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Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced Kayaker
Which one of the above titles best describes you as a paddler? As the summer comes into full swing I have had the pleasure of teaching many new and what I would call advanced beginners. I have created a fairly simple definition of what I would call a “Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced paddler”. Sometimes there is not a clear delineation of when you have crossed from one level to the next. These simple definitions are just one way I use to determine the level of skill my students have at the beginning and ending of classes.
As we begin our kayak journey most people paddle with friends, paddle clubs or with paddler’s willing to take the “new guy” down the river. There is sometimes a transfer of knowledge from the more experienced paddler in the group of certain skills. Other times the “new guy” is just a shuttle ride.
Often times I have found that many people will rate themselves much higher than their skill level based on perceived skills, ego, or exposure to different rivers and their perceived level of difficulty. Those people who have paddled a wide variety of rivers at different flows understand how the level of difficulty will change.
So check out the definitions below and take the self test on the link below provided by the Keel Hauler Canoe Club .
Does not own their own kayak or gear, borrows or rents gear; owns their own boat and gear, but it is a recreational kayak without a skirt. Owns their own whitewater kayak, or touring kayak, less than 2 years of ownership and or less than 30 days of use per season. KHCC Score of 20 or less.
Owns their own boats and gear, fully outfitted with float bags and spray skirt. Has additional outerwear, to include a dry top, and a cold water layering system. Can describe the different types of kayaks and to include some types of ww canoes. Has customized their kayak to their personal requirements with foam and neoprene. Has started to stop asking the question “ can I paddle this” to their peers. KHCC Score of 20-30.
Owns their own boats and gear, fully outfitted with float bags and spray skirt. Has additional outerwear, to include a multiple or single piece drysuit, adequate cold water layering system, to include head wear, and hand wear. Paddles frequently on new rivers, and or locations. Has repaired common problems with kayaks, oil canning, cracks, and dents. Has stopped asking “ can I paddle this?” KHCC Score of 30+.
So now that you know your score, how do we progress from here? Progression in the sport is different for everyone, some new kayakers progress much faster than others. This can be attributed to many things, such as previous exposure, how quickly the student learns to roll, and kinesthetic awareness.
When I look at progression I identify three separate paths. Natural Progression, Select Progression and Forced Peer Progression.
Natural Progression-Allowing your skills to develop at the same rate as you are willing to take risk. For instance, I am comfortable being upside down in the water, and now I will begin to roll.
Select Progression-Knowing you will need new skills based on your long term goals and you begin to tackle them as soon as possible. For instance, I just learned to wet exit but I will eventually need to roll, so let’s start that process now with hip snaps, and T-Rescues.
Forced Peer Progression-Knowing you don’t have the skills to paddle harder or more technical rivers but relying on friends, ego, and or luck to get you through the day. For instance, I can roll and pick most of my lines, but Joe is going to run the Upper Gauley, and I want to paddle it eventually; so I might as well go now.
Of the three types of progress defined above most paddlers use a combination of the three during their paddling career. I do not believe that any one is better than another, but for new boaters we tend to focus most of our time in the Natural Progression and Select Progression arena.
So as we bounce around between the different types we need to stay safe, as we meet new challenges on the water. This is where paddling with Friends on some runs is great, and paddling with Teammates on others is more important. What’s the difference and why should we care?
Jeff West a great kayaker and kayak instructor came up with the Ladder of Success to describe this difference. Friends are great to paddle with when the river is generally a low risk run (think Class I-III+). Paddling with Teammates mitigates the risk, because everyone understands the risks, and has taken additional classes or training to mitigate the risks/ dangers that are bound to show on different runs (think Class IV-V+).
Bridging the gap.
So if you want to paddle new rivers, lead your friends down different runs, and experience a high level of success and fun, then you need to bridge the gap. This can be accomplished in several ways.
First you need to identify your paddling skills without ego and define your paddling goals. Second, you need to increase your knowledge and skill base on paddling different types of water, like High Volume Rivers, High Volume Creeks, Low Volume Creeks, etc., and River Rescue. Lastly you need to identify your team, this can be challenging. Your teammates need to have similar goals as you when it comes to new rivers. They need to have a large quiver of skills including but not limited to: river rescue, CPR/First Aid, map and compass, boat repair, and many more.
Now that you have a direction to point your compass, sign up for a full or half day kayaking clinic. Or pick a new river and lead the group down the run, boat scouting and offering beta to the rest of the crew.