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Top Tips on Taking An Active Leadership Role

By Louise Tully

Most white water paddlers spend a while getting out on easier grades with a group of people who can look after them to start off with. This is excellent to begin with but there are many people who continue to let others take the lead even when they have the ability to paddle more difficult rivers. I was one of these people. It took some feedback on an assessment course to change what I was doing. It led me to start getting out and paddling in groups where I was in charge, or with others of my own ability. In my opinion this is when I started to make bigger improvements and my confidence increased.

Top Tips on Taking An Active Leadership Role

It is a scary step to move away from the apparent safety of your trusted paddling mates. I.m not saying to never paddle with them again as it.s great to push yourself on harder rivers with people that you trust. However, by getting out with different people you will become a more rounded paddler as you develop all the extra skills involved with river running, not just your paddling.
So how do you know when you are ready to take this step? If you are unsure you may want to ask your friends if they can take a step back and let you make more of the decisions yourself. This way you can practise your river leadership skills with the backup of others close by if needed. It.s quite reassuring to be able to ask questions if you are unsure at any time and you know if anything doesn.t go to plan that you have their back up.
Below is a list of skills that are needed to run a river. It.s not an exhaustive list but it.s designed to make you think about what you already know and highlight any possible areas for improvement. You are not expected to be an expert in all areas but you would kick yourself if an accident happened on the river and you hadn.t got a clue about first aid, for example.

Choice of river

Top Tips on Taking An Active Leadership Role

Do you know how to go about choosing a suitable river for your own ability and the people who you are leading? To start off with most people find they want to lead on rivers that are below their maximum paddling ability so that they are able to look after others around them. Do you have a good understanding of what the different grades mean and the differences between paddling in low and high water? It may be that a low level grade 3 run is well within your ability but in high water it becomes a nightmare. Guidebooks, the internet and local knowledge are all useful tools in making a river choice but it takes practise to be able to gauge if a river will be suitable. Even with all of the above, surprises can and do still happen! Another issue involved in river choice is access. Do you know where you stand for particular rivers as regards to access? How will you deal with access issues if they arise?

River Reading and leading

Top Tips on Taking An Active Leadership Role

Can you identify different river features from river level and bank level? Can you identify which of these features to avoid and the best line to do so? If you are in charge you will need to be able to make these decisions whilst communicating the line to the rest of the group. Therefore, will need to be able to choose suitable places to stop and inspect if necessary, and be able to judge the ability of others in order to get them to stop in suitable places. It.s no good getting someone to make a last chance eddie above a scary drop if you don.t think they have the ability to do so. You may also be the one making the decisions about whether to portage or paddle a particular rapid. When leading a river different styles of leadership are called for. Make sure that you are happy with your judgements about when it.s ok to all paddle down together and which situations need a more carefully managed approach.

What happens if something goes wrong?

Top Tips on Taking An Active Leadership Role

No matter how good your leadership is unfortunately things will still go wrong. Even the most experienced people never stop taking swims or getting boats pinned etc. It may happen less frequently but it will still happen and when it does would you know what to do? Quick decisions must be made about prioritising what to do first and who should do it. When someone swims in the group of people that you paddle with at the moment, it may be that everyone seems to find themselves a job and get on with the rescue quickly without needing much instruction. This is probably because they have been paddling together for a while and are used to what to do. Getting to practise rescuing people and kit is difficult because the more able people will get in there and do it before you have time to think. A good thing to do is attend a safety and rescue course that will give you the opportunity to practise in a controlled setting.
So, the person and kit have been rescued and the person is on the bank looking a bit battered. Do you know any first aid? A basic course is a good idea. Have a think about the types of injuries that are likely and make sure you know how to deal with these. For example, bleeding, hypothermia and shoulder dislocation. Sounds scary, doesn.t it but it would be a lot more scary if you didn.t know how to deal with an incident if it happened.

Does someone know where you are?

Top Tips on Taking An Active Leadership Role

It is the same for any kind of activity where you may be in a remote area. I.m sure there are lots of paddlers who go out and don.t think to let anyone know but if the worst did happen it would be nice to think that someone would know roughly where to come and try to help you. This gets a little harder as you start to paddle more difficult and more isolated rivers and it may get near impossible for someone to help you if you are off in some far away jungle doing a first descent, but it.s something to think about!

What kit do you carry?

When you start to take more responsibility you are not suddenly expected to carry everything for yourself but you will need to have an idea about what is necessary within the group. It is very difficult to give a definitive list of what should be taken on a river trip as every situation is different. However, each time you go out you should be thinking about what is needed. What is appropriate for the group you are with? Do you need anything extra if the river is remote? Does the time of year effect your decisions? How will this kit be carried so that it does not impede on your ability to paddle? How should it be shared out between the group members? It.s no good if the person who is carrying the split paddles in their boat is the most likely one to swim and lose their boat! It.s also worth thinking about the type and quality of kit you carry. For example, length of throw bag and carrying split paddles that someone would actually be able to use, rather than a cheap and nasty set that may make paddling difficult.

Time Keeping and Logistics

Top Tips on Taking An Active Leadership Role

How long will it take you to reach the get out? Where is the get out? How long will a shuttle take? Are you happy with figuring out the logistics of shuttle vehicles? Has the driver of the car at the get out remembered to bring their keys? It.s really annoying and embarrassing if you are the one who has to hitch back to get the car keys! There are lots of questions and things quite often take longer than you expect them to. However, it is at least good to make some guesstimates about timings or you may end up paddling into the dark and getting yourself into an epic.

I have not intended the above to seem like an endless daunting list, but more of a tool to gauge if you may be ready to make the next step. Lots of the above is common sense that just involves some thought. However some areas such as river reading, leadership and rescue skills need practise. Like I mentioned earlier, you can test out these skills with the safety of other more experienced people around you to start off with. Then, when you are feeling ready, get out there and give it a go on something well within your capabilities. Before your original paddling mates know it you will be a full part of the group, helping them to make decisions.


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