Sunday, May 5, 2019

ACA Level 3 Instructor Development Workshop/Instructor Certification Exam

Last weekend I was fortunate to complete a goal I have had for some time. I took part in the Level 3 IDW,Instructor Development Workshop, put on by Sean Morley of River and Ocean.  It was an absolutely amazing experience and exceeded my expectations of intensity.

To be honest I was a little anxious about taking this workshop. I knew I was ready but didn't really know what to expect. Sean did an excellent job of preparing us beforehand by emailing us assignments and background information  before the workshop began.  The IDW takes place concurrently with the Instructor Certification Exam otherwise known as the ICE. Two out of seven of us were taking the Exam.

Sean Morley was our Instructor Trainer and was assisted by Larry Wagner of Kayak Connection in Moss Landing. Both incredible instructors with extensive kayaking and teaching experience.

Before I share my experience, let me give a little background information on the American Canoe Association, aka ACA, and what it represents. Briefly, the ACA is an organization that advocates for paddlers "at the local, state, and federal levels on a range of public policy issues pertinent to paddlers:
  • Work towards greater access to rivers, streams, lakes, bays and coastlines
  • Represents paddlers in meetings concerning lifejacket wear
  • Addresses paddlesports education standards from state to state
  • Represents paddlers in meetings concerning boat registration issues
  • Represents paddlers with state and federal entities"
It also plays a huge role in stewardship: "The ACA is committed to making the world a better place to paddle!

Our paddling community explores waterways from small streams to the sea, making paddlers stakeholders and potential stewards of all waterways.

The ACA's Paddle Green and Stream to Sea programs focus on conservation and education activities that protect the environment, strengthen peoples connection to the outdoors, and foster stewardship ethics that protect our natural resources."

I strongly encourage you to join the ACA because they provide a huge amount of resources and support for all types of paddlers.


One of the best decisions I made was staying at a hotel for the entire weekend. My friend, who was doing the instructor certification exam, and I stayed at the Travelodge in Mill Valley. We arrived Thursday evening and right away began studying, watching YouTube videos and going over what we had prepared for the next day. We awoke Friday morning at 6 a.m. and began packing up our gear and lunch for that day's instruction. We arrived at Sea Trek in Sausalito a little before 8 a.m. and made our way to the classroom. After introductions and an overview of what the day would look like, we turned in the lesson plans we had prepared and spent a couple hours going over ACA class requirements, how to register and report classes we would teach and teaching and learning theory. We then geared up and prepared to launch. Our Instructor Trainer, Sean, then demonstrated how a stroke should be taught using the side slip as an example. We spent a good amount of time working on this stroke and playing a game to hone our skill. In order to be certified at level 3, each instructor trainee must be able to perform the following strokes with skill and efficiency and be able to teach and assess each skill effectively and efficiently: FORWARD STROKE, SWEEPS (forward & reverse),REVERSE (& stopping), DRAWS (to hip, sculling draw, on the move),BRACES (high, low, sculling), LOW BRACE/HIGH BRACE TURN, RUDDERS (bow & stern), EDGING and SIDE SLIP. After working on the side slip we landed at a beach for lunch and while eating received a 10 minute presentation on tides and currents. Each trainee was assigned to do one presentation during the IDW/ICE. Back on the water it was my turn to teach one of the strokes. I chose the stern rudder. After which I critiqued myself and was given feedback from participants. We then paddled back to Sea Trek to be videoed of us performing each of the above strokes and a roll. Workshop participants are not required to roll but those taking the exam are expected to execute a roll. I've been working on my roll and have been successful in the pool but have not been successful in real water. After being videoed we loaded our kayaks and dressed into warm dry clothes and headed back to the classroom to watch and critique what we had just done. It was great to be able to watch ourselves and see where we could use improvement. Everyone was kind and thoughtful but truthful which is always best if you really want to improve technique. We left sometime after 6pm, grabbed a bite to eat and headed back to the hotel to study and watch more videos. 

