Sunday, August 5, 2012

Long-Term Students

Me, Nate, Brian. The Kennebec. Photo: Todd Johnstone-Wright
Last week I spent a couple of days sea kayaking in the Boothbay area with a group of paddlers with at least one thing in common: our teacher, Todd Johnstone-Wright. The easy way to explain it is that we were there for a class, which isn’t quite accurate. But we were there to learn from Todd and from each other.

Mike. The Thread of Life. Photo: Nate Hanson
People are often baffled as to why I'm off taking another kayaking class. They have difficulty understanding that there could possibly be anything more to learn. Most of these people get the concept of lifelong learning, but when it comes to kayaking they haven't scratched the surface- so they assume that there isn't much to learn. If I try to explain that I'm a long-term student among a committed group of like-minded others, I often get that look from people: the slight incredulous grin, like I've just told them I've joined a cult- or that I've clearly crossed the line from nerd to fanatic.

(An example: I look at the photo below and wonder what I'm doing with the paddle, and if maybe my wrist could be straighter- I'm probably just trying to not plow-into Todd).

Todd, Me. The Kennebec. Photo: Nate Hanson
Any further explanation gets a little tricker: there's this organization called the British Canoe Union- the BCU. Todd Johnstone-Wright aspires to be a Level 5 Coach. This is an involved process. Part of the process is to take-on a group of long-term students. Nate and I are among that group. We're a diverse bunch with varied paddling backgrounds. All but Nate and I live in Vermont. Next March, some of us will go to Scotland, to learn from Todd and his teacher, Gordon Brown. Next fall, a couple of students will go to Scotland for Todd's assessment. It is a notoriously difficult assessment. As far as I know, there are still only 2 North American-born Level 5 Coaches: Jen Kleck and John Carmody.

Sherry, us in the background, mouth of the Kennebec. Photo: Todd Johnstone-Wright

We gathered Monday evening at a campground in Boothbay and on Tuesday morning drove over to Fort Popham. This was the first time we had paddled together as a group, although most of us had paddled together on different occasions. Before we launched, we all stated what we hoped to get out of our time there. I felt so burnt-out from work, all I could muster was "I wanna have some fun." After all, we were headed to Popham Beach.

Brian. The Thread of Life. Photo: Nate Hanson
 We did have some fun, but since most of us are teachers, it was interspersed with coaching. I'll admit, once or twice I felt like saying "screw that, just let me catch this wave." Still, I received some good feedback and got some practice coaching in a Level 4 environment (waves, current, rocks) which is important, since most of my students at Old Quarry have been beginners. Todd is quick to point-out that he would take the right beginners into these conditions on their first day out. He's been working with a lot of agile, quick-learning college students, but I agree: the steeper the challenge, the quicker you learn.

Me, Todd. The Thread of Life. Photo: Nate Hanson
We played in the surf and spent the afternoon in the tide race at the mouth of the Kennebec, where the 3-knot current meets incoming swell: very different from the Bagaduce or Sullivan Falls. We could stay out on those waves for a half-hour at a time.

Me. The Thread of Life. Photo: Todd Johnstone-Wright

On Wednesday we launched from East Boothbay and headed-out to the Thread of Life and played among the rocks. We found just enough swell to make it interesting. 

Nate, The Thread of Life. Photo: Todd Johnstone-Wright
So this long-term student thing is pretty cool. It gave me a great excuse to escape work for a couple of days and go paddle in a groovy spot. And there's a sense of kindred spirits among competent paddlers. We all want to progress with our paddling skills and we seem to have a similar sense of what "fun" is. And we learn things from each other.

Mike, The Thread of Life. Photo: Todd Johnstone-Wright
Thanks to Todd Johnstone-Wright and Nate Hanson for the photos. I forgot my camera... which turned-out to be nice in its own way- less to worry about.

Joe, The Thread of Life. Photo: Todd Johnstone-Wright

No comments: