It has been an incredible challenge as of late to sit down and actually do some reflecting and writing for myself or for the website. I have been so caught up in the hustle and bustle of running a fledgling business that there has simply been no time to do so; not that I have had a shortage of topics to write about, I just simply do not have the time. This in no way is me giving an excuse for not updating my site or failing to keep the readers of this site engaged. On the contrary: this article falls on this topic specifically and therefore has become my introduction. Do you like how I did that? But here I find myself with an hour or so, where I actually have the opportunity to start writing on a topic which came up much earlier this year between a student and I. So once again, here we go.
It is important that with any growth we experience, that we have some sort of period with reflection on new benchmarks and milestones. My period of reflection usually comes in the fall, but I have been making a point of doing this more often now as there is so much going on, and without frequent checkups it is hard to keep it all straight. A checkup can be pretty simple, it is kind of like an annual doctors visit without the awkwardness. But much like that doctors visit there are some key things we need to keep in check. This is different for everyone and by no means will I suggest what you should check up on, but merely I suggest that you can do so with your own paddling progress. This suggestion I think is more important to those that are still experiencing rapid growth and fluctuations in the consistency of their paddling comparatively to those that have reached the upper eschalon of their paddling skill. This is also a great way to look back on a crazy year and make any sense of it.
As a teacher, everytime I meet with the student the most important thing to me is to manage the students expectations. My responsibility simply does not start and end with teaching a skill, but instead I am helping to guide a student through the journey they are about to embark on. But my goal is not to lead them; I am simply a tool, a compass that can be utilized to help them guide themselves. They have to make their own decisions if they are truly to feel good about them and stick with it. I will encourage them when they need the extra push and I know they are capable, and I discourage if I feel they are actually going to put themselves in real danger. A good paddling buddy should do the same thing.
I have used goal setting exercises for folks before and after they work with me in lessons. I used to just ask the questions and remember them myself, but I find it is a benefit for folks to put this down in writing and revisit when needed. This is not really a way for me to say how they need to get better; instead, I put the ownership on them. I always do this, as ultimately, I want them to be self sufficient and take ownership of their progress and decisions. I ask a list of questions which essentially allow me to gauge their expectations, many of these questions will give me an idea of their prior experiences and the quality, what they feel they need to work on and what some of their goals are with their paddling. There are common themes that crop up quite a bit, such as making the roll better, better boat control and the ability to read whitewater better. But I look for the the student to get even more specific than that. I want them to cite particular instances of strengths and weaknesses in those categories and we move along from there. (Self-awareness)
The next step is instruction based upon their expectations and lists of strengths and weaknesses. I look to work on their (stated) weaknesses and test their (stated) strengths. At the conclusion of the instruction experience, we review their expectations, strengths and weaknesses and see where they gauge themselves based not only on quantitative results but qualitative as well. This is a crucial point as this will now map out how the student will proceed with paddling with their own expectations. (Self-realization)
*It is important to note here, that for the sake of the mental state, it is important for the person who is being taught or coached, that they save time for “expectationless paddling,” meaning they aren’t expecting themselves to paddle at a performance level, but instead paddle for leisure on water they are at ease with. Trying to constantly perform and meet expectations without constant success can be deflating.
The final stage, and by no means does this process ever end, will be a state of self-reflection. Looking back and tracking your progress is probably the single most important step, even if at the outset you didn’t even set any goals. A good friend and student, Wendy Krause, shared her 2011 reflection. Wendy, not only identified what her goals were, but also cited particular challenges she consistently faced and how she overcame those challenges through self-realization and also what she identified as catalysts. People or conditions that are catalysts for progress are also imperative to identify. It is important to note however, that these catalysts can adapt and morph as you and others progress, so keep updating and identifying what is a catalyst to you. Check out Wendy’s “Reflections on My Pivotal Paddling Year,” below.
Last year was a pivotal year in my kayaking–a transition year. For a couple seasons I had lacked the confidence to work on my skills to push myself to the next level, but this was the year I finally broke out from my Class 2+ rut. While I have had plenty of paddling challenges (took me years to learn to roll consistently), I have been extremely fortunate to have the right people come into to my kayaking world at exactly the right moment. Last year those people were Chris Wing (Instructor, H2O Dreams) and Amy Rae Fox (paddling buddy extraordinaire).