We arrived at Horseshoe Cove at 8am and were greeted with a stiff breeze. Wind was blowing 12 knots with gusts to 19 or 20. The conditions were borderline Level 3 and above but each trainee had the skills to paddle and teach in these conditions. After a review of day 1, we launched and headed out the gate towards Kirby Cove. Two trip leaders were assigned for this leg of the journey and were required to teach a stroke along the way. We landed safely at Kirby Cove and presentations on Compass use for Navigation, towing and nautical charts were given. After lunch we were back on the water and began teaching and demonstrating paddlefloat rescues. My friend and I were then assigned as the trip leaders for our leg back under the gate. When we reached the bridge the tide was still ebbing and created a strong current against us as we rounded Lime Point. The rest of the afternoon was spent on rescues and strokes. In order to be certified Level 3, the following rescues must be taught and demonstrated effectively and efficiently: WET EXIT (with spray skirt), SELF RESCUES (scramble, paddle-float),T-RESCUE (& variations), BOW RESCUE (& variations), INCAPACITATED PADDLER RESCUE (Scoop) UNRESPONSIVE PADDLER RESCUE (Hand of God),SWIMMER RECOVERY (bow, stern deck).
ICE candidates then turned in their float plans for day 3 and we discussed what the best options would be considering weather and current predictions. We finished up again around 6pm and headed back to hotel for more studying.

I woke up around 630am Sunday and began experiencing some tummy issues. I could tell I was extremely low on energy and prayed I could make it through the day. We were having some guest paddlers from Western Sea Kayakers and Kayak Connection join us for the day so we would be working with "real" students. We again met at Horseshoe Cove at 8am and prepared to launch with our students. We went over the float plan for the day with the plan to paddle to Angel Island via Richardson Bay to beat the ebbing tide. The wind was up again and I began to have doubts whether  I could complete the workshop. We broke into two pods with Sean taking one group and Larry taking my group. We were to continue teaching rescues on our way to Angel Island. I was assigned the Hand of God or Scoop rescue to teach. Both of these rescues take a lot of strength and I pretty much knew I didn't have it in me but was determined to try. I had a glimmer of hope when someone spotted a whale spout in the bay. I turned to see it just in time as it dove beneath the choppy water and reminded myself why I was doing this. It was my turn to teach the scoop rescue and after finding a willing volunteer I proceeded. It didn't go well. I was able to get the paddler into his boat but upon trying to turn him and his boat over I proceeded to dump both of us in the water. Frustrated and discouraged I got back in my boat and knew I would not physically be able to make the paddle to Angel Island. I was confident I could get there but with the wind against us I feared I wouldn't have the strength to paddle against it on our way back. I pulled Larry aside and shared how I was feeling. Without hesitation he radioed Sean and both groups merged to discuss options. Thankfully, it was decided that we would not paddle to Angel Island and instead continue to work on rescues, towing and strokes near Yellow Bluff. We broke for lunch and I did my presentation on Hypothermia. I received some great feedback and plan on implementing the suggestions when I teach. I felt bad for wimping out on the paddle to Angel Island but a few paddlers mentioned to me that they were glad we didn't go. Not sure if they were trying to make me feel better but was glad to hear I wasn't the only person who was tired. We made it back to Horseshoe Cove around 4pm and thanked and said goodbye to our practice students. We loaded our boats and gear and headed to the Presidio Yacht Club for a beer, debrief and evaluations.


This was definitely one the most physically challenging endeavors I have ever partaken in but also the most valuable. I can't begin to explain how much I took away from this experience. In the end I was certified as a Level 2 ACA instructor and I look forward to taking my Level 3 exam next spring. I couldn't have asked for a better instructor than Sean Morley and I learned much from Larry Wagner. The group itself was made up of extremely skilled guides and paddlers and were so fun to be with! I have left quite a bit out of this post but hope this gives you an idea of what is involved in becoming a certified instructor. My highest respect goes out to all certified instructors who have taken the time to be the best they can be on the water. Kayaking is a sport that involves life long learning and that is one of the reasons I love it so much. Keep on paddling!