How I Became A Level One Kayak & Canoe Coach

To start this story off, I need to go back around 12 years to when I was 18 years old. It’s around this time I set my heart on becoming an outdoor adventure coach.

My first job was with an outdoor activity company called Manor Adventure. They took on novices like me and put them through the qualifications they needed to thrive in the industry.

It was during this placement I became a Level 1 Kayak and Canoe coach. Because the qualification was so expensive and sort after, we had to go through some tests before being selected for the course.  

Let me talk you through the marine like tests we went through:

Test Day From Hell

You may feel like I’m exaggerating when I call it a marine like test. But considering most of the managers were ex-forces, it wasn’t far off.

The centre I was placed in was in Llanwrtyd Wells, which isn’t far away from the SAS training area in Sennybridge.

We started early on a freezing January morning by breaking the ice on the lake with our paddles and kayaks.

Once we successfully broke the ice, we started with the basic skills needed to pass the course. This included techniques like:
  • Paddling forwards
  • Paddling Backwards
  • Paddling sideways
  • And much more
Once our instructors felt like we had a good handle on the strokes, it was time for the actual test. 

And honestly, this was one of the hardest things I’ve done mentally and physically.

We had to swim 25 meters with all our gear to a kayak on the other side of the lake. Once we reached the kayak, we had to swim under the boat to the other side and then back again to get back to shore.

Do you remember when I said we had to break the ice?… Yeah, the water was very very cold.

Only a dozen people made it past this point; the water was so cold people were shivering to the bone.

But the test wasn’t finished there!

Anyone who wanted to continue had to get back into a kayak, paddle to the middle of the lake, capsize, and escape from the boat.

Once you escaped, it was time to swim back to dry land with your kayak. 

Thankfully that was the end of the test; now it was time to strip down, get into dry clothes, and get a hot cuppa tea in your belly.

Out of the 40 instructors, only ten people made it through the test to make things worse… there were only six spots on the course.

Now it all came down to technical ability. Luckily I had already passed my one-star kayaking badge, so I was already reasonably competent. I guess that’s what saw me through in the end.

I was on the course, thank my lucky stars! 

Getting My BCU Level One Certificate 

Once the names were released, we had a few days off before getting started on the course. The course would be split into three sections, and the first one was getting everyone their one and two-star badges:

Getting Our Two star 
For many of us, this was the easiest part; we’d already covered most of the skills in the test day.

It was a simple case of perfecting.

They spread out this part over two days due to the number of skills you have to learn on both kayak and canoe.

I don’t want to go into much detail about what we learned, but here are some of the basics:
  • Lifting and carrying your boat
  • Launching your boat
  • Sculling draw strokes
  • Turning your kayak in cycles using forwards and backwards paddles
  • Demonstrating a low brace
  • Escaping your kayak
These were just a few of the skills we had to demonstrate to our coach to get our two-star badge. 

Safety And Rescue Training Program

For me, this was one of the more challenging parts of the course. I hate having my head underwater for extended periods… especially in freezing water.

For this part of the course, we had to perform different rescues in both kayak and canoes. 

I’m not going to lie; practising canoe rescues were a lot better because I didn’t have to have my head underwater for too long. But it was a lot more physical than rescuing kayaks.

Rescues for kayaks were challenging for me due to the cold temperature. You’d have to capsize yourself into the cold lake very regularly.

Once you tipped into the water and composed yourself, you need to hit both sides of the boat with your hands three times. This was for a few reasons:
  • It gets the attention of the person rescuing you
  • It helps reduce panic so you can stay underwater longer.
Once we hit the kayak three times, we need to run our hands down the side of the kayak, so our hand made a T shape against the boat. This was to reduce the chance of someone crushing your hand against your kayaks.

For kayaking, we had to perfect three rescues styles:
  • Assisted Paddle Rescue (When someone grabs your hand and places it on their paddle. They then brace for you to flip yourself over.)
  • T Rescue (When someone makes paddles into the side of your kayak to make a T shape. You then use their boat to flip yourself back around.)
  • Self Rescue (Flipping the boat and getting back in unassisted.)

When instructing, we didn’t really have to use any of these techniques, but these rescues were the best part of the course.

Getting our Level One Coaching Certificate 

After we were awarded our two-star canoe/kayak and had our Safety and Rescue course nailed down, it was on to the final stage.

This was probably the easiest part of the whole course. It mainly focused on coaching skills and making it fun for the clients.

While we were training the other parts, we’d play loads of games designed to improve your kayaking ability. So that part was easy.

We’d also have to deliver safety speeches and explain the basic principle of kayaking and canoeing. Again we were all outdoor activity coaches, so we were used to this kind of thing.

The final stage was filling out the activity book and completing an oral test. 

Overall the course was great! I learnt so much about the sport and spent countless hours on the lake having fun with students. 

Out of all the courses I’ve done, this was by far my favourite. There was nothing better than spending the day on the lake during a hot summers day. Even in the cold, we still had a great time.

I’d highly recommend going for it if you’re interested in coaching kayaking on a fundamental level. 

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