'd like to see the club be all expert paddlers, who can do anything they want. I'm just asking myself these questions, how will we get there?. Where should we as a club place more effort for those who want to paddle more difficult conditions. I think 3 novices can band together and in a calculating way, always being safe, work their way to an expert level, seeking out expert advise now and then and go back and add it to their next outing. They can have isolated "practice sessions" if they want or just have outings that challenge them but not overwhelm.

Again, I'm just asking myself these questions, what would I do if I were just starting to paddle, what would I want.

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Though there could be other categories and/or combinations therein, I think your "insight" resounds with me. The reasons why we come into the sport affect how we approach it. And, for that matter, how we approach this club.

Okay, let me sound "stupid". The "questions" are the "answers" when we're doing more than talking/thinking.


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I have noticed another factor that affects how people learn this sport, fear. Those who fear that which could happen upon capsizing will push their skills more slowly. Don't get me wrong, a strong sense of self-preservation is very important no matter what you are doing.

Many years ago I played ice hockey, and many years before that I raced downhill slalom. While skiing I noticed that there were a small number of racers that consistently either placed first by a long margin or disqualified due to missing a gate. These racers appeared to have no fear, and as a result they skied at a level much higher than the other racers.

When I first took up hockey I played goalie. The team didn't have much for equipment, and as a result I got quite bruised. Eventually my sense of self preservation kicked in and I couldn't improve much after that. At that point I decided to be a defenseman; then the fear left me and the game became fun again (and I continued to improve again.)

For each paddler there is a context that shapes how much the possibility of drowning, hitting their head on a rock, etc. affects them. It is difficult to "commit to the paddle" if you really don't want to capsize. Some say that once you have a roll, your skills improve more quickly. Given a reliable and quick self-rescue, the fear of capsizing should be reduced significantly.

Dee Hall

Impex Currituck, Blue over Ivory

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"Don't paddle in conditions beyond your skill level and you'll enjoy the day and can be alot more aggressive and physical. I think too many people must be scaring themselves and paddling boats way too tippy for their comfort. I'll bet this kind of discomfort leads to "arrested development."

I think this varies greatly with the individual. Personally, if I hadn't gotten into boats that were uncomfortably tender or into conditions that were beyond my ability, THAT would have arrested my development. Improving one's paddling skills is largely a process of adaptation, whether to new equipment, new conditions or both. As such, in order to improve, one must push their boundaries. The trick is in learning how far you can push. There's a fine line between an experience that inspires one to learn and improve, and one that's so frightening that it can cause a person to regress.

I really don't think that we focus on rescues when planning a rough water experience or when we're on the water, but they do tend to become the focus when debriefing. On such trips, I tend to view the ability of more experienced paddlers to perform rescues safely and effectively as a necessity for allowing less experienced paddlers to push their limits. We are their safety net in case things go wrong. We also teach by example and seeing rescues first-hand can be a valuable lesson for those who aren't familiar with performing them.

Sometimes, it's hard to envision what's possible until you see it demonstrated. The playing around we did at Wood's Hole last Sunday is a good example. It certainly expanded my understanding of the dynamics of moving water and sea kayaks. Watching Jed perform a T-rescue in 30 seconds was another eye-opener that comes to mind. Marvelling at Nigel Foster's grace in a pool was a tremendous inspiration. "Learning by osmosis" can be a powerful tool and I suspect that most of us have done more of it than we realize.

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Agreed. To those that are tuned into their own motivation and learning methodology, the path is clear because the goals are appropriate. If the motivation and goals don't match . . .

Mostly this kind of thing is received as so much drivel but these are the questions that I ask myself often as I see paddlers come and go, their interest waxing and waning, their progress varying between solid and steady to astronomical or stagnant. Note there's no stigma applied to one paddler-type over another. We're all a bit of each to one extent or another.

Paddler, know thyself! (?)

As for me (and I expect you as well) it really is the journey and not the destination. For me the destination is constantly changing. I have only a vague idea of it's location at any point. The only constant for me, is that I so enjoy the experiences and subtleties along the way.




"The ability to defend an opinion with absolute certainty . . .

. . . is inversely proportional to one's actual experience."

>Though there could be other categories and/or combinations

>therein, I think your "insight" resounds with me. The

>reasons why we come into the sport affect how we approach

>it. And, for that matter, how we approach this club.


>Okay, let me sound "stupid". The "questions" are the

>"answers" when we're doing more than talking/thinking.



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>These racers appeared to have no fear, and as a

>result they skied at a level much higher than the other


More likely that they have fear, but they enjoy it. Or, they are so performance orientated they ignore fear.

Either way, from this group come the best atheletes and the best organ donors.

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Add in team building and it sounds like what we were trying to do with NEA with the graduated skill building and application trips.

