November 2008

At the end of each paddling season, many of us in the CPA like to look back on the trips that were offered and led. It gives us a warm fuzzy feeling, but also it gives us a chance to ponder on what worked well and what did not; what was accepted with raised paddles and hearty cheers and what resulted in a slow walk down the plank. It is a great thing to know that the members of the club in general enjoyed an event. Trip leaders and Steering Committee members are always trying to pick out these successes and keep trying to make them happen again and again. A beautiful example of a success is SK102. It has been widely accepted as a successful event, and has been recreated 10 times (or more). But of course, with the successful trips, come those that very few people are interested in, or are logistically too difficult to repeat often. And then there are the trips that have not yet happened, but that club members are eager to participate in.

So how do we, as trip leaders, figure out what works well and what is being called for to yet happen? Well, it is not always easy. Sometimes it is obvious to see that an idea for an event was successful by the fact that there were more people interested in attending than there was space. Then we know to plan more events like that. But more often than not, the idea of an event is the result of a long period of time where people say, ‘Hey we should do this, or that!’, and waiting for someone to take the lead. Here is a secret: it takes more than just the idea that an event should be offered by the club to make it happen. It takes eager volunteers to make events happen: volunteers to help plant the seed of an idea; volunteers to help coordinate a time, place, and resources for an event; and volunteers to lead the event on the water.

So that is why I am looking back on the trips of 2008. Traditionally paddlers love to think about what they will do over the next paddling season while they are forced to sit inside reading old Sea Kayaker magazines for the winter. Now is the time to plant the seed of events to come that will germinate over the winter, and hopefully blossom into those eager volunteers who want to coordinate or lead a really cool event next season. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate all the volunteers who lead trips for the club, or who coordinate events, or who offer the ideas that eventually turn into events. It is the volunteership (if that is a word) that is the backbone of the CPA, and what makes things happen. The volunteers make the club what it is, and make paddlesports fun for everyone who participate. So don’t let my review of trips past get you too excited so that you want to jump and yell ‘I want to make a new trip happen!’ Calm yourselves. Think about the trips you have been on and those you really liked, then come to one of the two Trip Planning meeting in January and February of 2009, then jump up on the furniture and yell ‘I want to make a new trip happen! Who will help me?’ Who knows, just one person’s idea of a fun thing to do, could end up as a successful, repeatable CPA fun event. Have any of you been to SK102, or SK101, or an Eastern Neck paddle, or a Kent Island Circumnavigation, or an Elk Neck weekend?

In review, 2008:

The CPA Events Calendar holds bookmarks for everything from reminders that Fountain Regional Park is opening or closing, to swim supports that the club is officially or unofficially helping with, to major paddlesports events being offered by other clubs or organizations, to great events designed and lead by CPA volunteers. Of course, this review would like to focus mostly on the last category. Now, I should mention that the Events Calendar is only a sampling of the trips that occur because of the CPA during the year. Many people offer CPA trips on the Forums. There are many unofficial ‘Peer’ paddles during the year that are advertised via the forums or email. And there are many paddles between members of the CPA which are purely friendship paddles that never reach the general public. As for the publicized Events Calendar; the offerings are grouped into trip types for ‘All’, ‘First Timer(i.e. never done a wet exist or paddle-float re-entry)’, ‘Beginner’, ‘Advanced Beginner’, and ‘Intermediate’. Here is a visual breakdown of how the volume of events was spread over these types for all events lead by CPA or not which appeared on the calendar in 2008.

CPA Trips 2008

At first glance, I would say that it looks like a nicely divided pie. There are big pieces representing ‘All’, ‘Beginner’ and ‘Advanced Beginner’, and a small slice representing the extreme of ‘Intermediate’. This is as it should be. But then there is that little tiny slice representing ‘First Timer’. There should be more than 1% each year paddling who are first timers, shouldn’t there be? Or maybe the CPA does not offer them anything!?

Let’s look more at what these pieces represent starting from the top down. What was rated as ‘Intermediate’, and should it have been rated that way? This group consisted of the Kent Island Circumnavigation training paddles, a reference to the Blackburn race in Gloucester, and one of the swim support events. Alright, these are correctly aimed at intermediate paddlers; nothing unusual here.

The ‘Advance Beginner’ group consisted of the early season paddles or season openers where the water was still cold, some of the overnight or weekend paddle trips, the balance of the swim support events, and the day paddles which showed exposure to what the trip leader classified as open water conditions(i.e. potential large waves, swells, and winds). This sounds reasonable also.

Next, let’s look at the ‘Beginner’ group. This group consisted of yet a few more weekend paddle events, and the rest of the day trips of various classifications. Some of these events were deemed by the trip leader to hold some potential challenges to the participants where some prior skills were required(usually wet exists and re-entry skills), and some of the events were considered ‘Quiet Water’ style were requirements were more relaxed. This still sounds right on track.

Now oddly when we look at the ‘First Timer’ group, the only entry was SK102. Something is amiss here.

And finally in the ‘All’ category were all the off-water events the clean-up and work-party events, many of the festival-type events which could draw on-water or off-water participants, and a number of non-CPA events which were probably just lumped in here because rating was not attempted.

Well, I think that we could easily justify almost all the events in each group, and say that we did a good job of presenting lots of choices of events, but I still have some questions with what was there, and what was not there.

