Sunday, October 4, 2009

ACA L4 Certification: Day 5

Today was the last day of the certification. Pretty much at this point we had demonstrated our teaching abilities and so we now had to demonstrate we could perform in the conditions. We didn't do much teaching today, in fact, it felt more like we just performed a list of tasks in various conditions. We played in the current as we were leaving the sheltered inlet then we were out on the ocean. Today was not nearly as rough or big as yesterday but we still had enough of a swell coming in creating some surfing conditions along the sea wall.

With the sea wall giving us a hard challenge to avoid, we did some group management while doing surf landings and launching. We also had to catch a wave in and surf it. I failed horribly the first time as I thought I was supposed to surf it sideways. I did eventually catch a wave in a nice surf, but I was rather timid about it. We then did some more 360 degree turns in the surf zone. I thought I had some trouble doing this as about halfway through the turn the surf turned me back to the starting position. So I started over not even realizing it had turned me in the direction I wanted to travel, so I did two 360 degree turns in a row. Everyone thought I was showing off, I wasn't. It was scary enough doing one turn.

We ended up portaging our kayaks back to the inlet side due to the outrushing current being so strong. Once back on the inlet side, we went back to the eddy and did some towing into the current. The fun part of this was we had to tow someone out into the current and once they hit the current, the tow-er had to capsize, release the tow and roll back up. I decided my roll wasn't confident enough so I did the extended paddle roll guaranteeing that I came back up. I had never done one before but it was nice. I have seen people using them as crutches to avoiding learning a real roll, but since I was having trouble I decided to use it. I also watched one of the guys on this event use the roll and break his paddle, I definitely didn't want to break my paddle.

After all this, we congregated on the beach and decided to get our feedback as a group. The person receiving the feedback stood up on a cinder block and everyone said whether they were at an L4 level or not. Everyone who was there to re-certify at the L4 level got their level. A few people who were at the L3 and wanted the L4 got their L4 level. Then there were 3 of us who had no level to begin with. Of the three of us, the first guy received an L2 with distinction. In a way I was glad to see him only get the L2 as he had some problems with teaching and performing certain strokes. The other guy received an L3 with a continuation for the L4, so with a little work, he should be able to get his L4 no problem. I received my L3 with distinction and with some work should have no problems receiving my L4. I really just need to get out in big conditions a few more times to get comfortable with them. I think I also need a boat I can control better so I will feel more comfortable.

All in all it was a great event and I feel I learned a lot from it. Someone said they tend to learn more from the certification events then they do from classes. I can see why. These are pretty intense ways to learn something and generally it is trial by fire. It was safe but definitely a learning curve.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

ACA L4 Certification: Day 4

Day four of five sees us gathering up at a public launch point near Assateague Island in Ocean City. I wasn't really sure what to expect and we started off the day with a little quiz. Of course I had written down the tides several days ago in pre-planning then forgot to recheck the numbers. Missed that question. I did know this was a full moon having camped out under the spot light of its glow. The launch point was relatively calm being part of the enclosed harbor. He paddled out a little ways and found a nice little area off Assateague for some on land talks. We hear about tides and how they are formed as well as an idea of what we would expect today. This talk was a very scaled down version of the one from the tides and currents class I had taken while in Maine. We walked over to the ocean side of the island to check out the surf and conditions, they were looking gnarlier then I had ever been out in. We did a warm up and stretching before hopping back in our boats.

Teaching Stokes
We broke up into two groups to teach the strokes. This worked out well for two reasons, first being that we were actually a large group today with a total of 13 people, 11 of which were instructor candidates. The second reason was to prevent bias. While I had paddled with Tom before I had never paddled with Mitch before. So he could better evaluate my skills then someone who has seen me doing better and worse. The certification only represents what you show on the certification day. I was given the task of teaching the sculling draw as the current was pushing us up against a rocky sea wall. Then as we were heading back I was given the task to teach the hanging draw. I do find that I need to do turn more when doing a full sweep to prevent getting my hand behind my shoulder.

