Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Coaches and leaders are so often assumed to be experts. However, what is expertise and is there more than one kind?

It is generally regarded that expertise consists of those characteristics, skills and knowledge of a person that distinguishes them from novices and less experienced people. In many domains there are objective measures of performance capable of distinguishing experts from novices: expert medical specialists are more likely to diagnose a disease correctly; expert outdoor leaders are more likely to assess a risk accurately and so on.

Expertise implies a capability toward skilful physical, cognitive and meta-cognitive behaviours; an organised body of knowledge that is deep and contextualised; retrieving and applying knowledge flexibly to a new problem or new knowledge to existing problems; and an ability to notice patterns of information in a novel situation (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000).

The concept of adaptive expertise is concerned with the idea that people who have had extensive, purposeful and varied experiences of doing something (which includes intellectual, physical, emotional and social undertakings) are capable of responding to novel unstructured situations skilfully and successfully (Fazey, Fazey & Fazey, 2005). This element may be recognised in leadership practitioners who are able to act more flexibly when problem solving in complex, ambiguous and unpredictable environments. Such flexible performance is one of the characteristics that can distinguish an expert from a novice (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000). More over it is what sets apart different types of expert (Hatano & Inagaki 1986). This notion could have important implications for those who are acting within the endlessly varying, dynamic conditions that can occur on the sea.

Have you reviewed what kind of expert you are?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Going Solo

Solo journeys, be it on the sea, in the mountains or just through a forest can be deeply rewarding experiences and I would encourage anyone to do it within their range of experience. For me, there is that enhanced sense of awareness of and being in-tune with your suroundings. Not only from the perspective of risk taking but also from the view of enlightenment. It is possible that on the journey outwards, you travel along the road inwards. Taking the chance to be lost in your thoughts whilst being absorbed in the environment really can bring about moments of clarity that are otherwise lost in the hubbub of existence.

There are those who think such an activity is fool hardy, selfish and down right irresponsible. Encouraging others to do so is even worse lest we are somehow made responsible for their mishaps. Yet here is the thing, the media is not full stories of people meeting a sad or unforeseen demise. For sure there are always examples of 'heroes and fools' on epic adventures. Perhaps the heroes are those who know when to turn back or ask for help. Maybe the fools just stayed out one hour too long. However, there are plenty of folk who just go out there, make sound judgements about the day and come back safely which may just inspire others to try. There are things to consider - what are the consequences if things going wrong; who might it affect; what are you hoping to gain; what might you find out about yourself?

If you investigate the thoughts of fellow travellers who seek the solo experience, there are certain commonalities. They speak of a sense of independence, facing unknown challenges, simplicity, self-empowerment and searching for freedom. However, as Wendy Killoran puts it, 'though I enjoy solitude, I am not a solitary person'. Its not about being alone, its about having the space to move.

Go out there and discover........the world is waiting to be seen.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Amazing People - Freya Hoffmeister

For those of you yet to experience Freya Hoffmeister, here are some insights I have gained over the last few months since getting to know the 'Lady in Black'. Despite having heard stories of this amazing person, I had only met her briefly at what was once the Anglesey Sea & Surf Centre. That chance meeting was memorable enough that when I began to organise the 1st UK Storm Gathering, Freya was an obvious choice as a guest coach. Not only for her expert knowledge on Greenland Style rolling techniques but also, as my good friend Pete Jones remarked, to add to glamour to the proceedings.

During the event Freya ran a number of rolling classes as well as doing some demo sessions on performance Inuit rolling for a local school group. Every student under Freya's tutelage came away beaming that they had accomplished several rolls as well as praising her calm and clear coaching manner. She was always first on the water and last off to ensure everyone got a far share of her time which takes some dedication in the turgid waters of Fionnphort harbour.

