Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Chasing Stars

For the last year, TM and I have discussed the value of working up through the BCU star system. TM was uncertain at first. Then he figured if he could pass the 3 star evaluation and the 4 star evaluation in one year, it would be OK. Then he'd be in great position to go through the 5 star training the following year. At the very least the training would be a worthwhile experience.
I, on the other hand, dismissed the whole thing. The value of the training is limited by the fact that I wouldn't be allowed to use my paddle of choice. I'd heard the BCU training is exclusively for Euro blades and I'm a stick monkey. I was not about to give up my stick for a patch and a pat on the back.
So, TM took the 3 star training and evaluation. TM has 10-plus years experience in a kayak and is as strong a paddler as any of the 4 star paddlers I see on a regular basis. He failed the evaluation because he didn't look perfect performing maneuvers in flat water. He also reported that the skills taught at the course were pretty basic. It was a pretty disheartening experience.
TM's experience only reinforced my feelings that chasing stars is a fool's errand.
I enjoy and value getting instruction from people who are more skilled and experienced than I. I soak up their advice, their instruction, their hints, and their adjustments. Then I go off and make the technique fit my personal conditions - the reality of my kayak, my paddle, my body.
I also value simply paddling a lot: in big groups, in small groups, in all sorts of conditions. One of the joys of kayaking is that every paddle is a learning experience. Each time out I refine my boat control skills a little more. I learn something new about functioning in a group. I learn a little more about reading conditions. I learn a little bit more about managing risk. I learn a little bit more about how mistaken paddlers who believe in a "bomb-proof" roll and being completely self-sufficient are about reality.
I wonder how much I'd learn from the classes that prep for an evaluation. My SAT and GRE test courses taught me little more than how to take the test. I also wonder what passing the evaluation really signifies. I got great SAT and GRE scores, but was a lousy college student. I got great test scores in most of my engineering classes, but was a lousy engineer. It took a lot of time, effort, and experience before the skills I demonstrated with high test scores became useful in the real world.
I guess for me it is not worth the time or money to work at passing a couple of tests. I'd rather spend my time and effort paddling, learning, and growing. I'd rather spend my money getting instruction geared towards building skills and not towards passing a test.
I also cannot see myself caring too much about the number of stars on a paddler's PFD. Good paddlers are easy to spot with or without stars.


  1. Building blocks......
    BCU is not for everyone, it is a series of building blocks put together in a system that supports paddlers in a progression of ever increasing difficulty. As far as I could understand, your friend thought he could sail through 3 star without even thinking about it, and then waltz upto 4 star training...
    3 Star is all about basic boat handling skills on flat water, if a paddler cannot perform ALL of the basic skills 100% then moving onto the next level is not really an option.
    Nowhere in the BCU sylabus is the euro style blade, or the greenland paddle mentioned. BCU also encourages paddlers to find what works for them, it does not tell people that one boat, paddle or vest is better than another.
    I really would take a long hard look at the instuctor that gave the BCU course & assesment, at the same time it really is a good idea to check the syllabus of any course before starting the training


  2. Hello Eric,

    I have found the few Bcu coaches that I know to be the most flexible of instructors. I am sure that you may find an assessor who trusts you to take the training with a Greenland paddle. As far as I have seen, few self-taught paddlers pay attention to the close turning and sliding strokes, and those are the heart of the old Bcu 3* award. I would not regard them as simple, as the aim is to raise boat awareness, and the level of confidence increase as you perform them in different conditions.
    If you friend would hire a training week with a good coach, I believe he may pass both assessments with flying colours. Appearing out of the blue, makes for a hairy short training and a difficult assessment.
    As he seemed interested, I would encourage your friend to be obstinated and book a new course with the most demanding coach that he knows of. I am sure that if he goes through the syllabus by himself and asks for private training, his skills will boost three fold.

  3. In an apt metaphor for paddlers, different strokes for different folks. I too am a 'stick monkey' and find most strokes to be much easier and fluid with that paddle. I too was told that I could not take training with a Greenland stick, especially instructor training. Fortunately, Qajaq USA had not yet categorized and formalized any rating system and I, for one, hope they don't. ACA and BCU have plenty of that for those who are into that sort of thing and more power to em.