Working with Current
It seems strange to work with current in a sea kayak, even though I know it is possible to deal with current, I have only had to deal with it in either a sluggish form, or in my whitewater boat. Today we actually had currents and eddies that were easily visible and workable. We first worked on peeling in and out of the eddy into the current. The same principle applies in the sea kayak as the white water boat, lean away from the current when peeling. We also worked on ferrying across the current and paddling up against the current. We then worked our way around the inlet moving from eddy to eddy. On the other side of the inlet we found some standing waves forming and played in them. We worked on surfing and paddling backwards. I think that paddling backwards is the bane of my sea kayaking. I can fight the boat into a semblance of control when paddling forward but because I don't sink the boat enough, I have less control when going backwards. I did manage to brute force the kayak into control but it wasn't pleasant. We then moved out across the channel and set up for lunch at the small beach.

Working with waves
With the current work out of the way we then turned our sights to the ocean. From the ocean we had about 6-8 foot ocean swells combined with the shoals and beach to give 4-6 foot waves. I had never been out in such conditions before. We paddled out to the shoals and tried to cross them. I ended up being window shaded by a particularly large wave but manage to roll back up, thankfully. Of our group, one person needed a rescue, one person did a re-entry & roll, and the last guy tried the re-entry & roll, then a cowboy entry and finally got back in unaided with a paddle float re-entry. We regrouped and left the weaker person behind, then crossed the shoals. I think this was just to see what we could do as we didn't do much except turn around and surf our way back to the guy we had left. Back in closer to shore, we worked on a checklist of items, we rolled in surf, turned our boats in circles, and did re-entries and rescues. It was a very long and extremely tiring day.

While waves are a challenge to paddle in because they can break over you and roll you, tossing you around. ocean swells are just plain tiring. The swells we encountered were quite large and were moving through the rocky sea wall, not around it. We made our way back to the inlet opening and held position while waiting for a break in the boat traffic to head back in. Paddling with the swells is tiring as it really feels like paddling up hills then kind of sliding down hill. The down hill slide being not nearly as long as the up hill slog. We held position at the mouth of the inlet when one person went over and had to bail from the kayak. A few people went to the rescue but due to our location the instructors stepped in and set up a town and we all paddled hard to get into the inlet. A brief window had opened up in the boat traffic and we took it.

At first I was nervous about the conditions but once we got out there, I felt that they were big but I was able to handle them. I worked really hard today as my arms feel like lead and so to do my legs. I even felt I was having a good time on the way back with the ocean swells. I find that by the end of a long day like this I am extremely hungry. Due to the conditions, it is hard to eat on the go especially when being asked to tow or pivot your kayak. I think my problem is that I am not that hungry at lunch and while I try to eat enough, it seems like it never is. I might have to find a more energy dense food that doesn't fill me up. Lunch is so short we really don't have much time to digest and a full stomach isn't that comfortable for me. All in all a good day but I am left wondering if I will be too sore tomorrow to do anything.

Friday, October 2, 2009

ACA L4 Certification: Day 3

Today was day three of the Certification training. It was more of a assessment of skills and teaching then a training per se. We had learned all the skills on the first two days and just had to demonstrate we could do the same things on moving water. The expected conditions were about 10 kt winds, about 2-4 kts of current, or 1-2 foot breaking waves. We pretty much had all those conditions at Chesapeake Bay where we had launched. Before we launched we had a few talks that each candidate was required to give. Each talk was about 10 minutes long and had to introduce a topic, go over the basics of the topic, wrap up the topic with a summary, then challenge the listen with a little quiz. We were critiqued on how well we could teach the topic we had been given as well as how well we kept the listener engaged on the topic.

History of Sea Kayaking
My topic was to cover the history of sea kayaking. I didn't find a ton of information on the internet and I don't own any kayaking boats so I had to get what I could from the internet. I had found that kayaking was first used by the northern native populations and was mostly or entirely used for hunting. In fact, qajaq means "hunters boat". I briefly touched on the different regions that had developed kayaking, discussing the types of materials those cultures would have on hand, mostly bone, drift wood, and skins. The kayaks were also sealed with whale fat to keep them water tight. I moved into how kayaking came to the rest of the world and the materials that it started with and how it has evolved. Kayaking is no longer just a kayak for hunting or fishing with but has been used for racing, slalom, whitewater, and freestyle to name a few. And while kayaking has become a very popular sport, being part of the olympics since the 30's, it is still in fact used to this day for transportation, farming and hunting as a way of life still. It was actually quite interesting to read up on the history of kayaking both as a sport and as a way of life.