Yes, Freya still likes to wear mostly black but on occasion, off the water, she was spotted wearing clothing of a less stealth like nature. Her entry in to the Keel Row (Fionnphort's only pub) each evening caused many a man to consider forsaking his vows! Does that make her a woman to be wary of? I don't think so. Magnificent and entertaining is more likely with the ability to be charming and teutonic at the same time! She is clearly a fun loving yet hard working individual, you'd have to be to maintain that lifestyle (and enormous mobile home).

Freya has reached a certain status in the sea kayaking world which makes her the current 'femme de jour'. Rocpool Kayaks have produced what will surely become Freya's signature kayak - the Underground . Sea Kayaker magazine has written about her and soon we will all see Freya in This Is The Sea 3 . You can learn more about Freya's global activities through her blog . She happens to make a really good folding kayak trolley

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Thoughts On Leadership

One of the hardest tasks of leadership is understanding that you are not what you are, but what you're perceived to be by others - Edward L. Flom, CEO of Florida Steel

What is leadership? Is it a social phenomenon; humanistic quality; a trait; a team-task issue; a functional necessity; situational requirement; or even a transcendental state of being? There are numerable questions out there and the list keeps getting longer.

Leadership is a subject that over the years has been widely debated and studied in great depth. A simple web search reveals a multitude of processes for looking at leadership, countless methods of interpreting its meaning and many ways of developing an individual leadership style. There are various media used to develop leadership, from theoretical lectures to practical programmes. The new BCU / UKCC Star Awards, for instance, will be embracing the principles of leadership throughout all the levels whereas before it was confined to the 5*. Does that mean we will have better and more aware paddling leaders?

The topic has played a big part in my life as not only do I involved the role of training others to be leaders in various outdoor activities including sea kayaking, I've also spent the best part of four years engaged in research on the subject. And the answers I've come up with? I think its is possible to identify a number of qualities and core competencies that can be trained to allow anyone to take on the responsibilities of a leadership role. As with any skills development, leadership needs to be practised and the outcomes need to be reflected upon. Practitioners need to vary the ways in which they lead and individuals will benefit from understanding the sound theories behind what makes good leadership in reality.

What we must not forget though is that without followers you can't have leaders

Monday, January 22, 2007

Rockpool Kayaks

For many years I paddled a Romany and loved every minute of it. It was there for me through thick and thin. Work, rest and play. 5* and beyond. So what changed, Rockpool Kayaks, that's what.

In 2005, I met up with a very excited Aled Williams for a day's paddling. He wanted me to try out his new design, the Alaw (Welsh for melody), which had been in development for almost ten years. Simply put, I had an amazing time and after that day in June I’ve never looked back. If the reports are correct, I'm not the only one. This seems to be the case for many paddlers who have spent time in a Rockpool boat.

The original Romany was co-designed by Aled Williams and Nigel Dennis in the early 90's. Nigel has become established as a world-renowned expedition kayaker and owner of NDK Ltd, while Aled's life has taken different turns. However, after more than a decade of classroom teaching, Aled's prominence in sea kayaking circles has re-emerged since establishing Rockpool Kayaks with long established master boat builder Mike Webb. The Alaw is now a flagship craft in what has become a globally respected range of quality, high performance kayaks which are made in Holyhead using Mike’s superb skills. Mike also worked on the original production line of Romany's.

Rockpool Kayaks currently have a number of production models with more in the pipeline. There is the Alaw; Alaw Bach; the Menai 18 and their newest model, a Greenland style rolling kayak, is under development. Mike carries out the laminating of the kayaks and Aled is involved in finishing, testing and promoting the business. Aled continues to embraced all aspects of paddlesports, being a naturally talented paddler and coach (with a small 'c'). Mike, a somewhat unsung hero, just wants people to be honest, ask the right questions and as long as they like his boats, he’s happy (A big hint, he enjoys Eccles cakes too!).

Aled and Mike can feel justifiably proud for bringing these fantastic and innovative boats to the sea kayaking world. I hope Rockpool Kayaks continues to get the support it deserves from our paddling community at large.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Amazing People - Aled Williams

Aled Williams is synonymous with three things. He is a talented kayaker within many disciplines, he is an innovative boat designer and Aled is a very generous individual. As plenty has been written about the first two, I will focus on the last statement.