Firstly, we had very little training style events other than SK102, and perhaps some last minute events on the Piracy nights. If the CPA is a ‘Steward of Paddle Safety’ as we should be, then providing potential safety knowledge and training to members should be a priority. In the past, we have had a number of ‘Fall-Out-Of-Ur-Boat’ events where we provide help learning wet exists and re-entries. This year we had a Navigation course and a Wilderness First Aid course; both very welcomed and valuable. But I think people in out paddle community would welcome more on-water training style event. Do you think so? So, more training should be offered in the future.

Secondly, it is hard to understand how only one event was offered to paddlers who considered themselves to be ‘new’ or having little previous experience or even just wanting a relaxing paddle in a protected environment, as was reflected with the tiny ‘First Timer’ group. But further investigation shows that there were many ‘Quiet Water’ style paddle events lumped into the ‘Beginner’ group which offered these features. Many thanks to those leading these trips as to all the Piracies which offer opportunities for new paddlers to join. So perhaps the solution here should be to remove the ‘First Timer’ option from the CPA calendar and offer trips to ‘Beginners’ where the requirements and the environment of the trip will be dictated by the volunteer leading the trip. Some trips will be more protected with fewer requirements; others will hold more challenge and more of a need for previous experience.

Trips by Month 2008

Lastly, I wanted to talk briefly about what makes a trip focused towards differing groups of paddlers. Why do some trips say that it is for an ‘Advanced Beginner’ and requires lots of previous experience? Of course it is up to the volunteer trip leader to make this decision and to create this label, but here I would like to mention many of the considerations that go through their minds when they are planning a trip:

  1. Is the water cold? Although we all have differing tolerances to the cold, cold water presents the biggest hazards to paddlers. Cold water can redesign a trip; make it shorter, more cautious or even called off if high winds and waves are combined with cold water. Cold water safety often demands extra protective clothing, group training and rescue practice, all focused on limiting your exposure time to the cold water, if you or some other trip member should find themselves in the water. Notice how in the ‘Tip Levels by Month’ chart above more ‘Advanced Beginner’ trips than ‘Beginner’ trips were lead when the season was just starting in April and May. This was not because the trip was grueling, but because the water was not yet warm enough to rate the risk of cold water exposure as not highly significant.
  2. How long will the paddle be? When was the last time you paddled 2 miles, 5 miles, 10 miles, 20 miles? How long did it take you? Yes, a trip has a schedule. Sometimes it is the time allotted before we need to go home for dinner, sometimes it is the time before the next tide shift, and sometimes it is because we need to get to an overnight camping area before dark. And there is always a distance involved. If you have paddled 5 miles in an hour and a half before, you could probably do 7 in that time if you tried, but you may be really tired afterwards and you may not call it fun. Each trip leader is asking participants to gauge their previous paddling speed over distance to be similar to the other participants so that everyone will finish about the same time and will be having fun.
  3. Can you do a wet exit and a re-entry? Some paddle trips present little risk of capsize, while others provide a very large risk of that happening, or of very serious consequences if it does happen.

First consider these potential times when you could capsize:

  • While getting into your boat while waves are lapping up against the shore.
  • While paddling under low hanging tree branches.
  • While passing a water bottle to your buddy who is just too far away.
  • While balancing in waves generated by that reckless passing power boater.
  • While getting caught on the water during a surprise high wind squall.

What could the risk of that accidental capsize mean to you and your group?

  • Do you know that you could safely get out of your boat if you capsize? Do you wear a spray skirt to complicate the issue?
  • If you fell out of your boat, could you stand up and walk back to shore, or would you have to swim?
  • Could you swim your boat back to shore? Is the shore 100 feet away or 1 mile away? Is the wind or tide carrying you out to sea?
  • Did you fall out of your boat because of a dangerous situation in the first place that would cause more of a hazard now that you are in that water? Are you in the lane of traffic? Drifting out to sea? In fast moving water?

Accidents happen! Can you over come that accident?

  • Accidents will happen on the best planned trip. If someone else comes out of their boat on a trip, can you help them get back in? Without going to shore? In the same environment which made them fall over in the first place(i.e. boat traffic, wind, waves)?
  • Can you get back into your boat by yourself? Can you do it without going to shore? Without help? Do you need extra gear to achieve this?

The best accident is the one prevented!

  • Yes, accidents will happen, but make them few and far between. Practice good safety behavior and behave safely in good practice.
  • If you are unsure about the trip, change the plans or don’t go.
  • If you are pushing your boundaries, take fellow paddlers to help and extra gear to help(i.e. med kit, paddle float, bilge pump, radio, spray skirt).
  • Practice your wet exits and re-entries just like you practice your paddle stroke. If you think you will ever use it where you paddle, try it before you go out.
  • Always wear your PFD when paddling. There is no excuse.

The result of all of these thoughts for your safety and of the rating of each trip is to make the event safe and fun for all the participants. Ultimately each trip is a result of your self-qualification, as well as the decision of the trip leader. The trip leader presents the hazards; the time, distance, weather and temperature which dictate the requirements. The participants judge their previous experiences in comparison to the trip description, and a group is formed. The more cohesive the group, the safer the trip, and ultimately the more fun the event. And as we mentioned way back at the beginning of this article, it is the fun and successful events that our volunteers are looking for out of all the events that happen over the calendar year.

It takes everyone in the club together to make a trip a successful one, a fun one, and hopefully a repeatable one. We need volunteers to come up with the trip ideas, we need the participants to come together as a group and have a safe and fun time, we need trip leaders on the water to keep the group together and lead, we need event coordinators to make events happen. So voice your opinions. Help us come up with ideas. Tell us if the trips do not work, or if they were great! And consider volunteering in a position where you can make more trips happen in 2009!

See you on the water next season!

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