Kelly's story with the American Canoe Association

Where it all began

While my relationship with the ACA began a bit later in my paddling career than Laura, it was equally pivotal in my development as a paddler and an instructor.

My ‘professional’ kayak career began in 2003 with Sea Quest Expeditions in the San Juan Islands, Washington.  Fresh out of undergrad and ready to conquer the world, I applied for a job as a sea kayak guide and naturalist.  Admiring my enthusiasm, if not my experience, Martine Springer hired me on for the season.  I began assisting the company’s more experienced guides with single and multi-day trips.  Then much to my surprise, I found myself leading multi-day adventures by mid-summer.  I vividly remember my first overnight trip as a lead guide – I was equal parts thrilled and terrified!

My summer in the San Juan Islands had a profound impact on the next 14 years of my life.  As a lead guide, I was responsible for the guests’ safety both on and off the water.  This was an empowering experience that instilled in me a confidence I still draw on today.  Paddling around the islands under clear summer skies in waters teeming with wildlife – I fell in love with sea kayaking and would romanticize my time with Sea Quest Expeditions for years to come.

First mulit-day trip with Sea Quest Expeditions.

First mulit-day trip with Sea Quest Expeditions.

Fast forward to 2013

After completing graduate school, I moved to California and made a career 180.  I decided to take my passion for paddling and turn it into my profession.  I joined the staff at California Canoe & Kayak (CCK) and embarked on the path to become a sea kayak instructor.  Ending up at CCK was fortuitous.  With over 40 years of experience in paddlesports education, CCK has trained countless whitewater and sea kayak instructors.  The owner, Keith Miller, assisted with the development of the ACA’s national sea kayak instructor certification program and has remained closely aligned with the ACA since.

My first ACA certification course was a bit of a disaster.  I was going for my Level 4 Open Water Coastal Kayaking instructor certification.  For this level of certification, the instructor candidate must demonstrate proficiency and the ability to effectively teach in 3 to 5 foot seas, 15 to 20 knot winds, 2 to 4 knots of current, and 2 to 4 foot surf.  With 10+ years of experience sea kayaking in the San Juan Islands, the estuaries of New England, and the bayous of Louisiana, I fancied myself a coastal kayaker.  I blatantly disregarded the fact that I had only paddled in the surf a handful of times and enrolled in the course.

The week of the course arrived and I could barely keep myself safe in the surf – forget teaching another paddler proper launching and landing technique.  I lacked confidence in my ability to instruct and was unable to command the attention required to manage a group on the open coast.  I got sea sick, swam in the surf, and spent every night of the 5 days wondering what the hell was I thinking?!

Introducing a class to one of my favorite places to paddle – the surf!  Photo: Sean Finigan

Introducing a class to one of my favorite places to paddle – the surf!  Photo: Sean Finigan

Lessons learned

Four years, 3 certifications, and 1 teaching award later, I am still growing as a paddler and an instructor.  When I reflect on my journey to this point, a few lessons standout:

There is no substitute for experience – I would like to immediately acknowledge the irony of including this as a lesson learned and confess that I can often be found shrugging my shoulders and stating ‘fake it till you make it’ before I take off on some adventure I am ill prepared for.  Unfortunately, on the water, there is no substitute for experience.  Reading about how to paddle in the wind, watching a video of someone carve a wave, or listening to your buddies rehash a rock garden rescue does not provide the same insight as the experience itself.  The more I experience, the more ways I can explain a concept to my students, the more genuine my feedback, and most importantly, the more prepared I am for an emergency.

Be flexible and creative – When I first began instructing, I prepare a detailed syllabus for each class and found it extremely frustrating that I was seldom able to follow my carefully outlined progression.  It quickly became apparent that environmental conditions and the individual learning styles of my students would require me to be flexible and creative.  Wind, swell, and current vary each time I teach a class, and often within a class, and my lessons need to be modified accordingly.  Every student has a different learning style and my lessons need to contain several teaching approaches to engage as many learners as possible.  Over time, my ‘syllabuses’ have morphed into a more free-flowing list of concepts with several exercises using various approaches to convey each concept.

