Better know a kayak instructor - Richard Alexander

Sunday, 15 October 2006
Richard Alexander

This is the first in our series called "Better know a kayak instructor". We are going around interviewing influential instructors to find out about them and why they started teaching in the first place.

For our first interview, we talked to Richard Alexander from The Newfoundland Kayak Company in St. John's, Newfoundland. Not only is he a top notch paddler and instructor but he is also the current President of Paddle Canada.

SKI - Thanks so much for meeting with me Richard. How long have you been teaching kayaking?
RA – Well, I have been officially teaching under the Paddle Canada program since its inception, I guess it was 2000 when I first got started teaching.

SKI – What level of certification do you currently hold?
RA – I am certified with Level 4 skill, Level 3 instructor and Level 2 Instructor Trainer in the Paddle Canada Sea Kayak Program.

SKI - Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not out paddling/teaching?
RA - I work for a special interest advocacy organization. We specialize in Labour Relations issues. I am also president of Paddle Canada.

SKI - What got you interested in teaching kayaking in the first place?
RA - I wanted to continue my past involvement in the adventure industry. Something about the professionalism of running and certifying people under a national standard was appealing. I like the continuous improvement side of the Paddle Canada program and the mentoring aspect of running courses. It is very different experience than running a tour.

SKI - What is the best thing about teaching kayaking?
RA - Working with friends/instructors to create and execute a high quality experience for course participants – an experience that exceeds the participant’s expectations.

SKI - What is the funniest experience when out on the water?
RA - After demonstrating a high brace recovery to a couple, one of the participants remarked, "Oh my God, I’m not even trying that!"

As a follow-up, the participant did eventually try it and succeeded. They now paddle regularly in challenging conditions.

SKI - Any close calls?
RA - If you do this type of thing long enough you will eventually be faced with a "challenging situation" this is especially true when you are trying to expose people to progressively more challenging environmental conditions. Having a "challenging situation" just means you need to rethink what you are doing. If you go too far and a participant’s anxiety is too high he or she doesn’t learn. Leaning is the whole point of what we do.

SKI - What advice would you give to a new instructor?
RA - It is easy to become caught up in the trap of "I am an instructor – now I am finished". Developing your skill requires continuous feedback, reflection and experience. Experience comes with practice -- you have to teach and teach a lot to improve. The truly exceptional instructors continually question what they are doing, and look for better ways. They also actively seek out feedback by asking their course participants and their peers how they are doing. Be careful, such feedback can burst bubbles but the end result is worth it.

SKI – Changing gears and getting to the really important stuff, what is the most recent movie you saw?
RA - Monsters Inc. About 12 times – it’s a hit with my two girls who are 5 and 3 years old.

SKI - What is playing on your mp3 player right now? No Mp3 player? CD player. No CD player? OK, 8-track..
RA - Sharon, Lois and Bram’s Great Big Hits - I have to drop the girls off to day care in the mornings!

Richard is the owner of The Newfoundland Kayak Company. In 2002, he completed a 300 mile expedition up the west coast of Greenland.

David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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