I have had the pleasure knowing Aled for over a decade and in the that time he has always presented himself to an upbeat individual with a positive, magnanimous and encouraging outlook. I have personnaly gained from Aled's support by being conferred sponsored Rockpool Kayaker status. An honour I have enjoyed for over a year now and something my students have benefited from by having access to his boats. Aled and Mike at Rockpool have continued this theme with Freya Hoffmiester, Wendy Killoran and Derrick Mayoleth. Aled was also happy to put his company's reputation against my fledgling efforts as organising a sea kayak symposium - 1st UK Storm Gathering. When all said and done, I think the behaviours Aled exhibits are rare in business and even scarcer in day to day life. To be willing to help others progress and with little asked in reurn other than to enjoy the opportunity is quite special indeed. Thank you Aled for making these things happen.

Its good to recognise amazing might inspire us to be amazing ourselves

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Get Out, Get Active

When the opportunity comes along to get out of the house and do something active, you should take it. Despite the fact that I'm passionate about sea kayaking, heading out in gale force conditions isn't always the wisest of moves. So after a phone conversation with my good friend Nick Cunliffe, we agreed that the next best thing was to get on some moving water of the fresh variety. The river we chose to descend is notorious for access problems with local fisherman which would be okay if it was of poor quality but that's not the case, it really is fantastic. Yet despite preparing ourselves for conflict it was a hassle free and enjoyable passage on a brilliant grade 3/4 river, there was even plenty of sunshine! The only spoiler of the day was me leaving my camera behind at the get out (happily it turned up later). We didn't paddle this river in order to seek controversy, its just a great experience. However, we should challenge those who wish to assume they are entitled to create hurdles for others in order to sanctify their own pastimes. Sometimes breaking the rules is the right thing to do.

Whatever your motives, its good to get out and get active...................who knows, you might have some fun along the way :0)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Bad Things Happen

We all had one of those days. It starts off full of promise and then things just keep going wrong or getting in the way. At the moment a large part of my life is spent in front of a computer and so when technology lets me down it can be a real problem. Trying to solve the mystery of a particular failure or error soon begins to distract me from what I'm meant to be doing. Instead of turning the machine off and going for a walk, I keep plodding on till eventually reason prevails or a visit to the bathroom is in order. Another strategy, as long as your internet service is working, is to search Youtube for stuff that might bring about a smile (this is also another classic distraction technique for not doing the work your meant to be, computer failure or not). Well I came across this little gem which really did the trick.

Sometimes you need to laugh out loud .................. Enjoy :0)

Friday, January 12, 2007

Early Days

I'm aware that my blog has increasingly gained visitors and whilst I've been publishing my thoughts and experimenting with what can be done, I've written very little about sea kayaking. So here's something about how it started........

In 1989, I began a long and valuable relationship with a small centre on the Isle of Mull called Camas. I'd gone to visit a friend, Lucy, who was working on Iona and one day, whilst at a loose end, she suggested we visit another freind at Camas which is on the Ross of Mull. It was great to see a new place, especially one that had outdoor activities on the programme, as there is only so much you can do on Iona. When the centre warden, Helen, learnt I was a climber she offered me the chance to work there as a volunteer and help run the abseil sessions amongst other things. With not much else happening that summer I agreed. One of the upsides for me was meeting April Steward who was keen to get me in a kayak. To begin with I was dubious, having had some bad white water experiences previously. Yet, after my first tentative outing in the bay and then a trip round to the lighthouse at Na Liathanaich, I was convinced this was the way forward for me in terms of finding fresh adventures

So from then on, every day off I had was spent in my trusty Torridon. Whether it was out to Bunessan, into Loch Scridain, out to Staffa, over to Iona. With or without paddling companions. Just being able to enjoy the freedom and to feel like an explorer in new territory. Something I still feel today and not something I often get from mountaineering. Rarely does a year go by without a trip to Mull. It will always be a part of celebrationing how my sea kayaking interests began

