Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Work In Progress

Its good to see that there has already been a healthy interest in this years Storm Gathering with quite few folk already signing up and getting their accommodation sorted at Anglesey Outdoors.

As with all symposiums there will be an upper limit to how many participants can attend so that workshops on the water are manageable and the event itself doesn't become overwhelmed.

I'm currently exploring options for guest speakers, the Storm Gathering party and a suitable symposium souvenir. And finally, it would be good to see the gallery grow and as such there is an added incentive but I'll let you find out what that is.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Monday Morning Wave

Photographer: Todd Glaser

Exit strategy. There's more where that one came from. Brian Conley already heading for the next one. Somewhere in Mexico.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Journey's End

Well, as I expected the assessment was an intense and uncompromising experience. It would be hard to imagine anyone wanting it to last more than two days! For those that don't know the process, Day 1 is spent with two unknown students and Day 2 is spent with your long term students. Each day is runs under the watchful eye of an established Level 5 assessor who adopts a non-interventionist approach which is an element no amount of practice can quite prepare you for :0/

Photo: Ann & Ali

I was that exhausted from expending so much nervous energy on the Saturday under the careful gaze of Franco Ferrero that on the Sunday I was almost too laid back for Mike McClure's liking. Now bear in mind that neither assessor speaks to the other, or the candidate, about the performance they observed until the end of the second day, I really had no idea what the outcome might be. So when Lara Tipper, course director, shook my hand and said "Congratulations Mark, you've passed" I had to ask her to say again, and slowly, what she'd just announced!

Photo: Paul Williams

It was a tremendous relief to drive away from Moelfre with Lara's words ringing in my ears and the comprehensive written feedback I'd received from Mike and Franco sitting on the passenger seat. I felt a huge sense of satisfaction knowing that the hard work and preparation had paid off. It was just such a damn shame that my mobile phone had no power, so some poor pedestrian had to endure me dancing on the pavement as the realisation of my achievement sunk in.

Photo: Richard Janes

On reflection I feel that all the circumstances came together at the right time for me in order that this might have a happy ending. Paul and Richard made an immense effort to commit to a long term development programme. In particular, Richard overcame a back injury at the 11th hour to ensure the team was complete for the Sunday. They both showed an unbending faith in my abilities which I think cemented the coach/student relationship so well. Nick Cunliffe did his uppermost to offer guidance, humour, wisdom and limitless support whenever I asked for it. He was there to pick me up when I thought my paddling mojo had been lost and kept me in line when my ideas got too fanciful. Without these folk it may have been a different story.

Photo: Nick Cunliffe

It goes without saying that there are many others who have contributed to my success. Gordon Brown provided several doses of no-nonsense advice. Jen Kleck made numerous helpful observations about her assessment experiences that I know played a pivotal role in my own planning. I'm grateful to Aled Williams of Tiderace Kayaks and Mike Webb of Rockpool for the use their boats. Also Aled for his unique insights into boat handling which will always make him a 6* paddler in my eyes. Sid Sinfield certainly played a part in his own inimitable way as have many others who I hope don't take umbrage for not being named here. Fair to say, a big thank you goes out to one and all, fellow coaches and students alike for being there along the way.

..........I'm also very aware that whilst this journey has come to an end the road still stretches out before me :0)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Monday Morning Wave

Photographer: Ben DeCamp

This cover shot was taken right before one of the contests.........It's pretty tricky swimming with a flash at that size because the water-housing is really large. I got caught by a few 2nd Reef cleanup sets. All of a sudden one swung wide and... Keali'i, who is Garret McNamara's tow partner, dropped in with all the boys hooting, stalled, the wave heaved, and I took this photo, barely making it through. I'm sure he's heard it a million times, but he looks like a young Buttons; his style and personality is just loaded with soul

- Ben DeCamp -

Keali'i Mamala, a core Hawaiian surfer, eyes the future of his oft-invaded territory from behind the curtain at Backdoor.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Pathway to Level 5

When I achieved Level 4 status in 1998, having acquired all the necessary pre-requisites, I would say in all honesty that things didn’t alter tremendously in terms of my coaching practices. For some time after I was really just operating as a Level 3 coach with the occasional advanced trip as a leader. However, circumstances changed in 2003 that lead me to exploring new dimensions within my role as a coach and the opportunity to extend my own sea kayaking skills. In part this was due to returning to North Wales and in part due to a season of work as a coach in the USA. With my passion for coaching, not just guiding, re-ignited I set about looking at how I could do better job all round.

Considering that all the pieces were in place to attend Level 5 training, I still waited a further year before putting myself forward as my goal was to ensure that I would be working at a good Level 4 standard in practice rather than just having all the ‘right bits’ to turn up.

Once I had attended the training in October 2004 at Plas y Brenin, I set about working towards achieving the next and possibly the most challenging step in my paddlesports career – obtaining the Level 5 award. I did this by following a number of routes in order to fulfil the agreed action plan with the guidance and support of my good friend and mentor, Nick Cunliffe.