Amy and I met the previous year and bonded on a Russell Fork trip that fall (we considered naming/renaming the hole on the bottom right side of Twenty Stitches Four Ladies Swimming, but that is another story). We became fast friends, have complementary strengths and weaknesses on the water, were at a similar point in our paddling abilities, and had a shared goal of wanting to push to the next level. While I have a number of great paddling friends, until Amy I had never had that go-to person, which was critical to my/our successes last year. We paddled together, supported one another, and were one another’s cheerleaders and reality checks. Without Amy, I wouldn’t have run the Comp Channel last fall; I wouldn’t have pushed myself as hard; and most importantly, I wouldn’t have paddled as much as I did. Having a supportive paddling buddy with similar goals and complementary skills is absolutely invaluable.
Having the right instructor at the right moment is also absolutely invaluable. I have been fortunate to have had a number of excellent, world class instructors/coaches in both skiing and kayaking. No matter how good a instructor or coach is (or is supposed to be), if you and he/she don’t click, he/she is not the right instructor for you. Chris and I clicked. He pushed me when I needed it; he was cerebral when I needed it; he was able to “read” me and respond. And he helped me begin tame my lizard brain–the part of my brain that says, “no, you don’t really want to go in that hole; no, you don’t really want to side surf,” and the like.
The first lesson I had with Chris was joint with Amy early last spring. He had us do all the normal things in a lesson with people of our abilities–ferry, boof waves and holes, S turns, rolling in current, etc. And all of that was great, but what he was really doing was boosting our confidence, getting us comfortable on the squirrelly water, and helping us trust the skills we already had so we could continue to build upon them.
After a crazy two weeks of being swamped at work I returned to the USNWC and had my second lesson with Chris. He asked me what I wanted to work on and I replied that I hadn’t thought about it that I’d been swamped and just wanted to get on the water. He put me through my paces, helped me quickly recover mentally when I swam in one of the first eddies, had me work on boat control and thinking about precision strokes, and then towards the end of our time he asked if I would like to run all the way down to the bottom pond. I quickly said yes and swallowed my nerves. I had a goal for the spring of reaching the bottom pond while still in my boat (my very first USNWC experience the year before was not especially good and I never did make it to the bottom in my boat). The only person I had mentioned this goal to was Amy, but Chris had perfect timing. I flipped and rolled up at Trashy Sunset and again below M Wave, but for me the run was perfect!
The final lesson I had with Chris last year was in the middle of summer. Before the lesson I emailed Chris saying I would like to spend some time in holes and maybe do some side surfing. I emailed ahead to combat my lizard brain, which I am sure would have said, “no, you don’t really want to tell him THAT.” As it was I was quite nervous and regretting the email when I met up with Chris. He immediately put both me and my lizard brain at ease and I was able to get in some holes and voluntarily side surf. And while my first thought continued to be how to do I get out of here or off this thing, I wasn’t terrified and my stomach didn’t do flips as soon as I felt me boat start to turn sideways. Again, another great lesson with the right person at the right time. With that said, the most important take-away message from that day was Chris reminding me how far I had come since our first lesson only 2.5 months before. I tend to be hard on myself and that was the perfect thing for me to hear. It helped sustain me through the upcoming ups and downs of my paddling–I had come a long way in a short time.
And for all of that I thank you both.
April 9th Second, third, and fourth combats rolls–EVER
May 1st First lesson with Chris Wing and Amy Rae Fox
May 15th Second lesson with Chris Wing; first full run of the Wilderness Chanel at the USNWC (reached the bottom pond IN MY BOAT)
May 21st Came in second in the Boater Chick Beginner Playboating Clinic/Competition
July 6th 100th day of whitewater paddling (lifetime); Personal first descent of Section 3.5 of the Chattooga
July 7th First full run of the Middle Ocoeee
July 17th Third lesson with Chris Wing (holes and side surfing)
July 22nd First time rolling up while stuck in a hole (Ocoee); thank you Chris!
July 23rd First time being run over by a raft while stuck in a hole (Ocoee)
August 6th First time surf kayaking (Carolina Beach); super fun!
Sept. 4th First time helping with a boat unpinning (had to use a person on double belay)
October 9th First time leading a first timer down the Ocoee
October 16th First time running the Comp Chanel at the USNWC (dry hair on the second run)
Nov. 27th First time walking off a river (a very good and empowering experience)
Dec. 27th First time paddling HUGE water (ca. 35,000 cfs in Ecuador!)
What’s awesome to see about how Wendy reflected was she pointed out particular milestones in her paddling as well as what actually helped her achieve those milestones. There are many ways to track your progress and in this instance her reflection is similar to what a journal entry may be. Her reflection was more of a qualitative assessment. For those seeking out precise goals, your assessments become much more quantitative, tracking specific results. In order to track specific results you must have specific plans and measures in place to do so. This is no longer tracking simple growth but diving into a much more regimented training program… but we will save that topic for another day.