Learning the easy way

Three months after dislocating my shoulder while kayaking I signed up for a kayak lesson. Not that I’d forgotten how to paddle, but since I hurt myself because of human error I knew there must be something more I could learn. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to return to kayaking. But I figured if I set the lesson for seven months out from my injury and paid up front, it would give me extra incentive and a goal. I knew I should be ready to learn how to kayak again by then. Little did I know how right I was.

The lesson I signed up for was to serve a two-fold purpose: to work on my own kayaking skills and to work on my teaching skills. Kayaking has progressed (dare I say radically) over the past 30 years, but many teaching styles have not progressed with it. The average whitewater kayak is no longer 12 feet long, and we’ve had some time to observe how teaching methods play out over the years of a paddler’s life. As an instructor for both California Women’s Watersport Collective and California Canoe and Kayak I want to offer my students the most effective method of learning possible. Part of doing that is putting as many tricks in my bag as possible. And I also want to learn from the most effective teachers out there too!

Last year I traveled to Idaho to paddle for fun and along the way I checked out Cascade Rafting and Kayak school on the Payette River. The Long family was the first to teach me how to be a kayak teacher four years ago. I have dabbled in other teaching styles since that initiation but found myself gravitating back to the Long’s style. It just makes the most sense to me and seems the most effective way to build good habits into a kayaker for the long run.  They constantly analyze and debate their techniques, honing them down based on both science and practice. And with three sons who collectively have competed on the US National slalom team, brought home paddling medals from around the world and compete in extreme downriver races on top of running a rafting and kayak school, they must be doing something right.


Chad Long demonstrating techniques in the “Gutter”

If the idea of taking a class in something you already know how to do makes you slightly uncomfortable, then you are the perfect candidate for a lesson. It’s true, a good Westerner will stick by a “can-do” attitude of figuring it out for themselves, but if you can swallow your ego for a moment, you might actually learn something awesome. And save yourself some suffering along the way.

My travel/paddle companion for this year’s trip to Idaho was Shannamar Dewey. We’ve paddled a lot together and find ourselves at pretty similar levels on rivers. When I threw in the idea of her taking the private lesson with me she gave a somewhat tentative, “okay.” Twenty minutes into the class she caught my eyes and mouthed “This is amazing!”


Canyon run of the South Fork Payette (we walked this one)

She had developed as a paddler through the guidance of her husband, a solid class V kayaker, but admittedly not a teacher. I’m sure both of us had dinner plate eyes as we learned new ways to execute old moves and talked about the learning process.

As I moved on to shadow teach with other Cascade instructors over the weekend, Shannamar went back to the “Gutter” – a human-made fish ladder/slalom course perfect for exercising the new skills we learned. We were both super excited to try out our new moves and I was thrilled to watch the learning process of 11 brand new kayakers unfold.


Our next move was to head north to McCall and hop on the South Fork Salmon for a couple days trip downriver.


South Fork Salmon put-in at Secech Creek

Last year I wrote about building confidence leading my boyfriend, Phil down this river. This year it was my turn to usher Shannamar into leading more on a rare trip without her husband. It brought on a satisfying sense of independence to be just two gals on a river for a couple of days. No one else with more experience or stronger paddling skills to fall back on or tell us how to do things. We giggled about our guys being at home and wondered if they were worried about us.


How many guys out there trade shoulder rubs on their overnight kayak trips?


Letting my inner tiger out to play

The trip was amazing. It felt so good to know there is still so much to learn. Getting out of my comfort zone and letting go of my ego were the best things to come back with after this shoulder injury. I don’t have to come back to the same place I was when I got injured. I’ve got a new destination now. There are a lot of new things to practice and I can’t wait to master them and go back for more. When I called Phil  to tell him all the cool things I learned he said, “I can’t wait for you to come home and teach me,” I thought to myself, wow, a veteran class V paddler and instructor wants to learn what I know. There really is no end to the development of a kayaker!


Shannamar at the South fork/Middle fork confluence

Confidence can be found in so many ways: learning a new skill, teaching a skill, leading the way, and doubling back and taking a fresh look at something you thought you knew. To be humbled by how much room you have to grow is to have confidence in knowing that you can grow.

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Put-in, Take-out, go home, repeat.


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