I got a chance to teach a beginner SUP class at California Canoe & Kayak in Oakland (at Jack London Square) on Sunday morning. Let's just say that events did not unfold like I had imagined they would. Unlike other times I had helped teach there, there's already a crowd in the square as this was the 2nd day of a HUGE food festival. I got there very early, introduced myself to the shop manager and changed into my paddling clothes, got my class folder and waited for the students to arrive. The roster only showed three students but I found out there 2 more people were coming (though I didn't have their names). To make things confusing, there were already walk-in customers coming into the shop standing around, Ben was preparing for his Intro to Sea Kayaking class and working with getting his students changed and geared up. I was starting to become confused about which students were in which class. Once we get that worked out, people are lining up for the 2 available changing rooms. It was mayhem in there!
Once I get my guys out of the shop and headed to the dock, I breathe a sigh of relief and can feel the stress start to disappear. Ha!, as soon as I look down at the dock I can tell that things are going to be very tricky indeed! Ben has his kayaking group down there already AND there are other people launching kayaks from the dock. Well, they are not really launching, they are just standing there next to their boats which happen to be sitting broadside on the dock right in front of the SUP board stand. So now, there's no room to do the dryland presentation and all of my gear (paddles and leashes) are over on the other side of Ben's class! Adapt and overcome...
Once I cover some basics, it's time to get in the water. This is where things get tricky. By now, Ben's class is starting to get in the water, I have to get six board off the rack, show them how to attach leashes and demonstrate how to launch off the dock. I finally get a little clear area so I stuff all the boards on this tiny floating platform. My students are helping too and someone barely bumps the tail of this soft board into the kayak that is hogging the dock. The kayaker acted like someone had just banged their door into her new Porsche. It's a plastic kayak lady, relax. To make matters worse, she stood there right next to her craft refusing to leave it's side even though she was RIGHT IN OUR WAY. So, after dodging her and her precious kayak, we finally get everyone in the water. I breathe another sigh of relief...
Quickly, I start to see that that this is going to be an interesting group! We had a few early falls and some wandering off, lots of paddles facing the wrong direction, a yacht, a ferry, more wandering off, someone stopping and sitting on the dock during the lesson, more falling, lots of inattention and chitchat (between the couple and between the three friends) with a focus on playing around. I felt like a substitute teacher in May.
Within the span of five minutes, a yacht comes in the marina, the ferry comes, someone falls and nearly hits her head on the dock, I hear "Why do I need to turn my paddle around, it works just fine like this" and from someone else "I don't understand why we're doing this." all this right before I have to chase down Mr. Cowboy and have him come back and join the group. For a moment I thought to myself "well this didn't work out, I'm not doing this anymore, its no fun." I wouldn't say I gave up but I resigned myself to meet them where they were and just have fun as safely as possible and hope that they learn something by accident. I dug way down in my bag of tricks to think of something to keep them interested (the finer points of the reverse sweep were not quite enough). I started covering how to move around on the board and how to self-rescue (they LOVED watching me fall off the board). I then showed them how to pivot turn while seated on the board. This was a big crowd pleaser and everyone was laughing and splashing each other. By the end of the class, their skills had improved tremendously. They were even walking back and forth on the board! With about 30 minutes remaining in the class, I had Mr. Cowboy lead the group back to the dock after convincing him that we are NOT going to paddle through the channel and the boat traffic!
After quickly dealing with gear and changing, I discover there's no where to sit to complete the evaluations and go over the debriefing. On top of that, they are all ready to leave! Yikes, what have I done to these people? They completed their evaluations, and each one told me that I was a fantastic instructor. A couple of them said "Jeff should teach ALL SUP classes" and "I wish we had more time". One student even gave me a tip. They all gave me glowing reviews and left with big smiles on their faces.
You really do have to adapt, stay positive and meet people "where they are". They obviously didn't have the same amount of respect for the lesson plan as I had but they did learn something, they all improved greatly and most importantly, they had a GREAT time on the water on a beautiful day and that's the whole point isn't it? To have fun on the water. My instructor manual has a quote about teaching the students not the curriculum. Lesson learned.