Monday, November 16, 2009

Coordinating and Picking Paddlers

A post on the RICKA message board got me thinking about if it is appropriate to tell paddlers when they cannot paddle. I personally think that it is appropriate for a person posting a show and go paddle to set expectations for the skill level that is required to participate in the paddle. If I had my drothers, it would be required. An "official" paddle does not get put on the schedule with a level rating.
The difference between a level rating and what usually gets added to a show and go posting is that a level rating describes the trip's difficulty and show and go postings usually describe the paddler's skills. Both are intended to help a paddler decide if the paddle is appropriate for them. However, making statements about the skills paddlers are expected to have smacks of elitism and judgement.
Elitism is poison to a club. It is a well established custom that RICKA paddles are open to all comers and coordinators do not turn participants away. This helps build club membership. It also helps paddlers grow. It also allows a sense of democracy to flourish in the club.
While I understand the reasoning behind it, I'm not a big fan of this custom. It puts a coordinator in the awkward position of either taking paddlers into conditions they are not prepared for or to change a trip to accomodate a weak paddler. It puts the coordinator in a compromised position before leaving the beach. Toning a paddle down for one paddler is not fair to the others on the trip who are expecting certain conditions. It is also not fair to the paddler allowed to participate. It gives them a false sense of their skills.
TM was saying that the coaches at Sea Kayak Georgia's position on this is that the trip leader has the final say on who gets to participate. The leader is the authority from the time paddlers show up on the beach to the time the kayaks are back on the cars.
While I think this draconian approach is the safest approach, it is not realistic for an American paddling club. Very few would be willing to accept the needed level of authority and the associated liability. Even if coordinators did start assuming this authority other paddlers would grow resentful.
How can coordinators find the middle ground? As I said earlier in the post I think people leading a show and go paddle should be upfront about the expected difficulty of the paddle they plan on running. They should be careful not to sound judgmental about people's skills, but they should be firm. They probably need to be prepared to accept that some paddlers on the edge of the envelope will be on the trip and plan accordingly. However, coordinators should turn away people who are clearly incapable of handling the expected conditions.

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