Presumption is the mother of all cockups.

… Or rather assumption is. There is something strange in the world of kayaking. There are a lot of opinions about what is right or wrong technique or tactics. But whilst the overall community is very friendly, sometimes I think there can be a hidden ego under the surface.

One particular habit I have noticed is for people to make assumptions about a persons abilities before they have ever really paddled with them. I am noticing more and more people giving me tips on boating technique, and lines, almost as if I have only just started in the sport, often with them even having seen me on the water.

My partner, Emily has also noticed this. Although often this appears to be because she is female. There seems to be an assumption that she is a beginner or needs help with everything. The reality is she’ll kick your ass.

Such unwanted help becomes particularly prevalent when we are practicing something new. Obviously, because something is new, it won’t be perfect, until it has been practiced enough. But this doesn’t stop the self proclaimed experts assuming that because we haven’t quite mastered a particular move on the first go, that we therefore need help with everything else about our boating! Can’t master that carthwheel? Well here are some tips on how to do a shoulder wrenching “hands in the air, say yeah” high brace! Gee, thanks for that. I’ll now go and paddle the Stikine with my newfound knowledge…

I can find some humour in some of the tips I am given. Much of it is quite dated. From telling me to high brace my way down the river, through to hauling and leaning back for a boof, through to passively hooking the paddle into an eddy and spinning out on the eddy line, thereby blocking anyone else who wants to get in.

This is all very well, but what is actually frustrating, and therefore very annoying, is the assumption that we need help in the first place. Emily for example might decide to go into a feature and practice relaxing on a wave or in a hole, or she might be experimenting with trim, or carving. She might be experimenting with ways of driving over eddy lines to keep momentum going. Yet self proclaimed teachers will come out of the woodwork to tell her everything she was doing wrong, even though she wasn’t focussing on any of the things they suggest, and was instead trying to isolate something else.

In other words, if you have a really high opinion of your own paddling (no matter how unwarranted), please ask before offering out advice. Because you have absolutely not the  foggiest, faintest idea of what we might be focussing on in our practice. You do not know our experience of rivers, our skill level, where we have been, or what we have run.

Sometimes we might be having an off day. Everybody has one of those occasionally. The paddle stroke timings are off, or we make silly tactical mistakes. But do not be fooled into thinking that we want your helpful advice on how to ‘scull for support’.

I usually ask people if they mind me giving them an opinion if I see something I think might be causing them an issue, because I know that they just might be having a bad day. But even then only after I have seen them struggle for a while with the same thing. But we have even had people coming up and giving unsolicited advice when we have been right in the middle of paid for coached sessions, with our coach sat right there with us in the eddy!

Lastly, please don’t give me an unsolicited run down of all the rivers you have run and people you have rescued. I do not care, and for all you know I have run bigger, more technical runs, and with more style, thereby making yourself look like a complete tool. I don’t know. But then neither do you. So please keep your story of your run down the Dart at a medium level when you had to rescue a paddle to yourself. It isn’t interesting. No really, it isn’t. Not unless there is a hilarious punchline to the story or something, such as your trousers fell down when you went running down the bank or you caught Gal Gadot skinny dipping with seven dwarves below Surprise Surprise.

I am quite self deprecating and critical of my own paddling. I know what I can and cannot do, and I know what I am willing to do and what I am not. But do not mistake my self deprecating comments as a need for one-upmanship based advice on paddling. If I make a mistake, I can tell you right now that I could give you a much better technical breakdown of what happened, and what I could differently, in the instant the mistake was made, than you can with your high bracing, sculling for support suggestion.

Emily and I are members of certain Facebook groups because they give us an opportunity to go out with other paddlers and have fun. And also to help support people who might have less experience and confidence. We do the best we can when practising our own skills. And, generally, if we want advice, we’ll pay for it, and often do.

I know some may rail against my opinion here, and say that at least it shows how friendly and helpful the community is. They would be right, up to a point. But it is clear that many people are offering their advice out of ego and assumption. Whenever I have been offered advice off a really good paddler, it has always come from the standpoint of asking me to try something to see if it makes a difference, or asking me if I’d like some help. There’s a big difference.

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