Reflections from the Cockpit
"Group Paddling Creed"

January is typically the time for making resolutions. The new year is beginning and many of us think of ways we can improve and/or change things we may not like in ourselves. After reading thousands of emails (in the last year) from club members and responses to issues on web sites I have compiled a list of what seems to be the biggest complaints from our fellow paddlers during group paddles. The list is not in any particular order. I have included brief details behind the complaints. Many of these issues can be discussed at length and have been in the e-mails I am referencing.

Paddles too slow or too fast – This is usually the greatest challenge of any group. Many guides have stated that trying to keep a group together is like herding cats. The rabbits and the turtles will both get there. The turtles should try to work on improving the efficiency of their stroke while the rabbits need to slow down. Both should choose group paddles that meet their skill level. Perhaps the anticipated pace should be advertised for the group paddle.

Paddler is always late or takes too long to get ready – All too often the group is on the beach, all dressed for immersion and there is still someone in the parking lot that either arrived late or just takes forever to get ready. There are some in the group who want to leave that one or two behind. The one who is late may be rushing and leaves some vital stuff in the car. If you are super efficient you may be on the beach for a half-hour waiting for launch time. Pace yourself with the group and plan to arrive earlier than needed. I once heard "punctuality is the courtesy of kings."

Doesn’t maintain or outfit their equipment - Maintaining your equipment and properly outfitting your equipment is important if you want to paddle in a group. If your equipment fails, the group is now in the position of having to deal with you and your equipment. Without deck lines and proper kayak floatation those trying to help you are put in greater danger. See "Equipment Maintenance" Reflections April 2002 and "Proper Floatation" Reflections July 2002.

Does not like wearing their PFD – I have read too many accounts of paddlers found dead and their PFD was under deck lines. If you think there are others there to help you, think again. One account had a paddler capsize in sight of his partner. The victim disappeared under the water. He was found many hours later, dead. If you blacked out (for whatever reason) your PFD could possibly keep you above water so you do not drown. If you believe your not wearing a PFD will only affect you, you are forgetting those who are left behind: the search and rescue teams, those dealing with your body, those traumatized by the loss, etc. If you paddle it is wise to wear your PFD. See "Using your PFD" Reflections June 2002

Does not dress for immersion – Since exposure is the number one cause of death in sea kayaking nothing else needs to be said.

Always talking during the paddle – I love to socialize as much as the next person. However there are times when I long for the sounds of nature and nothing more. When going on a group paddle you can always paddle off to the side of the group if you want that silence. However, there are some who think that paddling off to the side means you need company and to be included in the group discussion. Be aware that some may want the quiet.

Doesn’t carry recovery equipment or signaling devices – There are some who don’t believe they will need capsize recovery equipment since they are in a group. Some believe they have a roll that will never miss. Even if you don’t use your equipment there may be a time when it can be a help to others. If everyone is self-prepared then there are more resources for the group. In bad weather you may be a group unto yourself.

Cannot do solo recoveries or assisted recoveries – Aside from knowing how to maneuver your kayak I believe it is mandatory that you know how to do solo and assisted recoveries when you go out on the water. Capsizes occur and everyone needs to be an asset to the group rather than a liability. See "Utilizing the Group" Reflections February 2002.

GPS Man(iac) – I love my gear as much as the next paddler or probably a little more. However, I do find it annoying when someone with a new GPS keeps coming over to tell me where we are, how far we have paddled, my paddling pace and my ETA. If you have a new toy, share it sparingly.

Never stays with the group or leaves the group without telling anyone – Many clubs have the paddler who launches with you, eats lunch with you and sometimes is there when you land at the end of the day. They are usually skilled paddlers who choose not to hang with the group. I often wonder why they show to group paddles. Unfortunately there is energy wasted by those who choose to worry about the whereabouts of this paddler. If you show up to a group-paddle it is your responsibility to keep the group informed of where you will be or if you are leaving. When you leave the group you are on your own and the group responsibility to you has ended. See "Leaving the Group" Reflections December 2002 and "Effective Communication" Reflections August 2003.

Always paddles on the edge – During an outing there are some who like to play in the Rock Gardens even though it was not a Rock Garden trip. Others like to play in the surf zone during the paddle even though it was not planned as a surf session. To those who like paddling on the edge keep in mind the group will feel a need to help you if you wipe out and need assistance. Perhaps the group will be in conditions above their skill level when trying to assist you. I am not criticizing the edge paddlers. I am asking you to expand your awareness and think if your actions are best for the circumstance of the group paddle. As a guide I had to curb my preference of paddling around rocks because I knew some less experienced paddler may follow me and not now how to time the surge and end up getting smacked into the rocks. It was a loss of personal paddling freedom but I needed to think of the group.

Doesn’t take classes or practice their skills – Kayaking is a sport with risks. One can minimize those risks with education and practice. You are an asset to the group when you are properly skilled. All skills need to be practiced if you wish to maintain that skill level. See "Education Gap" Reflections April 2004.

Uses the club e-mail as a personal soap box – Club e-mail lists are great. It is a wonderful forum for idea exchange. However, once in a while a member gets carried away and forgets it is a paddling club. If you like to write about personal politics and family matters you should develop your own web site so you can write your own editorials such as these :-).

This is not a complete list but it covers the usual gripes. The basis for these complaints and for the "Group Paddling Creed" is the idea that most of the time "the needs of the group out weigh the needs of the one." When one chooses to paddle in a group there is a loss of certain personal freedoms. The "responsibility to the group" is high on the priority list. The group also feels a responsibility to each member and being prepared to help them in an emergency. Therefore there are certain expectations (by group members) that members of the group follow certain guidelines. Most of the time expectations are not discussed when a group gets together. Since these expectations become apparent by the complaints listed above I thought it might be beneficial to list these expectations in the form of Group Paddling Creed.


Group Paddling Creed

When I choose to paddle in a group I realize I have a certain responsibility to the group. I understand the group members can be on the paddle for different reasons. Some of my personal desires and freedoms may take second place to the needs of the group. I always have the right to paddle alone if I so choose. Therefore, when I paddle with a group I will try to be an asset to that group by abiding to the following principles:

I will paddle with the group
I will be on time and ready to go
My equipment will be properly outfitted and maintained
I will dress properly and wear my PFD
I will carry the recommended recovery & signaling equipment
I can do a solo recovery if I capsize
I can assist others if they capsize
I will work to raise my skills to be an asset to the group
I will practice my skills
I will not put the group in harm’s way
I will communicate with the group if there is a problem or I need to leave
I will respect the quiet time of other paddlers
I will not over-techno others with my new toys


Happy new year from all of us at USK.


Wayne Horodowich


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