Becoming a Kayak Guide or Instructor

You have decided that paddling a kayak every day sounds like a good job. You know that being in a beautiful place every day would not be hard to handle.

You think that having to explore the great outdoors could suit your lifestyle perfectly.

What next?

Becoming a kayak guide or instructor only requires the desire to learn a new set of skills and a strong sense of adventure. Many beginners start by learning to kayak in their free time with friends or with a qualified instructor. At the Columbia Gorge Kayak School in Hood River, Oregon, instructors will build the skills necessary beginning on flat water with safety drills and basic stroke techniques. From there, they integrate these concepts into river reading on sections of river with stronger current and defined river features.

Since most of the instructors have been paddling for over a decade, they will gladly share resources with new kayakers on how to continue in the sport. Local clubs, such as the Three Rivers Paddling Club based in Pittsburgh, PA offer pool sessions and beginner trips for members. These clubs are often full of kayakers who love sharing their passion for the sport with new people.

Many new kayakers begin their exploration of this river sport as a raft guide.

One of the many perks of a rafting job is the endless resource of the guiding community. Most raft guides also kayak and are willing to teach beginning raft guides. Many rafting outfitters encourage this by offering the guide staff free kayak demos and clinics. Learning to kayak compliments raft guiding as both sports teach an individual safety skills and basic river reading techniques.

Once a person has learned to kayak and feels confident with these skills, a kayak instructor certification provides the credentials necessary to become an instructor.

The American Canoe Association, ACA, offers an instructor training course that shows kayakers the proper method and progression of teaching the sport to others. This standardization allows employers to trust the skill set and ability to instruct of a potential employee.

Jerry McAward, owner of the Northeast PA Kayak School offers beginner and intermediate kayak instruction in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. In addition, he leads ACA Instruction classes for kayakers to make the transition from student to teacher.

Jerry states that the most important skills a new instructor can have is not the ability to descend class V rapids, but a strong sense of empathy and patience. Beyond that he stresses “the ability to adapt one’s teaching style to the learning style of the student” as an essential trait for an instructor.

After instructing for 26 years, Jerry says that his favorite part of teaching others to kayak is “using my gift of being able to convince people that they can learn to kayak, and giving them the bridge (using personality, building an emotionally/physically safe environment, and logical progressions that work for that person) to let them teach themselves how to kayak.”

A kayak instructor not only shares hard skills with novices, but the ability to open up to a world of possibilities. A successful kayaker must relax while also maintaining full body awareness. Many new kayakers find that they can take this skill back to their daily lives, changing the way they see the world.

“The favorite part [of teaching kayaking] is watching what kayaking means within the context of each person’s life” Jerry comments.

Not every great kayaker is a great kayak instructor. As a skill, kayaking combines elements of physical technique with mental intensity and the ability to go beyond one’s comfort zone. Yet, by learning teaching methods and specific sequences and drills anyone can become a superior instructor on the water.

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