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The Old Men and the Sea

Teaching at the shop, we get all kinds of comers: young, old, couples, singletons, professionals seeking escape from the 9-5 grind, hipsters looking some something even more obscure to do. So, there’s a bit more variety than when I teach in club settings. In the case of this past weekend, I had two students for our level one course. R was 60. P was 78.

Whenever you start a new student, especially beginners, it’s a good idea to get their goals. R was simple: self-taught, he wanted to learn proper technique. P was a little hard to believe: he was going on a weeks-long trip to Alaska in two weeks, which inlcuded a four-day kayak camping component.

“Have you ever paddled before? Kayak? Paddleboard, canoe, even surfing?”


Oh boy.

So from an instruction perspective, these two presented a couple of challenges. Both were new, and on the bigger side. P was so tall I put him in our widest boat, a Necky Eskia, which while stable also tends to track very, very well – meaning I had to teach him how to stop early on. R was not as big, but on the tall side. I took a chance and put him in a Chatham 17, my go-to fits-everyone boat. However, his experience was with wider, more stable boats, so while he fit the boat, he was not confident in it. This limited his torso rotation.

We managed to step through the class. I was a little nervous because a well-credentialed BCU coach was visiting on holiday and sat in on the class. He was very nice, not interfering at all, occasionally paddling off on his own, and he gave me great feedback at the end. Still, I was a little nervous at first, even though I wasn’t being formally evaluated!

Since it was high tide when we started, I had us on the south edge, but the light wind from the north proved more of a factor so I moved us to where Pier 40 blocked most of it. Highlights, from my perspective, were that I had more activity and less of me talking – and at that, I probably still talked too much. However, using my assistants, in short order I had them paddling around the embayment in circles, then lanes, and then figure eights. I felt like I got the hang of demonstrating and then sending them out while I evaluated them, and then gave them individual and collective feedback.

P had a habit of leaning back all the time. Even when I got him to understand the value of sitting upright, I’d have to remind him. R understood things a bit better, but was nervous about capsizing. He also had shades and a mustache that made him hard to read. He was actually friendly and open to instruction when I talked to him, but at first he looked like an impassive drill sergeant!

Near the end, we took a little jaunt out around the Holland Tunnel blower towards Pier 26. The students got a taste of the river. R was willing to do a wet exit, which is optional at this level. We went back, and he capsized and I rescued him. Then we went in and called it a day.

The nice part: I got a tip, which I split evenly with my assistants. Also, one of them opted for a private lesson with me specifically. That was gratifying.

Published in 2014 Backpaddle New York New York City NYKC


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