Educator Expedition: Skills to Paddle the Great Blue Sea

Posted by: Molly Herber on 6/1/15 2:00 AM

By Faroe Des Roches, NOLS Instructor

Faroe Des Roches describes how she improved her self-reliance and paddling skills on the Paddle Canada Level 3 course.

April 13, 2015: “Forecast issued at 04:00 Pacific Daylight Time. West Coast Vancouver Island South. Gale warning in effect. Winds SE 25-35 decreasing to W 15-25 in the morning then veering NW 20-30 overnight…”

Sunrise off Point Cochrane Ð early morning start Enjoying the sunrise. Photo by Tracy Baynes.

Situated on the west coast of Vancouver Island and open to the Pacific, the Broken Group Islands is a popular paddling destination – in the summer. In early April, visitors are few and far between. On the West Coast, April is known for its highly variable weather; winter gales and summer sunshine follow each other in rapid succession. The wind blows from all directions, strong at times and seemingly unpredictable.

Dressed in drysuits, with tarps, raingear and helmets packed reassuringly in our boats, our group set off from Toquart Bay into a nasty forecast. With 40-50 knot winds predicted for the following few days, we weren’t sure we would make our scheduled return five days later.

Suitably stormy, this labyrinth of islands was the ideal classroom for our Paddle Canada Level 3 sea kayak skills course. Level 3 Skills is a kayak touring award aimed at developing seamanship and leadership for multi-day touring in open coastal waters. I was excited to start the season with some personal skill development under the guidance of two of British Columbia's top paddlers, Gary Doran and Costain Leonard. Thanks to the NOLS Instructor Development Fund, I was able to participate.

Between squalls and hailstorms, I refined my strokes for greater efficiency in rough water and practiced a variety of self and assisted rescue techniques in open coastal conditions. When the wind was too much, we huddled under the tarp to analyze the forecast, connect observation with theory, and develop a deeper understanding of weather systems and regional weather patterns.

I was expecting to sharpen my skills for rougher water, add greater knowledge and new ideas to my teaching toolbox, and further my capacity to make sense of, and predict, the wind. I was not, however, expecting to find a raison d’être.

I was expecting to sharpen my skills for rougher water, add greater knowledge and new ideas to my teaching toolbox, and further my capacity to make sense of, and predict, the wind. I was not, however, expecting to find a raison d’être.

As I met the instructors and other participants on the first day, I was somewhat dismayed to realize I was the only woman participating in the training. I was reminded that this sport is still very male-dominated, especially at the higher levels. As a female paddler dedicated to the sport, I decided I have an obligation to continue to expand and refine my skill, knowledge and ability. Like the women in kayaks who have inspired me, I can, in turn, inspire and teach others to become competent, confident paddlers of the great blue sea.

Like the women in kayaks who have inspired me, I can, in turn, inspire and teach others to become competent, confident paddlers of the great blue sea.


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Learn more about sea kayaking in Mexico, Alaska, Chile, and beyond at NOLS!

Molly is a NOLS instructor and writer. She loves the smell of her backpack and does her best writing before 7:00 am. When she's not scouting the next post for the NOLS Blog, she's running and climbing on rocks in Wyoming. Follow her on Instagram @mgherber