I am grateful to a number of coaches who have advised me over the duration of my own development. I’ve been privilege enough to watch and be observed by a number of active Level 5’s who have given me the opportunity to work alongside them. I also appreciate the time that Paul and Richard have given to this process as well as previous long term students who for numerous reasons didn’t get this far with me.

The pathway has by no means been easy. I’ve juggled work and family life to squeeze out every opportunity to enhance my knowledge and practices as a coach. I’ve pursued a number of other disciplines to make certain that there is breadth in what I know about paddlesport as well as remained in tune with sea kayaking developments to ensure a depth of understanding. It’s a costly process both financially and emotionally but I really do feel its been worth the investment. Whatever the outcome I can say with certainty that I know far more now than when I started which has given me the confidence to operate at a much higher level than ever before. This developmental journey has generated a clear philosophy for me which should be evident in my coaching practices and student’s learning process.

.......... I'll let you know how I get on after the assessment has been completed

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Long Term Student Development - Day 7

Location: Borthwen, Rhoscolyn, Anglesey.

: SW F5-6 Occasionally F7. Bright sunny day. Visibility good.

: Richard Janes, Paul Williams

Student Goals: a) To continue to develop and refine close quarter boat handling skills, specifically to investigate different means of turning in different wind and tide conditions. b) To contextualise the skills learnt during this and previous sessions in ‘bigger’ conditions. c) To develop the ability to ‘shape a course’.

Coaching Points:

Warm up was similar to previous session beginning with mobilisation exercises followed by gentle paddle in the shelter of the bay, increasing intensity as warm up progressed.

Session moved to the narrow passage to the west of the bay. Here we were set tasks of paddling out of the bay, turning across the wind and swell, returning with wind and tide and performing a turn to turn back into the wind/ swell.

RJ & PW were then assigned separate practices. PW's task was to experiment with different turning techniques and to pay particular attention to the differences in paddling technique for upwind and downwind paddling. RJ was encouraged to experiment with different degrees of edge when turning across the wind. RJ's enthusiasm to take his edging to the limit (and beyond) gave rise to an excellent opportunity for some incident management. RJ performed a successful re-entry and roll and PW was asked to offer assistance if required. RJ took to the water again and PW emptied his boat completely then we paddled to calm waters for a de-brief.

Following a short lunch break we took the opportunity to journey out of the bay and to plot a course around Rhoscolyn Beacon. This allowed Richard and I to shape a course around the Beacon in reasonable swell (which approached 2-3m at times) and to return to the narrow inlet to the west of Borthwen.

Within the relative shelter of the inlet RJ & PW were set the task of paddling a box out of the bay and back again whilst experimenting with both edge and lean to perform a turn across wind and swell. This session was videod and formed part of a feedback session. We then paddled back into Borthwen.

Reflections - Richard: I clearly benefitted from experimenting with posture and made significant progress through adopting a more dynamic posture. The video feedback was useful in this instance in that it highlighted a discrepancy between what I ‘felt’ I was doing and what I was actually doing. I was surprised when looking at the video feedback that I was not leaning forward as much as I thought I was and felt that the video has given me an useful reference point.

Reflections - Paul: One of the most useful reminder for me from this session was the need for a dynamic paddling posture. At times during the edged turn practice I found it difficult to lock an edge. This was resolved by taking a more forward posture and also made it easier to use the forward quarter area for sweep strokes. This was made even more evident on reviewing the video feedback of my performance (this was a very useful learning tool). I was able to observe areas for future practice, namely posture on upwind turns and additional lean and use of an extended paddle for downwind turns. Very useful session for identifying issues relating to ‘shaping a course’. I found that the paddle around the Beacon illustrated the need for more ‘sea space’ as conditions become more testing.

Future Directions: PW & RJ are both of the opinion that at this stage in their development the consolidation of boat handling skills willtake priority. The previous few sessions have been useful in ironing out several major flaws in their performance and made clear some fundamental principles for future practice. PW & RJ are both in agreement that over the course of the last few months their confidence and competence in advanced conditions have improved significantly. They feel it is important to maintain this momentum and are keen to find opportunities to refine these close quarter handling skills.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Monday Morning Wave

Photographer: Elizabeth Pepin

I don't always feel lucky, but I'm smart enough to try

- Ani DiFranco -

Friday, April 11, 2008

Long Term Student Development - Day 6

Location: Trearddur Bay, Anglesey.

: Richard Janes, Paul Williams.

Student Goals: Further develop rough water handling skills and decision making processes

Coaching Points:

Decision Making: Original plan was to use Penrhyn Mawr as a Coaching venue. We walked to the headland of PM to observe and note tidal and wave movements. However with the weather forecast being South / South westerly wind F5-7. Overcast. Sea state rough Trearddur Bay seemed a more sensible option.

Reading rough water - The initial session involved PW & RJ holding position in a channel observing the line and refraction of waves breaking into it. Opportunities were taken to paddle through and understand the demarcation between safe and risky lines. Going up and down is good, washed into rocks is bad!

Leadership issues - PW & RJ explored shaping a course to utilise wind and wave for a safe and energy efficient passage.

