In Outdoors

Photo: Instructor Paul Mason showing me the ropes, literally. He was explaining the best way to tie a boat to the roof of a car, using his classic combination of participatory learning and good fun. Photo by Sam Ruben (Instagram: boatbaron).

Having recently completed a Paddle Canada instructor certification course for tandem moving water canoeing with instructor Paul Mason, valuable lessons emerged from the course that extend well beyond paddling. Here are six of those lessons:

1. Paddling is part of society

During the course, it was uncomfortable to reconcile enjoying high water levels while others in the region faced the prospect of having their homes condemned for health and safety reasons due to flooding.

The natural environment that we use for pleasure is being severely and negatively impacted by powerful political and economic forces. As outdoors enthusiasts, we are not disconnected from this reality.

As people who enjoy and benefit from the outdoors, what obligations do we have to the natural world? What responsibilities do we have to directly affected communities?

2. Effective communication is essential

One thing I love about tandem canoeing is it’s a team sport. You can have the best solo skills, but if communication is not strong in a tandem boat in a strong technical rapid, all your solo skills are for naught.

Effective communications are essential not only in the boat, but from the beginning to the end of a trip.

Getting outdoors together can make communications stronger, reveal weaknesses and even harm relationships. Effective communications are a lifelong exercise.

3. Learn from failures (big and small)

We have adopted a culture that shies away from—and even frowns upon—failure, rather than recognizing it as an inherent and creative part of learning.

I performed moderately—at best—for chunks of the course, growing frustrated with myself. What matters is how this frustrations and failures are reflected upon and channeled. Failures can be a productive part of learning that ought to be embraced.

4. Have patience and practice, practice, practice

Moving water canoeing is a pleasure because it allows for endless development and creativity. Developing these skills takes patience, LOTS of practice and an understanding that few things in life that are worthwhile come easily. Patience, practice and more patience.

5. Always be learning

Keep an open mind and be receptive to new ideas from unexpected places. The exciting thing about being new to paddling is that everything is fresh, but the sport is dynamic to the extent that experts and veterans are continually learning.

6. Have serious fun

A friend introduced me to the idea of “serious fun” years ago, and it has stuck with me. I paddle because it’s fun, keeps me healthy and gets my mind and body away from computer screens and working life. It’s also a special activity that my partner and I get to enjoy together.

But it’s also a serious sport, and we can too easily forget that. A young father and his son tragically died early this padding season in the water, and this is not an uncommon story.

I train and take these courses for fun, but also for health and safety.

Thank you to the Paddler Co-op for the classroom space and to Sean, Sam and Bill for making the course happen.

Thoughts on any of these six points? Have a seriously fun paddling season!

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