If you get the chance to go to Mull there is some much to see. Puffins on Staff, Seals at Erraid, Basking Shark around Ulva. There are big open crossing to be had as well as short coastal hops that take you to golden beaches and back for a good pint in the Keel Row at Ffionphort

As for how it might all end..............I'll leave that one to Poseidon

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Objects of Desire

Apple Macintosh computers have been my favourite since I stumbled into the IT lab at University many years ago and could get things working straight away. I've stuck with them ever since going from a Classic to an iMac then to a Mini Mac. I've gone through progressive versions of the Apple laptops too from Powerbooks to iBooks and soon to a MacBook. Macs have always done the job for me

The hardware has always been stylishly presented and Apple has created some amazing 'must have' accessories in recent years including the now ubiquitous iPod. So what could they come up with next?

Well, ending months of speculation and putting millions of jabbering technophiles out of their misery, Apple finally unveiled their latest super-stylish cash-raker: the iPhone. As well as ground-breaking web capabilities, you can expect tweaked versions of the iPod’s standard music and video playback functions. Makes calls too, apparently.

Monday, January 08, 2007


Surround me with flowers,
Abundant in beauty,
With fish of all colours,
And trees of great might.

Give me thousands of books,
Whose contents are classic,
Lots of people around me,
Regardeless of age.

Place around me the objects
The world has made famous,
Give me plenty of memories
To take to my grave . . . . .

. . . . . . . . If all this escapes me,
I won’t regret my misfortune,
If I can claim at the end,
I had true friends

I think I can . . . . can you?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Places To Stay

Teeny's Cottage
Teeny's Cottage is a beautifully restored 19th century self catering cottage overlooking Loch Snizort and the Outer Hebrides. Denis and Rose Blackham have put a great deal of effort into making this a very comfortable place to stay. Teeny's makes for a excellent base to explore the wonders of Skye.

Seann Taigh
This original Hebridean thatched cottage, located in the beautiful crofting district of South Lochboisdale, has been recently re-stored by Mary-Ellen Campbell and her family, turning it into modern self-catering accommodation, ideal for a couple. Staying at Seann Taigh really does transport you away from the demands of everyday life. There are magnificent views of Lochboisdale, out to the Minch and across to Skye from the doorway. The Uists offer up some great opportunities for beach walks, wildlife spotting and above all, some real peace.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Summits & Solitude

Ben Nevis
Though the current focus of my life is sea kayaking, I have in fact been a mountaineer and climber far longer. Despite the issue that more of me hurts after a day in the hills than after a kayaking trip, its still good to get out there from time to time. As part of our christmas vacation, Tanya and I spent 5 days near Fort William where an ascent of Ben Nevis (1344 metres) is obligatory, especially when its snow covered. So we opted for an alpine start as the climb begins from almost sea level, if you do it via the Pony Track. This saw us first on the mountain, from the Glen Nevis side, and the rare experience of seeing not another sole all the way to the summit. The conditions underfoot were good and after we crossed the Red Burn, the weather cleared giving way to gorgeous views towards Cairngorm and Torridon. Its not every day you get a major UK summit free of crowds but on that day we were gifted. It was only in descent did we begin to come across others, some who had climbed on the north face and some who had set off later

I enjoy those moments of solitutude............ it seems they come round less and less

Monday, January 01, 2007

Words of Wisdom

This morning I awoke to a clear sky, calm weather and great view across the loch from where I was staying. There were seals sunbathing on the rocks at low tide and a general sense of well being all around. The next job was to see what the rest of the world had to say so I switched on the trusty mobile. The words that came through included the following: life is precious so deal with the stuff that matters; break some rules but do what's right rather than easy; speak the truth and respect the words of others; love deeply and cherish honest friendship; pursue happiness and smile often.

Words can have meaning .............. if you give them meaning