We also heard talks about clothing to wear when on the water, which ranged from t-shirt and shorts all the way up to dry suits. We had a navigation talk as well as a talk about signaling devices. The last talk just before we got on the water was a talk about group dynamics and staying together from someone from Florida, so we heard his talk which included stuff about native Floridian animals to not worry about. It was rather humorous.

Out on the water we mostly just did a skills check off. We moved around in boxes against, with and broach to the wind to show we would turn and handle out boats in the wind and with wind generated waves. I actually over committed to one of my strokes (the bow rudder) and went over right in front of the instructor. Luckily I rolled back up. I really have to work on my roll and outfitting as I find that I tend to fall out of the boat.

After we were finished today we all drove over to Assateague to meet up with part of the group that was only doing the re-certification. Everyone from my group either had no certification or was going from an L3 level to an L4 level. Today was part of the instructor development workshop as well as seeing if we could perform and teach in the L3 conditions. We moved on without getting any idea if we were certified at the L3 level. A little scary when I think about the conditions we are supposed to be encountering tomorrow. They sound big.

Today I was the only female of the group. I know there are women out there who instruct but I guess there are still fewer women going up through the ranks then men. I noticed the same thing when I was getting my 3 star sea kayaking award. I wonder how well a women's only class would work at a kayak school?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

ACA L4 Certification: Day 2

Today was once again at Widewater and was relatively easy. This was now our turn to teach the "class" strokes with the assumption that the "class" had never learned how to paddle before. We were scored on how well we could teach the stroke, how well we could model the stroke properly and how well we could give feedback.

The teaching paradigm that we were using was a sell, show, do model. First we have to sell the stroke to the students, why do they need to learn this other then just because. Then we show then what they will be learning. After the show, we teach them how to do the stroke modeling again as needed with pointers to focus on. The goal is to try to keep that all as short as possible so they can be trying it themselves as quickly as possible. This way the people with short attention spans are working on the stroke shortly after learning it.

It is really important to be able to model the strokes accurately even when slowing them down. If you can do the stroke correctly at normally speed but incorrectly when slowing it down, it doesn't do any good to the student. Modeling isn't just a temporary situation. As long as you are in the teaching role, you are constantly modeling perfect strokes. It is very bad to give mixed messages and slumping in the kayak after telling everyone to sit up isn't very good.

The instructor had some very interesting names for the feedback sandwich. Basically you can't simply tell someone they are doing something wrong as it is frustrating and counter-productive. Rather, the best model is to praise something they are doing well, then give them some criticism and how to correct it, then more feedback on how well they are doing. By starting and ending the criticism with good stuff, they fell better about how they are progressing.

Feedback to us
Some things I noticed about the other instructor candidates was one person was very verbose and actually lost me part of the way through his teaching. I hate giving feedback of that nature but it had to be said. One girl was too quick in her feedback and didn't wait to see if I was doing it correctly. In order for us to test the candidates, at one point, one person in the group would model a stroke incorrectly to see if they could pick up on it. I think this was the Instructor Trainers idea of fun and we all got into it trying to come up with good ways to screw up the stroke. Beginners are forever creative in how to do a paddle stroke once taught. Many students will turn the paddle backwards, or even hold the paddle upside down. Some will shift their hand positions making it difficult to teach them correct blade placement. It is hard to tell someone to cock their wrist when the paddle is already lined up correctly.

One way for us to see how we are doing is through the video. We were taped today modeling the strokes we had learned plus a few others we hadn't yet learned but should know how to do, this was mostly for the three of us that where moving on to the L4 training. We also had our roll filmed as well. We watched them back at the shop. I had gone first and one of the first comments was that I not be allowed to go first again. I have been told many times that I model my strokes very nicely and the Instructor Trainer was quick to point this out, many times to everyone dismay. It was a bit embarrassing after a while. My roll was actually quite nice this time. The only comment was that I could bring the paddle in a little tighter in the sculling draw, which I thought I normally did but apparently not in this case.

At the end of the day normally everyone has a private conference with the Instructor Trainer to learn whether they were now certified to teach and at what level. Since most of us where continuing on we didn't have the conference, just the two who were only going for the L2. Tomorrow will be out on the Chesapeake Bay in some conditions.