Go back and look at the website files, Mike may have them, and you'll see that the philosophy for NEA was just that. Build the skills and THEN apply them as realistically as possible to conditions.

From basic to advanced strokes/rescues,and tows under REAL conditions. Leaving the team of paddlers(students)to make all the decisions on their fate. Tom "towboat" Casey and crew, I'm sure, still remember the lessons of that day to the Isle of Shoals. I just wish we had heavier conditions.

To this day, I'm seeing most paddlers new to seakayaking wanting to run before they can walk. I have a student in the WKC rolling session that doesn't even own a boat yet and he wants to learn how to roll.

I'm sorry to be an ass about it, but he's getting hip snap development and bracing practice. When he gets good at that then I'll teach him to roll. I wish I could take him to the surf.

The points made in this thread are on the money, I wish all newer paddlers would read the discussion. Time learning the limits of your boat and gear, along with application of learned, practice skills are a MUST for ALL paddlers. I know I had to go through a period of adjustment. Paddling the Explorer after paddling the GS for years was an eye opener.

Thank you Ken for starting it. And thank you all for contributing to it. I've seen a few posts recently that have started folks thinking again. I hope they continue. Seakayaking as it is meant to be for most advanced paddling is a dangerous endeavour if not done with the right skills and partners.

Just rambling as usual,


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Your comments are right on the money.

Developing strong, reliable paddling skills should be our priority.

I agree with you that we should concentrate on developing and fine tuning skills that enable safe paddling in situations beyond the personal comfort zone. During the past year, aside from classes with Derek Hutchenson, Nigel Foster and Bob Foot most of the emphasis has been on safety and rescue skills.

Spending many hours on the water is no substitute for professional instruction and coaching that teach the subtle moves and paddle placement necessary to enable comfortable, anywhere, anytime kayaking. Free time (trips, etc.) on the water is best spent practicing and executing the lessons learned during classes.

Our motto should be to “always paddle within your ability.”

We never improve if we always paddle in comfortable conditions. Although we should continually challenge our skills, one never has time to learn the "feel" when in survival mode.

I must admit that, for me, the highlights of the Rough Water Workshop was when you introduced us to your "Bow Rudder" (canoeing term) maneuver and the playing, sitting and maneuvering in the rocks and surf.

Prior to that time, while in a broach, I would always be at the mercy of the surf pushing me along while I just leaned into the wave and went along for a ride.

Now, with practice, I'll be able to take control and maneuver out of a broaching situation.

At the end of the day, my personal comfort level went up many rungs.

Many thanks!


Living to learn.

Romany White, Blue trim

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Hi Richard,

Thanks for the kind words. If I write any more about this subject, I'm just repeating what I originally wrote. I changed one of your paragraphs below to make an important point about instruction and the time commitment to developing skill..........

"Spending many hours on the water is the "only way" to develop the skills demonstrated by professional instruction and coaching. Only this way will I learn for myself the subtle moves and paddle placement necessary to enable me to be comfortable, anywhere, anytime kayaking. All kayaking time is free time (trips, etc.) on the water and a good time to utilize the lessons learned during classes".

An instructor is no miracle worker, you can take the same beginner's class from some "star" instructor, year after year and never improve if you don't spend the time in your boat on your own or with your equal paddling peers using what was demonstrated to you.

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Yesterday, Jim F., Alex, Ken and I went to Woods Hole to catch an ebbing, new moon tide.

We played in a great little rip there. At first nerves had the best of me and leaning the boat away from the strong current and waves was done half-heartedly. Watching Ken get his Gulfstream all the way over in a high-brace turn seemed impossible.

Under Ken's instruction it wasn't long before my Capella was cranked over in a high brace with my spray-deck well underwater. Racing a boat across the rip and then spinning it back to face upstream in the opposite eddy was a riot and we could have done it for hours - so we did.

Getting over nerves and committing to the paddle made the day. After that it was just, repeat, repeat, repeat. When doing something like this I often focus on the worse case scenario, capsizing and blowing the roll. And it happened, I went over, came out my seat and couldn't roll up. I didn't want to leave my boat in a strong current, so I kept sculling up for a breath until a Gulfsteam stern appeared for me to pull up on.

A great day that captured what paddling should be about - fun learning some new stuff so that more fun can be had.


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I can never get enough of the standing waves and eddylines in Woods Hole. We were there last month on a unusually high full moon tide, and it was spectacular. If only there had been some swell from the east like the previous time I had paddled there.

Too bad we can't build a white water park in Salem Sound like they do on rivers now.

Dee Hall

Impex Currituck, Blue over Smoky Ivory

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>How were the conditions?

Apparently optimal, an ebbing tide after a new moon. Wind was low and current was swift - no idea how fast. Some nice waves to play in and some swirly water on the eddylines.

We took some pictures, not sure how they'll come out.

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