I am just home from a fantastic two weeks kayaking in the south of England with Sea Kayaking Cornwall. I was there as part of an Erasmus Plus work experience program with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competencies in the delivery of coaching, leading and guiding in sea kayaking among Irish kayakers. The program was put together by Landon Carver, SKC and Irish industry professionals. A group consisting of 12 kayakers from Ireland with various backgrounds and levels of experience were selected for the program and I was privileged to be offered a place.
Over the two weeks we had an input into all aspects of the Sea Kayak Cornwall business and its operations. From assisting on courses to helping with logistics, symposium preparation and client requests. We also had the opportunity to take part in training courses over the placement.
Week one was spent getting acquainted with Sea Kayak Cornwall procedures both on and off the water. We covered Incident Management with Jeff Allen, Surfing and Business Management with Shaun Rodgers and Coaching with Simon Osborne to name just a few things. It was fantastic working with each of the guys. Their knowledge and experience in the industry is second to none. I can't remember the last time I learned so much every time I got on the water. At the end of the first week we helped prepare for the annual Symposium which is in its eighth year and attracts kayakers' from all over Europe.
The symposium weekend consists of courses, journeys and clinics for all levels. From forward paddling to fishing from your kayak and Greenland rolling. I opted to take part in the Advanced surf with Simon and Gudni on Saturday and tried my hand at fishing on Sunday. On Saturday evening Jaime Sharp delivered a captivating presentation about his recent successful circumnavigation of Svalbard.
The week after the symposium is courses week. There are a number of options for guests to choose from such as 4 and 5 star training, intermediate and advanced journeys and Incident Management and Sea survival.
With the aim of gaining accreditation with ISKGA - The International Sea Kayak Guide Association, I opted for the Incident Management/Sea Survival 5 day course. I was lucky to get a place as it was heavily subscribed.
Jeff Allen was heading up the course with assistance from Nick Arding, Steve Miles and Steven Hobert. On Monday morning we had a short introduction and lecture in glorious sunshine on the grounds of Treggedon Farm just outside Falmouth- the symposium base for the week.
We looked at leadership and the fundamental principles of leading in a dynamic environment. Nick Arding gave an interactive lecture about the psychology of leadership and introduced us to our "Inner Chimp".
In the afternoon we took to the water to establish safety procedures and for a team building exercise. We got to know our "inner chimp" a bit better with a 20ft cliff jump to finish the day off.
Tuesday we went rock gardening along the amazing coastline at Portreath. We spent time dealing with incidents in gullies, isolated beaches and in clapatis at the base of the cliffs. The objective was to lead safely in this environment and formulate strategies for incidents that could occur in such an environment.
Wednesday started a little differently as we were instructed to bring along our shorts as we were going swimming. Cold Shock is one of the biggest killers in cold water immersion and we were going to experience first hand the physiological effects on the body. It was also an opportunity to habituate our bodies to the cool water for Fridays sea survival module. Thankfully the sun was shining and after a 10 minute swim we all emerged glowing and ready for the afternoon surf session.
Thursday was singled out all week as a tough day. With a water session most of the day and then a night navigation that reportedly ran into the early hours of the morning, everyone was a bit apprehensive and didn't know what to expect!
The day session involved dealing with casualties in caves, difficult landings and first aid on the water. For the night session myself and Shane McElligott who was also on placement, had volunteered to lead a group each. This meant we were under a lot of time pressure between sessions to get our float plans together and squeeze in some dinner.
At 10 pm I lead my group off Swanpool Beach into the darkness. I had been instructed to paddle a 12km route around the bay, but this was never going to happen as somewhere along the line an incident or two was going to unfold. As group leader I was going to have to manage the situation while maintaining the safety of the group. Fortunately when our casualty fell unconscious approx 6km from our starting point everyone in the team played their part in the rescue. A one hour rafted tow ensued and the scenario came to an end around midnight with the casualty stabilised on Gillys beach awaiting evacuation. An exhausting but brilliant finale to the incident management course.
Friday- Sea Survival.
I doubt anyone made it to bed before 3am the previous night but we were back at it by 10am on Friday morning. The final day was all about surviving at sea and then maintaining yourself once you reached land. After a morning lecture we headed to Swanpool once again. No drysuits allowed only thermals for today! The session involved individual and group survival in the water and then a competition to get ashore, light a fire from a spark, build a shelter and feed the groups casualty. A difficult task after 20 minutes in the water with only thermals on.
After two solid weeks of kayaking we were all pretty wrecked but energized after the experience. I personally have taken a lot from it and really look forward to developing the skills I have learned. I am delighted to be signed off at ISKGA Coastal Guide level and to begin working within the ISKGA framework towards Advanced guide.
I would like to thank Landon Carver for putting the programme together. Shaun, Jeff, Simon, Mark, Ben and all the staff at Sea Kayaking Cornwall for providing such a fantastic experience and sharing their knowledge.
Also the great group of people I traveled with. Duncan, Shane, Gerry, Graeme, Russell, Ruairi, Ciaran, Mary, Mike, Caroline and Valli.
As for the next few days its time to prepare for the next chapter. At the end of October I depart for Chile to spend the season guiding on the magnificent fjords and lakes of Patagonia. Stay tuned!
Kayak instructor, athlete, business owner and outdoor enthusiast from the west coast of Ireland.
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