The lead instructor asked for some basic information: name, home base, how long have you been paddling? As I listened to the students give their responses I realized that “how long have you been paddling?” is separate from “how long have you been training?” And so I asked the students to add that bit of information.
As nearly every student said they had been training twice or three times as long as I have, I realized I had another question: what is training? What does that word mean?
the action of teaching a person or animal a particular skill or type of behavior.
the action of undertaking a course of exercise and diet in preparation for a sporting event.
When I decided I wanted to surf, I started training. I set goals, sought out workshops, and found coaches who could assist me in traveling along that trajectory. This is training: goal oriented, objective driven, work.
So then, why is it that my friends seem to do so much “training,” and yet don’t show much improvement? One reason: the training they’ve signed up for more precisely falls in the “trip” category. New experiences may be found. Some instruction may be given. They may learn a thing or two while on these trips, but no actual training is happening. There is certainly a place for these trips. I enjoy taking these trips myself. But they aren’t training.
Life on the Edge, a challenging class taught by the excellent Tom Noffsinger, is a very good example of training. Here he teaches the student a number of exercises that can be used to hone one’s boat control skills. The class is informative, entertaining, and engaging. But the class alone won’t improve a student’s skills. The second part of training is what is required after the class: practice.
What is practice?
2. repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.
"it must have taken a lot of practice to become so fluent"
training, rehearsal, repetition, preparation;
It is a repetitive action that aims to improve performance of a certain task. For example: “let’s go roll.” Rob and I drop in at the local launch. We don’t paddle anywhere. We get far enough away from the ramp that we won’t get run over, or tangled in weeds, and we roll. Just roll. Maybe, if we blow a roll, we do a bow rescue. Maybe we cowboy. But we spend 1.5 hours rolling. Is it fun? Maybe, maybe not. We do it for the sake of improving form and condition. Practice, training.
If I say I’m going to practice I don’t drop in and then paddle away, distracted by birds or conversation. Indeed, the best practice may be a solitary pursuit; perhaps one other person, but maybe not a group.
I have a friend who sometimes shows up when we are planning to practice. He doesn’t want to work on edging and pivot turns for two hours. He insists we paddle “over there,” just the opposite of practice. Paddling somewhere will not lead to improvement, unless it’s focused on endurance, form, or speed, that is.
Tip: if you are paddling somewhere and you can easily carry on a conversation, you are not training. You are touring. Now, touring is just fine for touring’s sake. But don’t lie to yourself about touring. The clear benefits of being outdoors, having a peaceful mind, etc, are what makes touring wonderful for us. Touring is not training, however.
There is certainly a place for every paddler. The sightseer, the birder, the social paddler, all have a place on the water and are very welcome to their version of messing about in boats. I certainly don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that I think those things are not valuable, and worthwhile.
In conclusion, if you want to be the best you can be, you need to pursue training: take the classes and practice. There is no shortcut.