Another Day At Democrat Point

I was out with two long-time students at Democrat Point. Mid-September, after Labor Day. We’d been worried about possible thunderstorms, but that threat dissipated days before. It was a nice, partly cloudy, windy early fall day.

Long-time students are the exception rather than the rule. I’ve been instructing for a little over six years now, and in most of that time I might work with someone once or twice, and that’s it. The rare students I’ve had where I see them year after year, progressing, perhaps taking a year off for various reasons and then returning, well: it’s a welcome dynamic, to see someone else grow their passion and ability in the sport.

We were out here for fun, but also a paddling skills assessment. This meant we needed the right combination of wind, waves, and current. Democrat Point generally isn’t shy about that.

CC and KW
Ready for Action!

We set out from Oak Beach, paddling here and there to show off various strokes. With the current in our favor, we quickly made our way down to my favorite feature, a recirculating eddy that serves as a bit of a rough-water chairlift.

We played and maneuvered on the eddy line for a bit.

Riding the Line
KW on the Line.
On the line
CC on the Eddy Line.

While boat traffic was relatively light, we were next to a channel for recreational and fishing boats. Guess who else likes to park their boats on moving, shoaling water? A bit of awareness was in order.

Situational Awareness
Awareness.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an assessment without self-rescues! There was a lot of rescuing that day – less for cause, and more for show.

Self Rescue
Self Rescue.
Lending a Hand
On Standby.

After our play, we went out to the point itself, crossing the main boating channel to land at the beach on the far side. After lunch, we took a stroll to the point to assess the water. It was a bit tall and dumpy for surfing, and a bit confused owing to the wind.

Observing the Waves
Waves at the point.

Navigation was part of the assessment – knowing where you are, as well as how to get there.

Navigation
Taking a Bearing.

On the way back, we tried a few presentation rescues – i.e. the casualty stays in their boat while the rescuer presents a boat or paddle for them to right themselves. It’s a rare sight in most of my teach, so it was nice to see it pulled off successfully several times.

Helping Hand
Paddle Presentation.

I’m happy to say both participants displayed their abilities to the level of the tasks. For many people, kayaking, including sea kayaking, is simply touring in benign conditions, with the occasionally inconvenient weather or on-water incident. Being able to navigate, paddle, tow, rescue, and lead in a dynamic environment is a real step up in achievement.

Paddling Awards and Awarding Bodies

If you’ve been paddling for a while, especially with other paddlers, you may have heard about “stars” or “levels”. You may also have heard of the “American Canoe Association” or “British Canoeing”. This document describes what these are.

Awards in general are essentially a way to demonstrate that at some point, you were observed exhibiting all the skills required to qualify for an award. Awards are organized in a spectrum of skills, so there are entry-level awards to demonstrate accomplishment in paddlesport fundamentals, mid-range awards to demonstrate experience and skill, and advanced awards to demonstrate a high performance level. Awards are generally discipline-specific as well, for sea kayaking, whitewater, racing, etc.

Not everyone is interested in an award, but they are a good bit of shorthand when joining a group, guide, or club. To say, “I passed a level 2 skills assessment” or “I have a Three Star paddling award” can be useful for conveying to someone what your experience is. That said, most guides and instructors will still observe you, in case you’re rusty (or lying!), but it at least establishes a baseline expectation of your paddling ability.

Awards and their criteria are defined and managed by paddlesports organizations and their associated awarding bodies. I describe two below; there are others, but I’ve encountered them rarely and know little about them. Generally, you don’t need to be a member to take most courses listed with an organization, but you will need to be a member in order to receive an award.

The American Canoe Association (ACA) has representation around the world but is primarily based in the United States. Membership has an annual cost, with a base membership fee; additional fees apply for instructors and professional or semi-professional athletes participating in sanctioned events. There are a number of benefits to being an ACA member; notably for the NYC metro area, access to the ACA camp at Lake Sebago in Harriman State Park. Only ACA members may use the camp. ACA awards for sea kayaking run levels 1-4; there is a level 5 for some disciplines. You can learn more about the ACA’s awards, known as assessments, here.

British Canoeing (formerly known as the British Canoe Union or BCU; British Canoeing is the current name), also has representation around the world. British Canoeing re-organized their awards scheme, and there is now a free membership option. Most of the membership perks do not apply to members outside the United Kingdom, but there are free and low-cost online resources available to members. While known for the “Star” system, British Canoeing has done away with stars in favor of newly-named personal performance awards. Awards are generally delivered through a member’s “home nation” canoeing association; for non-UK residents this is British Canoeing International.

Which Awards and Awarding Bodies Are Right For Me?

There are only so many ways to paddle a boat. Most of the real differences between the ACA and BC are in how material is organized and presented, and also how they relate to their respective nations’ as governing bodies for competitive sports. The best coaches I have worked with have been qualified in both systems.

Put another way, there isn’t an ACA way to paddle forwards, nor is there a BC way to paddle forwards. Both organizations continually assess and revise their curriculum, and if you ever get to talking with someone who’s been around long enough, you’ll learn that everything old is new again.

Generally, work with whatever system your paddling mates are using, or what’s available to you locally. In the US that generally means joining the ACA and taking advantage of those resources. However, there are small colonies of great BC-trained instructors in New York and New England, so that path isn’t entirely impossible.

Julie (that’s me!) can deliver courses and awards in both the ACA and British Canoeing. I’ll be honest, keeping up to date in both schemes means training takes more time and resources. It’s been worth while.

If you want to know more, drop me a note. Most of the awards classes I have run have been for clubs, but if you’ve taken more than a couple of courses, or have been paddling a while, you’re probably ready for the challenge if you’re interested.

Weekend Class in June

Learning at Lake Sebago.

I (Julie) was hoping to get some events together in April, but unfortunately a drysuit repair is going to take a few weeks, so no on-water activities until May.

That said, I’ve super-excited to say my fourth annual weekend-long kayak touring course at Lake Sebago is set for the weekend of June 22-23. You can register here.

In addition to the course, I’ve rented a cabin for participants to opt-in to stay at Friday and Saturday nights. There’s a refrigerator and stove for preparing meals, and the lake is a great getaway from urban life. I can also provide boats and a limited set of rental equipment.

The course is essentially the American Canoe Association’s “L2” skills curriculuum, covering strokes and rescues. The ACA’s sample syllabus lists the course as being do-able in about a day, leading to a common question I get, almost every year: why is this course a two-day course?

The main reason is that it’s a lot of material to cover, and cramming it all into a day is a bit of a smash-up. I’ve taught the course in a single day, in the past, and it becomes a long day. Students who I continued working with afterwards would remark that they didn’t feel everything stuck, and they spent more time in subsequent sessions honing in on the details.

So, that’s one approach. What I prefer is to dedicate the better part of a weekend, allowing more time for practice, for reflection, and for participants to let their synapses fire on their own. It takes more time and a bit of patience, but pays off in a stronger foundation for the long haul.