A Week of Teaching Ken Howery


Sometimes in life you get the opportunity to work with great people.   I am lucky in that I have that opportunity every day with my team at Jackson Kayak (and my family).     However this past week,  it was another great personal experience for me.  I got to work and hang out with somebody who was not only tops in school at Stanford turned entrepreneur at a young age (CFO/partner in PayPal at 25 years old) but also just as quick to learn kayaking.


I could use my knowledge of physics, trigonometry, calculus and everything else that governs how the water effects your boat and strokes in my teaching and never have to worry about losing him.      He was nearly a virgin to whitewater, with only a couple of weekends of beginner type paddling 10 years ago, no rolling experience, and  could not paddle his boat in a straight line.    That was all about to change.


I met Ken during the “Summit at Sea”  (www.summitseries.com ) where he had a pre-boarding party in Miami and I was invited.   I wasn’t sure how I got the invitation, but figured it out quickly after I arrived.    I was asked if I could teach him to be a kayaker during a pre-dinner drink.      I gave him a few scenarios of where and when it could work with my busy schedule and left it at that.   We exchanged contact information, but I hadn’t heard from him until a couple of weeks ago.   He asked me if I was still going to the Ottawa River in Canada and if that was still a good place for him to come and learn to paddle.    I figured out a schedule that worked after Outdoor Retailer Show.     Lodging by Wilderness Tours and camping at the RV, as well as food by Kristine (she catered the experience).


Ken scheduled 4 days with me, but said he might want to extend it.      I hired Dane to help by coming along and creating a video of his progress.    Dane was there for his fitting into the Fun Runner and his first few strokes.    He couldn’t get his skirt on by himself or paddle straight at first.    This was truly a beginner.    5 minutes into it he was learning all of the rules about the 4 interactive parts that every kayaker must learn to control at the same time, but independently (head, paddle, torso, boat/hips).   It is fun teaching somebody, like Ken,  who is very well educated and understands the math/science behind the concepts and instead of using analogies, you can use the formulas and instead of confusing them, they are immediately able to apply those formulas to their strokes and can coach themselves off of them.      He was a coach’s dream student for me.


After an hour of strokes and concepts, it was rolling and bracing time.    I already made the “15 minutes or less or your money back”  guarantee with him so the pressure was on.     Ken got his first roll in less then 10 minutes, and was up to phase 4 (setting up underwater) by 15.      He brace was OK, but that was his weak point so far.

Dane got his first roll on video (see attached video for his entire week, minus day 5).     We moved from the flatwater at the “Lorne Beach” to the whitewater at the bottom of the Lorne rapid.    Peel outs and eddy outs were next.   He made the same basic mistakes that everyone makes in the beginning trying to commit, but not, to the lean downstream on the peel out and then leaning upstream while trying to catch the eddy on the eddy out.     A few combat rolls into it we were ready to get more aggressive and hit some bigger currents, eddylines, and waves.


We ferried all of the way up to the base of where the BusEater Wave is at high water and peeled out into the big water.   He flipped and eventually rolled.    I was there the entire time, as I always am, in case he geeks his rolls and needs help.    I don’t teach the “T Rescue” as it encourages giving up and waiting for help, instead of continuing to try your roll and eventually getting it.   If somebody is missing them, using the hand of God techniques assures that you get them up, while they never actually give up trying.   It is a much better long -term mental approach, and works better in the short run as well.


We decided to run through “Push button” as well and attempt to use the eddies down below for peel out/eddy out practice.   He struggled pretty hard with both of them in the beginning, as his natural reaction was to lift his paddle up in the air and air brace, instead of using his paddle on the water to keep his balance.   This would be a big subject for the next day for us as we were scheduled to run down the river, including running through Satler’s Wave on Day 2.


We went back to the “Ranch” and Kristine has some beer in the fridge and appetizers before she cooked our dinner.


Day 2:


Strokes and Concepts at the put-in by the RV:  We really hammered on them and he was catching on quick.   Ken was getting his spin momentum and paddle dexterity exercises quickly, which are the hardest ones.      I taught Ken to roll on his left side as well and brace on both sides much better.  He could now quickly roll on either side and brace head in water on both sides.


We scouted Satler’s and ran it duckie style.    Ken made it through the big wave but lost his “broad external focus” and flipped below it by just sitting there and not thinking and reacting to the water.   He rolled up on his first try, which was awesome in the middle of Mc Coy’s rapid and caught he eddy.    We did the “broad external focus” lesson at that point (as anyone who has learned from me should remember) and then continued down McCoys.


