USK Course of Action Scenario Response(s)
February 2006
"Planned Day Trip"

You and your friends have planned today's day trip for a month. The weather is beautiful but the surf is huge. Some of the group members are scared but not saying anything. You know some of the group members have never dealt with surf before. What is your course of action?

Considerations and actions by Wayne Horodowich:

Givens from the scenario being presented:

You are with your friends
The trip has been planned for a month
There is a reason this site was picked
The surf is huge
Some of the group is scared but not admitting it
You know some have never dealt with surf

Considerations for each given:

You are with friends:

We usually know more about friends and their skills
Sometimes we give our friends more credit than they have earned
Sometimes we will not admit certain things to friends
We may put ourselves in harms way just to be part of the group
There is a greater chance to act emotionally than logically

The trip has been planned for a month

Pressure to go paddling since it was planned for a month
Did the group discuss why each one was going on this trip (expectations)?

There is a reason this launching site was picked

Why was this site picked?
Surf is probably not common at this site or else we have poor planning
Surf not anticipated if some have never surfed before
Those who do not surf will not usually put themselves into surf conditions
What is the paddling destination?
Can an alternative (non-surf) site be found to meet the original plan?

The surf is huge

Those who do surf may want to stay and play
The surfers may try to encourage the non-surfers to try it
Huge surf is no place for your first experience
Huge surf can injure people and damage equipment
It is not even a place to practice near shore
Surf training needs to occur in mild conditions

Some of the group is scared but not admitting it

This is a good time to pay attention to body language
This is supposed to be a fun day, not a dangerous one

You know some have never dealt with surf

We have a group with mixed skill levels for surf conditions
Surf virgins are not in a position to evaluate the risk levels

General considerations not mentioned:

There is no designated leader
Everyone is a leader and everyone is a follower
Be careful of the "stick to the plan" attitude (be flexible)

My general principles when taking actions as a group member:

Have the group goals/expectations articulated before the trip
Identify the group’s highest and lowest skill level (group skill inventory)
Offer actions/alternatives that fit the group’s goals/expectations & skills
Be sure all group members understand and vote on the plan
Fell confident the group has the skills to execute the plan
Feel confident our equipment allows us to execute the plan
The plan does not create likely injuries or unreasonable risks
All good plans should have alternatives (in advance)

Courses of Action for the planned day trip scenario:

You are with a group of friends but there is no designated leader. You end up at a launching location, with a group, with a month’s worth of anticipation built up for a fun trip. The conditions however, will not allow for a fun trip for all. In fact you have conditions that can cause severe consequences. The conditions are too unforgiving for training purposes.

Possible surf challenges should have been known when the site was selected. The group should have alternatives in case of huge surf or other challenges. As a group member I would bring the non-spoken topic out into the open without mentioning names. I would say, "I don’t know about you but that surf seems too big for my liking. I was looking forward to a mellow day on the water. This huge surf means we should consider one of our alternative plans."

Increased chances for injuries and incidents occur when paddlers try to force the plan or the itinerary. Plans are necessary for good planning but remember all plans need to be dynamic because humans and the environment are dynamic.
The group can choose to stay together and make a new plan with an easier launching area. The group can choose to split and the surfers stay and surf and the others decide what they want to do. The group can decide to sit and have a picnic and watch the waves. The possibilities are endless.

Any thought of surf training should be dismissed. After teaching hundreds of paddlers in all types of surf conditions I can say without reservation that surf training should be done by experienced instructors in controlled conditions. Huge surf is not a training ground.
There are times we will go along with our friends to be part of the group even if it means we get in over our heads. That is why someone needs to speak up addressing the group skill level. In surf conditions, plans need to be considered that will address the lowest skill level.

A lot of groups get into trouble when goals and expectations are not clear. It is not common for a group to set these in advance but it should be. This can be done in the advertising of the trip. We are going to this location for this reason. If conditions are not favorable we will choose alternative A, B, C, etc. If the trip is not formally advertised but is word of mouth among friends, the instigators of the trip need to get some goal clarification out to the group. Since the above trip was planned for a month there was plenty of time to discuss this in advance.

Suggested response to avoid the situation:

If the group knew that surf was going to be a possibility then the non-surfers could have bowed out of the trip or would have had a chance to raise the question of alternatives prior to getting to the beach. Therefore, part of the trip planning should be investigating possible conditions at launching and landing sites. Part of the planning should also include the skills needed to do the planned trip and the alternative plans. Your goal is to have the group skills match the plan.

Lessons learned:

Clearly state goals for a trip so each paddler knows what the expectations are of the group
Have alternative plans in case conditions do not meet expectations
Don’t be afraid to say you are uncomfortable with the conditions
Don’t follow into dangerous conditions just to be part of the group
Speak up for others if they don’t speak up for themselves because you will regret it later

Responses from our readers:

Gary from California writes:

Under the presumption that I have been drafted as leader of this proposed trip, my sensible course of action for the scenario as given is obvious: abort. The clues in the scenario are clear. The surf is not just large, it's huge. Some of the group members have never been in surf before.  As a responsible leader must respect the group members and craft a trip's demands to the abilities and comfort level of the group's weakest member. They're scared but not saying anything. That speaks volumes. If they're scared before launching, the prospect of landing through this surf will be terrifying. Attempting this trip under these conditions is a recipe for disaster, or at least misery. Actually if the surf truly is "huge," I have no burning desire to risk breaking my boat or myself on what was intended to be a pleasant day paddle. 

Any planned paddle should also include a "Plan B" for just such a time as this. If no one has planned ahead, it's time to think on your feet and pick a more sheltered location so everyone can enjoy a pleasant day paddle. Just because a trip has been planned for a month, or a year for that matter, no one should be pressured into a decision that could get people hurt. It's a big ocean with lots a paddling places to choose from. Find one where everyone can enjoy themselves and the fine day.  


Mike Heller from New York writes:

I live in Marlboro, NY, a small farming town on the west bank of the Hudson River.

The scenarios are great, and have the potential of improving the safety of the sport. They cause people to focus on possible solutions before trouble hits. They can then mentally rehearse how they would react. Then, if they actually get into a similar situation they will have an idea how to react.

A perfect example is last month's scenario. Before I read the "school solution, " I would have hesitated to push someone away with my paddle. Now I realize that having 2 people in the water isn't going to help anyone. Reminds me of my old lifeguard days. If you get grabbed trying to help a tired swimmer, go under water and the victim will let go. Pushing someone away with your paddle is the same principle. My main point is that these scenarios get lots of folks thinking (and maybe planning) ahead.

Here are my thoughts for this months scenario:

Suggest to split the group, offering to lead an alternative trip on an inland waterway or a sheltered cove or the like. Even if I am confident I can handle the rough conditions, I don't have to act like it. I can suggest the alternative and lead it even if I would personally prefer the surf. 

If the less experienced kayakers "suck it up" and go in spite of their fears, they won't enjoy it and may just get turned off on the sport. Those of us who love kayaking have to do everything we can to keep that from happening, letting people gradually get into the sport as their competence builds. Even worse, they could end up in trouble, and that's hardly going to be fun for anyone. The old "better safe than sorry" adage applies here.

The scenario might have been prevented by better advertising the trip in advance. Rough waves are a possibility whenever going out on the ocean. Publicity should always warn of the risks and list the level of experience sought.


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