Reflections from the Cockpit
"Go Ahead, Make My Day!"

Just one week ago I was driving home after teaching a "Guiding Essentials" clinic in Montana. I often quote lines from movies to make a point or express a feeling. After the clinic I used a slight variation of a Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry) line and said, "you’ve made my day!" In fact you made my whole weekend and a lot more. I said this because I had an exceptionally good time teaching this class. The drive back to the Seattle area gave me about 9+ hours which I used for reflecting on the class. I have to say I love to teach and I enjoy myself in all of my classes, but I wanted to know what made this class so special.

Was it the fact that it was made up of all women? As a side note, my wife Hadley told me on the phone to "live it up while I could!" I will freely admit that an all-female class has a different energy than an all-male or a mixed class. I have taught all-female classes before in other sports but I don’t think this was the source of special class status. Even though Bob joined us on Sunday the energy remained the same. Maybe because "Bob paddles like a girl." Forgive me Bob, I couldn’t resist this stupid joke. (I know I am in trouble for this one.) As Hadley proof read this, she reminded me that "it is an honor to paddle like a girl." She also said, "you are right again. You are in trouble."

Maybe it was the class location? The drive through Montana to Flathead Lake was gorgeous. The lake was a perfect temperature for getting wet and it was a hot sunny day with not much wind. Almost perfect teaching conditions. However, I have been in other beautiful teaching locations so I reflected further.

I know it wasn’t due to the fact that "Sneaky" found an arrowhead in the water while practicing capsize recoveries. I was not only jealous of her find I was mad that I didn’t see it first. Of course I tried some guilt to get it from her, but she wasn’t biting on that lure, not even a nibble. Sneaky, if you are reading this, it is not too late to give that arrowhead to your instructor who taught you so much and has never found an arrowhead of his own. It would be such a great memory of the class. (Yes, I am shameless)

Perhaps it was because all of the ladies learned and executed the re-enter and roll with a paddle float in about thirty minutes? I was very pleased with a 100% student success rate for that skill. Since I have had that kind of success before I had to look elsewhere.

As I drove and reflected the answer became obvious. It was a combination of two factors. The first factor being the attitude of these eager women. I say eager because they were thirsty for information and extremely willing to try any of the new skills I presented. Let’s face it, a teacher is nothing without a student. One of the greatest joys to a teacher is having eager and willing students. This group was trying all I asked of them with enthusiasm. There were a lot of "I get it" and "Ah ha’s" from their mouths over the weekend. I received an e-mail after the class saying, "I am flying over the water" which is a feeling one gets when they do a gliding turn in the extended paddle position. Obviously one of the skills taught in the class. The looks of happiness and accomplishment were gratifying to see as an instructor.

I find the students who are eager to learn are the ones that consistently strive for self-improvement. These paddlers will be ones that will keep adding to their skills because they want to learn. There is never a time when we know it all. I still love taking classes. I enjoy when I can improve upon a skill or learn a new one. One of the hosts of the clinic is an instructor herself yet she took the class. Susan e-mailed me to say she loved being a student again. As my good friend Rod often says, "the biggest room in my house is the room for improvement."

The second factor that made this weekend such a memorable one is the realization that my work over the last 20+ years of teaching sea kayaking has grown geometrically. When I started teaching sea kayaking there were a lot fewer instructors across the country. Over the years I have seen the collective skill level of paddlers continue to rise. This is a result of all of the hard work done by instructors around the world. Knowing I have had a part of that increase was very rewarding. It is nice to know that you have been a part of a growing movement of quality instruction. It is common to wonder if you have made a difference in your life’s work. This weekend clinic demonstrated to me that my work over the years was effective.

Years ago, when I would go somewhere to teach an instructor development class, it was all too common to be teaching basic skills to the students. It was obvious that these ladies had taken formal instruction before my arrival. In addition there was a similarity of skill technique. This is common when there is a good instructor in a geographic area. These gals had the same teacher and that teacher was sitting in the class with them. I commented to the class about this and thanked Susan for her excellent work. These women had a solid foundation of skills and it was obvious they practiced those skills.

I want to thank Susan & Bob of Silver Moon Kayaking in Kalispell Montana for hosting the clinic. You can tell a lot about a business by how the clients treat the owners. I have to say Susan, Bob and their staff are doing a great job for their local paddling community.

As an instructor I feel my students are a reflection of my work. Therefore I need to thank all of the ladies in the weekend clinic, for making my teaching experience so gratifying by all of your hard work and especially your enthusiasm for learning. You have made me proud. I look forward to paddling with you again.

All of this leads me to say to the paddling community, please never stop learning. Keep taking classes, attending symposia, reading books & magazines, watching instructional videos (subtle advertising hint), practicing your skills and most of all getting out on the water. With respect to paddling education, "a rising tide raises all kayaks."


Wayne Horodowich


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