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Trip Leader Training

Today’s work at the NYKC ranch involved trip leading practice. There were four of us, including our lead coach. We took turns leading a trip out of Pier 40, to about Battery Park City, then across to Jersey City. In each leg we played different roles, with focus on me and the other new girl.

I was up first. We talked about how to decide where to go. Current was flooding north, and we expected a weather system to move in from the south as well. Generally outbound trips go against the current, so as to have an easier time on the way back, especially if something goes wrong. I announced we would head south, probably not farther than Battery.

Our lead coach agreed and asked me to paddle out a bit so he could confer with his colleagues. The way coach and leader training works in these situations is, other participants role-play certain activities and attitudes intended to challenge the leader’s ability to maintain the group. I knew that was what was being planned, and mentally prepared. I’ll call my companions Winken, Blinken, and Nod, with Nod being our lead coach.

We set out. I asked Winken to take lead, and she never did; it wasn’t clear at first if she was meant to be another assistant for me and Blinken and Nod were our clients, and I eventually treated her as a third client. She lagged behind, and I checked in on her, and kept Blinken and Nod from racing off.

Blinken kept racing forward, and I’d have to tell him to hold back. So did Nod, but he was on the opposite side as the other two, intentionally dividing my attention. Then, Winken started keeping up, but drifting out into the main channel of the river. I managed to keep the group together, and we pulled in near Pier 26 for an assessment.

We took turns, starting with me. I talked through what I saw, and what my concerns were, and I got it mostly right. The main criticism I took away was that I came off as a bit bossy – which frankly is criticism I’ve gotten before, and something I mean to improve on. Winken said that while I came across as confident and firm, I also seemed a little nervous, which was true. I was being assessed !

Next, we went across the river, this time with Winken as the trip leader. Now I was in on the conspiracy. Nod asked me to alternately race ahead and lag behind, while he and Blinken flanked and distracted Winken.

This was a little tricky because she put me on point to lead us across the river, aiming for the Hyatt hotel on the Jersey City waterfront. So, I left, I mean, I paddled as quickly as I could, outpacing the team. Eventually, she pulled me back, asking me to hold up for the group – so I did, even allowing them to pass, and then lingering behind. When she caught me out, I pointed to a river tour vessel slowly making U-turns and said I was unsure about it. To be fair, Winken is new to these waters, so she might have actually had the same concerns.

As we approached the opposite side of the river, Nod brought our role-play to a close, and we rafted up in an embayment in front of the Hyatt to talk about how the crossing had gone. One thing that was different for her was that she got more involved in conversations than she needed to be, inhibiting her ability to manage the group. It’s a tough balance, especially when running a trip with people you don’t know – keeping a firm rein on a disparate group of paddlers, while keeping up a friendly patter so everyone is having a good time.

From there, we paddled back pretty easily. By then, the current was turning slack, but was still mildly north. We performed a ferry crossing, aiming for the inward Holland Tunnel blowers from about Pier 26 on the Jersey side. There was some light traffic heading south, but slowly, and we managed to avoid it.

Once back, we said hi to our friends as they finished putting a ramp in, unloaded, and washed up. As a bonus, we’d all been paddling Tiderace boats, which are amazing. I will write about them separately as I get more experience in them.

Published in 2013 Backpaddle


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