Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Importance of Choosing the Right Paddling Crew

Written by Kelsey Bracewell, our very own ACA Safety Education & Instruction Coordinator. Kelsey is an ACA Level 4: Whitewater Kayaking instructor who has spent many years paddling and teaching on the rivers of the southeast.

'Ladies on the Lower Gauley' event in Summersville, WV.
Paddling clubs/groups are a great way to get connected to other local paddling enthusiasts, to enhance skills and experience by way of other paddlers or instructors, to form deeper connections with the waterways nearby, and to build friendships that can transcend into other areas of life.

Just like other communities that form around outdoor living and sports, paddling groups are an experience all their own; traditions, habits, superstitions, frequenting favorite local spots, and secret club handshakes become common practice of those “in the know.” It is quite a special honor to be accepted into a close knit group of paddlers, and it can be an immense learning and growth experience once dialed in to the knowledge and skills that are exchanged in active paddling groups.

Especially for paddlers who recreate in high intensity venues such as the ocean surf zone, open coastal environments, whitewater rivers, and remote wilderness locations, building and maintaining trust between paddling group members is crucial. In the case of an emergency or extreme situation, the trust and skills of each group member often are put to the test.

Kelsey paddling on the Potomac River, VA with other ACA Instructors Mike Aronoff, Davia Wilson, & Stefan Greene.
Here is a brief T-R-U-S-T acronym representation of things to remember when choosing your TRUSTed paddling crew:

Time: How long have you known and interacted with the members of this group of paddlers? Before entering into a high intensity trip, it is important to have a solid foundation built between group members – and quality relationships take time to establish. Make sure that you are comfortable with each person in the group and have an understanding of how they perform under stress.

Respect: Nothing has more potential to ruin a trip than interpersonal conflict. Even if particular group members have disagreements or “don’t like one another,” it is important to have a mutual shared respect for the talents and contributions of each member of the trip team.

Understanding: The members of ‘inner circle’ clubs often spend enough time together that they begin to understand the way each other think, and the motivations that lead to certain actions. For example, in the case of paddling a challenging whitewater rapid, tight-knit paddling crews have an understanding of each team members’ comfort levels, general paddling style, and have some degree of insight into the types of decisions and routes that other members are likely to take. In the case where communication is difficult but effective performance is required, it is important to have an understanding of the inclinations and preferences of each group member.

Kelsey enjoys leading the ACA Office Staff on paddles down our local Rappahannock River. 
Skills: Before embarking on a challenging or high-risk paddling trip, it is essential to vet the skills and experience of each participating member of the crew. An inexperienced group member may hold the group back from fully enjoying the complexities of the chosen paddling environment, but may also be in need of rescue or assistance that can create an emergency situation. For the chosen venue, be sure that all group members are personally prepared to successfully navigate the conditions.

Turns: Just as in any other life situation, sometimes changes must be made. Often times, to achieve a desirable goal, a 180 degree turn must be initiated. If a particular group member is causing excessive disruptions, if an upcoming trip does not look or feel well organized and safe, or any of the above trust components are not present, it might be time to reevaluate your participation in this crew and/or this particular trip. Confrontation or making hard choices is a very challenging aspect of group membership, but it may make the difference between a successful trip and a misadventure.

Mistakes happen, and near-misses create learning opportunities – the key is to learn from those mistakes and continue to incorporate the lessons learned into your paddling endeavors moving forward. If possible, learn from the mistakes of others in your paddling crew; TRUST each other and continue to build each other up in terms of knowledge, skills, experience, and fun paddling memories.

Quick tip: Not sure where to find other folks to paddle with? Check out our Paddle America Club search function on the ACA website!

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