Friday, May 27, 2016

ACA Rafting Program in Oregon

By J.R. Weir, Owner & ACA Instructor Trainer at Sundance Kayak School

When the first brave river men and women began exploring wild rivers in inflatable boats, the art of river running was still in its infancy. Inspired by the prospect of adventure and rare splendor to be discovered in remote river canyons, these adventurous souls ventured into the unknown, determined to immerse themselves in true wilderness adventure. These early whitewater rafters learned through trial and error, testing theories and learning valuable lessons which they shared and developed, passing skills down to new generations of river runners. Today, rafting is an art form and to watch a true expert maneuver their craft in whitewater is a thing of beauty. 

Sundance Kayak School has been training whitewater enthusiasts and professionals for over 40 years on the Rogue River. As a center for learning and paddlesport development, we have decades of experience and expertise in training river runners and guides. Our mission is to get people paddling so that they can experience the natural rhythm of river life, and to empower them to continue boating for themselves.

This year we set out to create a rafting school for professional rafters, cut from the same mould as our legendary kayak instructor courses. More than just a guide school for rafters, this course is designed to cultivate rafting teachers. Where many raft guides are highly skilled as whitewater tour guides, these rafting instructors will not only be able to get people safely down the river, but also teach them the skills to do it themselves and become self-sufficient river runners.

In mid-April, Sundance Kayak School teamed up with Mather Rescue to produce the first ever American Canoe Association (ACA) Level 4 Raft Instructor Certification Workshop on the legendary Rogue River in Oregon. 

The 5-day course began with an intensive 3-day development workshop, where the instructor candidates worked to hone their personal technique and teaching ability. The course culminated in a 2-day, simulated rafting class, designed and conducted by the ACA instructor candidates. 

Among the participants were raft guide school instructors, college outdoor program facilitators, professional river guides, and wilderness educators, all professionals, with a staggering amount of combined experience and expertise. One of the most informative aspects of the course is the knowledge that is shared among the participants – each person demonstrating their own unique style of teaching and boatmanship. 

Each day on the water, we practiced a diverse skill set and a wide array of necessary talents that is the art of raft guiding. We explored the science of river currents and hydrology, paddle and oar techniques, leadership, planning and decision making, boat captain responsibilities, and vital knowledge in a myriad of areas including rescue, safety, and equipment. We worked hard and had a ton of fun, and each day we made sure to stop at the “mole hole” - our favorite surf spot. All the while surrounded by the breathtaking scenery, wildlife and whitewater of the legendary Wild and Scenic Rogue River.

Off of the water, we discussed coaching theory and methods for giving great presentations. We set up rope systems, rescue scenarios, and explored topics ranging from warm-up exercises to raft rigging technique, to strategy for escaping dangerous river hydraulics. As we floated into the takeout on the last day, I was excited to see these professional instructors graduate and begin a new chapter as ACA certified raft instructors, but I couldn’t help but wish that we had more time to surf and laugh and share ideas. In the end, everyone passed with flying colors. Congratulations to 7 new ACA certified raft instructors!

Check out the ACA website schedule of classes to find a Raft Instructor course near you! This class is great for river professionals such as outfitters, trainers, guides, instructors and coaches, but also for river parents and anyone who enjoys teaching others how to row boats, or likes to let their fellow boatman "take the oars" once in awhile. The Raft ICW will grow your personal rowing expertise, but more importantly, it will help you be a better coach on the water. It is also a great way to document your expertise. The ACA certification represents the golden standard in paddlesports for instructional excellence, professionalism, and safety.

*Photos courtesy of Mike Mather, Nate Wilson, and Sundance Kayak School
**Special thanks to SOTAR inflatables and Sawyer Oars for their support of paddlesports safety and instruction

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