Iron Ring, S-Bend, S-Bend Hole all went well.   I lead him straight into the hole on the left at Butterfly and let him try his “boof”  and he actually did one on his first run, but Dane missed it as he was playing around in the Rogue.    I had Ken walk up with me to try it again for the video.   I went first and nailed the boof in the Zen and Ken came behind me and didn’t boof this time so got sucked back in and swirled around in the hole before rolling up.  He was getting some good rolling practice in.


Ken walked Garvins this day as he was not good enough to make it down right side up yet, a prerequisite for me leading somebody down.


We ate chicken burgers and sausages by a fire and enjoyed the incredible scenery at Garvin’s rapid.


We headed out after lunch and he attempted to surf “upper no name” but not successfully.  He did catch a wave on the fly down below and was getting anxious to do some more surfing.    I snuck him down the left side at Lower No Name and he had his first successful river run on the Middle Channel of the Ottawa!


We checked out of the Ranch and he moved into a tent at the RV for a night and we had some of Kristine’s famous Chili for dinner and beer to go with it.


Day 3:  Main Channel!


On Ken’s third day we would be heading down the main channel, which is much bigger water and a good roll and brace makes life much easier.    His brace was improving but was still a weak point.  His roll was nearly bomb proof, but we needed more right side up time.


Ken’s ability to do “EJ’s Strokes and Concepts” was getting quite impressive as he was doing the draws, offside c-strokes, reverse compound strokes (using spin momentum), the S-Turn stroke and more very well.   He was not doing the Sideslip stroke well yet, if at all.    It was hand rolling time and we got that out of the way in about 3 minutes.     He was getting good at much of “EJ’s Rolling and Bracing” with an aptitude for the roll and still having to work on the brace.


We ran the tongue of Phil’s Hole this time and he nailed it right side up and caught the first eddy on the right.   His “broad external focus” was in high gear and he even did the double fist pump (part of the training) which is the test for broad external focus.    He made it to Corner Wave Eddy, and then through the tongue between right and left side Beaver and over Baby Face.


We got to the Lorne (garberator rapid) and decided to do the boof over the pourover as his first run down this rapid.  He was nervous about this rapid.    He asked me “what if I miss the rock we are boofing over?”   I used an analogy that it is as big as a barn door and it would be like walking up to a barn door and then throwing a ball at it and missing it.    Hard to do.    Dane was on camera as I lead Ken down for his first boof over this hole.    It is about a 4-5 foot drop.    I looked back at him and told him to angle left more to assure he gets in position and then lead him down.   I hit the boof and looked back only to see him about 10 feet too far right and not driving left.  He tried to lean into the boof and tipped over, washed over the boof rock on the outside of it and flushed down into Moby Dick and then through Garberator and then missed 4 rolls and swam.     This was his first swim.      I helped him pick up the pieces and we went straight to lunch.  He was a little bummed about it but I assured him we would walk up after lunch and do it right.       Dane told me at lunch that Ken was not focused on running the rapid, but looked up at him and said “are you recording?”   Ha- now that is funny!   I teased Ken about his broad external focus point that time.   We would try again later.


After a double cheese burger on the grill and some hot chocolate, some soup, chips, and gorp for lunch we headed up to the top of the rapid again.    This time, I gave the same speech about the barn door and told him that only an idiot could miss the barn door twice.     He nailed the boof in good style and then tried to surf Garberator twice on his third day of kayaking!      We went down to Push Button and he did a good short surf or two but on one flip he only tried to roll once, switched sides, dropped his paddle and then swam.    I had just dropped down into that eddy and Emily was teaching a class with Katrina Kirkoff.   They got to witness my “I am weaning you off of me” technique without any heads up.  They got to see me paddle up to Ken, say “Get your paddle and boat and swim to shore- I’ll be up here surfing” as he was floating around the corner to a place he had never been.    I was not going to be easy on him at this point.  Time to suck it up and realize that swimming is not an option.     The more it sucks the less you will consider it an option.   Bootie beer and other things were in my mind at that point.    He came back up around the corner in about 10 minutes and I asked him if he planned on rolling or swimming when he flipped the next time.  He said, “I will roll from now on.”     I knew he was now “bomb proofed”, even though we hadn’t tested it.


A couple of surfs and then down to “butcher’s knife” where I lead him straight into “Butcher’s block”.     I wanted him to get the experience of hitting a wave/hole strong enough that it would stop him instantly and suck him back in and likely flip him immediately.    That is just what happened and it looked quite impressive as I followed right behind him.  He rolled up fast and went on his way and loved it.


We practiced rolling in the Whirlpools next and did underwater 360s to help him get comfortable with more time underwater (up to 30 seconds).   He was getting stronger and better really fast.


Norman’s rapid went really well and he braced into each wave and stayed right side up until the bottom crazy eddy.      Coliseum was different as he flipped at the top, rolled, flipped in the middle, rolled, and flipped at the bottom and rolled.  He never really saw the rapid, but he didn’t swim.