Have fun!  Most kayakers seek instruction looking to improve their skills and better understand the associated risks – but they became interested in the sport because it was fun!  My main goal as an instructor is to help paddlers of all abilities find a lifetime of joy on the water.  I believe fun is contagious.  If I am burnt out and dreading a class, my students sense this and it takes enjoyment away from their experience.  To make sure I am recharged and ready to teach, I paddle for pleasure regularly and I try not to take myself too seriously.

Sharing my love of paddling through teaching.  Photo: California Women's Watersport Collective, Melissa DeMarie

Sharing my love of paddling through teaching.  Photo: California Women's Watersport Collective, Melissa DeMarie

The ACA connected me to a network of highly skilled instructors eager to share their knowledge and experience.  I would not be here today preparing for our trip to Taiwan without the guidance, support, and encouragement of:

Sean Morley, Bill Vonnegut, Roger Schumann, Matt Palmariello, Keith Miller, Deb Volturno, Cate Hawthorn, Jeff Laxier, Bryant Burkhardt, Ben Lawry, Mat Hoff, Michael Bowersox, Matt Krizan, Mitch Silverstein, Melissa DeMarie, Jennifer Yearly, Sean Finigan, Mike Kowalsky, David Santaniello, Kenny Howell

Thank you all!

Enjoying some time on the water just for me.  Photo: Bill Vonnegut

Enjoying some time on the water just for me.  Photo: Bill Vonnegut

We <3 the American Canoe Association (in many ways)!

Two amazing developments happened this month: 

  1. Kelly was named instructor of the month by the American Canoe Association, like a boss (read her profile here in the ACA’s Paddler Magazine
  2. The ACA became an official Fearless Formosa Dragon Sponsor, our highest sponsorship level!

For both of these developments, we are incredibly humbled and grateful. In fact, we wanted to take some time to share how the ACA (not to be confused with the Affordable Care Act) has played a pivotal role in shaping us as paddlers and people (too cheesy already? Bear with us!). 

What is the American Canoe Association?

While a lot of Fearless Formosa followers are ACA instructors or students themselves, many of you likely aren’t familiar with the ACA. The ACA was founded in 1880 to organize and standardize paddlesports (including sea kayaking, whitewater kayaking, canoeing, stand up paddleboarding, surfski, and adaptive paddling). Put another way, the ACA:

  • Trains and certifies paddling instructors by standardizing the best teaching theory and techniques
  • Protects and defends access to waterways, coasts, and rivers
  • Increases safety and awareness as more paddlers join the community
  • Hosts key events and competitions that further cultivate the paddling community

It’s kind of like a combination of the Legal Bar Association and the Sierra Club, but for paddlers. Both Kelly and I have taught and taken many many ACA courses as well as instructor trainings. In fact -- Fearless Formosa would never have happened if Kelly and I hadn’t become friends in our 2013 Level 4 Open Water Coastal Kayaking instructor development workshop!

We want to take a moment to share our stories with the ACA and how this organization has enriched our paddling practice and beyond. 

Laura’s story with the ACA

Since becoming an ACA member back in high school, I’ve taken two coastal kayaking instructor courses (Instructor Development Workshop and Instructor Development Certification Evaluations), two whitewater kayaking instructor courses, a rolling instructor course, and a whitewater canoeing instructor course all through the ACA. I’ve competed in three ACA races, taking gold in Women’s Collegiate Downriver Solo Canoe (disclaimer: I was one of only two women in that race’s event). I’ve been an ACA member for 13 years now with no plans of stopping. 

Laura’s early instructing days on Georgia’s Bull River

Laura’s early instructing days on Georgia’s Bull River

Girls Scouts and Sharks: My first kayak teaching experience

I wasn’t always the amazingly flawless instructor you know today. It may surprise you, but, the first sea kayaking trip I ever guided devolved into an all-out shipwreck. Flashback to summer 2004 when I was a junior in high school. I had just returned to my native waters of Tybee Island, Georgia after spending a month on a self-supported sea kayaking trip in Southeast Alaska through my high school (Seattle Academy). It was a life-changing trip that started my sea kayaking addiction. And I went into the rest of that summer thinking I knew everything about kayaking. I worked that summer with Sea Kayak Georgia, an outfitter that taught me so much and really invested in me as a young instructor. One of my first trips was a 6-hour paddle with a large Girl Scout troop. 