Turning the kayak different directions relative to the wind - Video footage of RJ highlighted a wrenching almost robotic paddling style as core muscles tired. This further lead to periods in the turn where RJ was potentially ‘exposed’ with the blades out of the water … video finally convinced this rather stubbon paddler that his Nordkapps should visit the angle grinder!

Whilst RJ felt comfortable in the conditions there was some anxiety when in close proximity to rocks. Aside from a natural survival instinct this anxiety is born out of the unknown. Six months ago a similar anxiety would have been elicited by conditions considerably smaller.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Long Term Student Development - Day 5

Location: Menai Straits/Puffin Island, Anglesey.

: Richard Janes

Student Goal:
Leadership issues and preparation for BCU 4* assessment

Coaching Points:

Shaping a course - Discussed with RJ the implications and decision making needed in relation to the direction of Puffin island circumnavigation. Bearining in mind the strength of the North going stream was due to increase. Decision to paddle North side of island first. Thereby facilitating crossing of Puffin sound and a stronger tidal stream.

Plan to arrive at Lighthouse (Trwyn Penmon). Ferry angle chosen crossing to South of Perch rock and keeping out of breaking waves (Note comment in Gordon Browns book; ‘Use 20 degrees for each knot of tide being crossed’). Easy to then drift/paddle to lighthouse.

RJ has moved away from paddling a 'plastic fantastic' barge and as such it was relevant to go through options for landing with composite boats on rocky and steep shores.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Words of Wisdom

The road to happiness lies in two simple principles: find what it is that interests you and that you can do well, and when you find it, put your whole soul into it ... every bit of energy and ambition and natural ability you have

- John D. Rockefeller III -

Friday, April 04, 2008

Long Term Student Development - Day 4

Location: Menai Straits (Swellies), Anglesey - Original plan was Porth Dafarch. However, very high winds forecast and evident on the day

Students: Richard Janes, Paul Williams

Student Goals: Address fundamental paddle skills

Coaching Points:

Warm up - Ensured that PW & RJ engaged in a gentle paddle then explored boat based PNF stretching of hamstrings, trunk, neck and forearm (which can be useful to prevent tendonitis).

Technique - Previously identified weakness in RJ's draw stroke method so used sheltered area for practice before application in open water.

Practice structured so as to encourage : 1) Deep paddle 2) Trunk rotation to face direction of travel 3) Upper arm high (at forehead, higher than “normal”). Paddle angle steep.4) Finesse rather than brawn!

Exercises to practice ‘feel’ of paddle. Loosen tight clothing, swing paddle from stern rudder position forward (cf recovery of paddle in open canoe ‘indian’ stroke). Also, glide canoe backwards, controlling direction using lateral rotation rudder RJ's performance certainly improved. PW understood the stroke better and without the previous feeling of instability as the paddle tried to dive under the hull.

Navigation - over the lunch break we took the opportunity to look at the use of vectors to find a course to steer.

Leadership Exercise - circumnavigate island SH 545713. Use of CLAPS principles and practical application. Balance between autocratic and democratic style …. But be ready to take control and make clear decisions. Always and in every situation keep an eye on your mates! …. Even the best have tired times.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Long Term Student Development – Day 3

Location: Porth Dafarch, Anglesey

: Richard Janes, Paul Williams

Student Goals: Original plan had been to focus on leadership skills. However, whilst leadership issues were discussed, the relatively rough conditions were suitable for boat handling skills

Coaching Points:

Turning the boat through wind and waves - from sheltered area RJ & PW paddled parallel to the waves with speed in order to perform upwind turns. They were encouraged to paddle through the swell with power before slowing down. Downwind turns where performed with wave & wind direction towards the shore. Encouraged to think about using wave or surf assistance for quicker crosswind turns.

PW & RJ looked at turns using outside edge, i.e., edging into the wave (cf bongo sliding in surf); with forward sweep and return with low brace thus maintaining a balanced, stable position ready to brace if necessary. Suggested they look in direction of turn to position body for maximum trunk rotation.

On reflection, whilst using this technique RJ does not shown sufficient commitment in rough water. What RJ gained from observation and instruction during this session is the importance and confidence of quality strokes, i.e., a positive commitment to the edge and paddle.

Got RJ & PW to examine their stern rudder in the surf using positive blade positioning. PW should try to keep paddle deep, ‘fixing’ the blade in the water during both powerful forward paddling and during sweep strokes. Use rear boat quarter only for reverse sweep (after which sweep becomes reverse paddle stroke). Complete turn using powerful body ‘crunch’ and allow stroke to transfer to low brace (stable, less risk of shoulder damage, more flexible than high brace).

Paddling downwind and following sea; efficient forward paddling - Got PW & RJ to consider positioning feet together (if possible), to sit upright ('go tall') and use good trunk rotation. Also go them to look forward to horizon. They practiced using power and sweep strokes only for correction. This was a downwind / wave exercise (cf techniques and exercises performed paddling into wind on the first Llandudno session).

Psychological Dimension - Intense desire by performer to succeed coupled with feelings of self doubt can be deleterious to positive, enjoyable performance. Training to perform in ‘advanced conditions’ will require a positive mind set along with meticulous planning. ('I have planned the paddle and now I will paddle the plan!')