We checked into “Little Picky” the premium spot on the Ottawa and cooked on the camp fire.   Awesome.


Day 4:   Middle again-  Now it was time for learning to roll up, spot your target and make the eddy fast.   It was our goal for him to learn to come up and already know where the target is and use the right strokes to get there as fast as possible (which is lowest over all energy, even though you sprint, and it is great training for when you don’t have much margin for error (like surfing corner wave where the eddy is hard to catch and you have to be fast).


We went for the Phil’s Hole surf this time (day 4!) but he got an unlucky surge and went right under it.  He rolled quickly, caught the eddy and off we went.


I’ll skip right to Garvins (the Class 5, that we call Class 4) on the Ottawa Middle channel.     We pulled onto the rock and scouted and Ken was not very enthused about the possibility of running this rapid.    We scouted as if he was going to run it and I was confident in his ability to run it properly, getting to the bottom of the “Dragon’s Tonque” right side up and then making the move around the pourover to river right.      He was clearly scared, breathing hard and struggling.     I told him he doesn’t have to run this if he doesn’t want to.   He asked if I thought he could die running it.    I told him I thought he could run it and truly enjoy it and not get hurt at all, but worse case scenario was flipping up top and beating himself up on the rocks below, but he would have to be an idiot to do that (I used the Barn Door analogy again, because it was the same chances of success or failure and I wanted him to understand that the power lied with him, not me telling him he could do it.   I also suggested not asking Dane if he was “recording” on the way in.)    He decided to give it a go and we got in immediately, did a practice roll, and I explained how his body’s reaction to the rapid and what we are about to do can be interpreted by his brain one of three main ways:  1.   I am scared and hope I don’t choke  2. I am super fired up and alive and ready to rock  3.  I am in  love and the person in front of me is making me feel this way.    I immediately took #3 off the table as an option for his interpretation of the high heart rate,  butterflies, and uncontrolled breathing patterns.       I gave him a trick for putting his brain in the “fired up and ready” interpretive mode which is the best way to paddle.     I had him splash water on his face and give out a battle cry,  “Whooo hooo!” and then “let’s go do this!”    He did that and was on my tail like white on rice.    We headed for the critical move, paddling over the hump and not falling off either side, and he nailed it and went right off the end zone perfectly, and then caught the eddy and started for the right side.     There was one more move, although not critical, which was to get past the bottom hole.  I made the tongue and he made the hole.  It sucked him in backwards flipped him, he rolled in it, and then flipped again and broke a blade off of his paddle on the rocks and flushed out.  It took him numerous roll attempts but he made it up!

Lunch never tasted so good as we sat there and ate looking up at the rapid and feeling good about running it.


He borrowed Dane’s paddle for the rest of the run as Dane C1ed down and I lead him down the big water lines of Upper and Lower No Name.


That night we went and played some disc golf at Owl and ate dinner there and then went to Wilderness Tours where we got passes to get in to “Bud Camp” compliments of Joe Kowalski.  Bud Camp is a big party where Budweiser has a bunch of ticket winners who win a trip to Wilderness Tours where they vote on the activities and they bring in 50 “Bud Girls” to spice things up.     We arrived as they were getting started and Ken’s only regret for the entire week was that Dane wasn’t there to film his greeting at the door.    50 Bud Girls  lined up in two lines for us to run through high fiving them the entire way while they blew whistles and made all kinds of noises.    It was so fun we just had to do it again back the other way, and then one more time into the party.     They had an awesome band playing, beach volleyball, hockey, basketball, lawn games, and a bar where you could get Budweiser.     Ken and I milked the party for all it was worth and even got the low down on where everyone was staying.   The winners, (boys mostly) where staying at WT.    The Bud Girls were being transported off site to a hotel at another town.   Neither Ken or I are single, so it was wasted information.  We found out which town and hotel, which was information that the rest of that party would have loved to have.     It was funny to us that we knew and they didn’t.


Day 5:  Ken decide to go one more day.   On this day everything was clicking.  He was paddling aggressively and getting where he wanted to go in his boat, rolling quickly, and spotting his target.  Surfing was going great and he was able to do harder lines.    It was awesome to watch him in action on his final day.    He was now a solid Class 3 Boater ready to run rivers everywhere!      I hope I get the opportunity to take him to the next level!


Good job Ken!   Thanks for testing out the Fun Runner and Zen as well!     I think many people will be learning in these boats next year!


Emily, Dane, Nick, Kristine and I hit up Ottawa and had a nice dinner at the “Market”  at the Luxe Bistro, and then stayed at a sweet hotel in town before dropping him off at the airport and heading back to the RV for training and work.