Everything that could go wrong happened: I couldn’t keep their attention for the safety talk, none of them retained my mumbled and confusing paddle stroke intro, half of them never learned to hold the paddle correctly for the entire 6 hours, three boats had to be towed due to crying and exhaustion. And, worst of all, they particularly asked me if there would be sharks. Of course, there are a ton of small black tip sharks in the mouth of the river where we paddled, but I told them, “no, no sharks here.” They saw two sharks in the first hour. Crying ensued. Let’s just say, they got more than just their watersports badge that day...

I learned that first summer of teaching that I needed a lot more experience and some professional help. 

Laura paddling the Falls rapid on the French Broad River, NC

Laura paddling the Falls rapid on the French Broad River, NC

Davidson Outdoors and the ACA

My college’s outdoor program had a huge mark on my life. With Davidson Outdoors (DO), I learned how to effectively co-lead with different personality types, accurately assess risks, teach to different learnings styles, navigate shuttling logistics, communicate effectively, teach for retention, embrace discovery learning, and lead with confidence. Underpinning so much of what I learned with DO was ACA pedagogy. The heads of Davidson Outdoors, Ed Daugherty and Mike Goode, are both seasoned paddlers and ACA-certified instructor trainers. Through ACA courses with DO, I learned not just a framework for becoming a better instructor, but a framework for assessing my own progress as a paddler and an instructor. That’s what I think is remarkable about the ACA, how the pedagogy not only makes you more aware of your teaching but also more aware of your own learning style, strengths, and weaknesses so you can grow independently as an instructor. 

Laura and her first 7th grade class in Yunnan Province, China

Laura and her first 7th grade class in Yunnan Province, China

After college I taught middle school in rural China for two years. During some of the most trying moments, I called upon my ACA training to become a better teacher off the water. I remember noticing incredible similarities between Teach for America’s pedagogical training (which comprised most of our formal teacher training as Teach for China fellows) and the ACA’s learning theory. ACA pedagogy uses a proven framework designed to help students truly retain what they learn, and it works on and off the water, across different cultures, languages, and continents.

Laura paddling in Alaska’s Thomas Bay on her first-ever multi-day kayaking trip

Laura paddling in Alaska’s Thomas Bay on her first-ever multi-day kayaking trip

Next Strokes

With every class I teach or shadow, I’m still learning and growing. There’s so much more I’d like to do with the ACA. In the next few years, I want to become a certified level 5 sea kayaking instructor and eventually an instructor trainer. Ultimately, for me, furthering ACA certifications isn’t just about becoming a better instructor or gaining more advanced skills, it’s also about growing my self-awareness and ability to connect more profoundly with a larger, diverse group of people. That’s why I’m incredibly grateful for the ACA’s leadership in paddlesports and thorough support of Fearless Formosa. 

Kelly and Laura teaching recently in the San Francisco Bay with Cali Collective (Melissa DeMarie)

Kelly and Laura teaching recently in the San Francisco Bay with Cali Collective (Melissa DeMarie)

Ready to get involved?

If you’re ready to dive deeper into paddlesports or even just test the waters, we highly recommend becoming an ACA member and taking courses to match your skill level. 

Or if you’ve ever thought about becoming an instructor, there’s no better place to start than with an instructor development workshop -- it’s one part skills development, one part learning how to teach better, and another part therapy. 

  • Instructor training courses listed here

Big thank you’s to all the amazing ACA instructors we’ve learned from!

From Laura:

Ed Daugherty, Mike Goode, Susan Bean, Steve Braden, Keith Miller, Bryant Burkhardt, Ben Lawry, Bill Vonnegut, Dale Williams, Marsha Henson, Ronnie Kemp, Mike Robinson, Wayne Dickert, Sean Morley, Kristen Podolak, Melissa DeMarie, Preston Orr, Zach Smith, Nick Scoville, Benton Carroll, Sami Hawkins, Lori Turbes and many more :) 

Three cheers for NRS!

Just before the holidays, Laura and I received some exciting news. NRS is contributing to our expedition to Taiwan!

