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Fire Island Class

Well buckaroos, I wound up teaching a class out on Fire Island for the Appalachian Mountain Club. The AMC is an extensive organization – the New York/New Jersey chapter alone has 8000 members – that does all kinds of outdoorsy things. The group that runs their cabin out on Fire Island, near Bay Shore, had a notion to offer an introductory kayaking class, and their original instructors had to cancel at the last minute.

A mutual friend connected me with the organizers, and after some back-and-forth I agreed to go out Friday night, meet the students over dinner, teach Saturday, and lead a couple of short trips Sunday. In return I got free room and board – on Fire Island, not a bad deal.

The students were all novice kayakers. Some had a little experience on lakes, or in one case the East River (which is impressive), but not a lot of time in boat. I started with the basics: torso rotation, turning in place, forward stroke, and so on, and by midday most of them were able to paddle around our little embayment in a proper figure-eight path.

In the afternoon, a few opted out to go do other activities – shop in town, relax on the beach, even sailing. It’s hard to compete with sailing – the wind does all the work. However, for those who stayed, we went over bracing and rescues, and then a small number went out to circumnavigate East Fire Island with me.

Throughout the weekend our biggest challenge was a steady westerly wind that kept blowing us across the little bay we had. We’d practice, reset, practice, reset, and so on. I took everyone a little farther out to do the Raft Routine – a couple of tricks I learned from another coach to demonstrate rafting up, and the stability that comes in a rafted group.

Cowgirl Teaching at Fire Island.
Cowgirl Teaching at Fire Island.

I was fortunate to have a really good assistant, a member with some British Canoeing and whitewater experience. Part of the time, I was also assisted by someone who knows the waters well. They were both great to work with, and to have available for helping shepherd the group.

Our trips were short. The wind pushed against us, so we only got about a mile each way. However, we were near proper traffic routes, and crossed in front of a marina, and so talked about how to read buoys and negotiate with traffic.

I got positive feedback overall, and that was all the sweeter for it being a group of complete strangers. If I were to do it again, with a little more notice, I might organize it differently, but overall, this was a great chance to practice group management.

Published in 2013 American Canoe Association Backpaddle British Canoeing Instruction

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