In our home waters of northern California, 4/3 full sleeve wetsuits and drysuits are standard immersion attire even in the summer. One of the many appealing aspects of sea kayaking in Taiwan is the sub-tropical to tropical climate. Springtime in Taiwan is warm and humid, with air and water temperatures in the upper 70's to low 80's. When planning our trip, Laura and I quickly realized that our customary paddling attire for northern California just would not do! Our new paddling kit will include NRS brand HydroSkin 0.5, H2Core Silkweight, and Beda Board Shorts. H2Core Silkweight for UV protection on all those sunny spring days and HydroSkin for a bit warmth on cooler days.

Laura and I would like to express our gratitude to NRS. For more information on their product line, please visit: www.nrs.com. Stay tuned for a comprehensive gear review when we return!

Announcing Point 65 Sweden - Fearless Formosa Kayak Sponsor

We are thrilled to announce our kayak sponsor, Point 65 Sweden!

During our stay in Taiwan, Laura and I will paddle the new Whisky 16 3L designed by Nigel Foster. The Whisky 16 3L is a polyethylene version of the composite Whisky 16. Nigel designed the Whisky 16 for control and maneuverability in rough water, surf, and current - exactly the conditions we plan to paddle!

The polyethylene layup is equipped with large oval aft and bow hatches specious enough to accommodate expedition paddling. Similar to the composite layup, the Whisky 16 3L contains a large round day hatch behind the cockpit and a smaller round hatch in front of the cockpit for efficiently accessing gear on the water. The padded cockpit comes with an ergonomically designed seat and the Point 65 AIR-Backrest™ which I am personally stoked for!

I had the opportunity to take the new Whisky 16 3L out for a spin this summer and found it very stable and highly responsive - a real pleasure to paddle. The cockpit has plenty of room for my 5' frame and the is seat super comfy. I look forward to spending (a lot) more time in the Whisky 16 3L and paddling it in rougher conditions.

Laura and I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Richard Öhman at Point 65 Sweden, Jahfong Chen at the Formosa Kayak School, and Nigel Foster for making this sponsorship possible.

For more information on Point 65 Sweden and the new Whisky 16 3L visit: www.point65.com.  And stay tuned for a comprehensive review when we return!

Nigel Foster surfing the composite Whisky 16. Photo: Point 65 Sweden.

Nigel Foster surfing the composite Whisky 16. Photo: Point 65 Sweden.

We're Finalists for a Hobkey Adventure Grant!

The idea for this expedition began with a simple text. 

Me: "Hey Kelly, want to circumnavigate Taiwan next year? 

Kelly: "Yes, yes I do." 

Honestly, when I asked Kelly, I didn't really expect her to be up for it. After all, Taiwan is far, expeditions take a lot of time and planning, plus we both have/had full-time jobs that gave us little time to paddle even on our own beloved California coastline. But, within three hours, Kelly had found two contacts for coaches who taught and paddled in Taiwan plus a call for applications for a Hobkey Adventure Grant. "Dang," I thought, "Kelly's getting serious." 

And then we both dove into seriously planning head first without looking back! 

Fast forward one month, and we've planned the blueprint for our Taiwan expedition, which we've lovingly dubbed Fearless Formosa. Applying for the Hobkey Adventure Grant gave us the initial motivation to really get our plans in order and we're grateful to be among five other amazing adventures in the final round. 

About the Hobkey Grant

Hobkey is a European company started by the incredibly skilled Slovenian paddler and entrepreneur, Marin Medak. Hobkey makes paddling inspired keychains that also serve as great teaching props (several coaches at California Canoe and Kayak use them when teaching surfing and open coast -- Kelly included).

10 percent of all keychain sales go to fund the grant, which this year equaled 4,500 Euros split across Sea Kayak, Canoe, SUP, and Whitewater Kayak. The first and second place finalists in each category gets 500 Euro, which helps a lot (anything helps!) while the third and fourth place gets some swanky gear. Throughout the process for applying, Marin has emailed all the applicants and finalists personally. It's fun and humanizing to get emails from a world-class paddler :) 

The first round of the grant competition comprises as shortlist of 50 top applications being selected from an initial screening. The second round goes to a panel of judges to whittle down the top five. The Judging Committee for Sea Kayak included some of sea kayaking's rock star coaches. I kinda get the feels just knowing that they read my application.

So that leads us to now, the final round of open, public vote and where we need your help! 

To vote go to the Hobkey Grant Website and select "Expanding Taiwain's Sea Kayaking Community." You won't regret it.