by Harmony Dawn
I was born a water baby so it only makes sense that some of my best memories growing up include being with my family on the water at our cottage.
I remember sitting on the dock fishing with my dad, learning to drive the boat, or having him drive it while I went water skiing.
Notice I didn’t mention my Dad being in the water?
It’s because My dad doesn’t swim.
From swimming lessons, to competitive swim team practice and lifeguard training, my mom was always there. My dad was of course proud of me but he was happy to remain on dry land, paying for swimsuits, coaching and competitions!
When I got into Stand Up Paddling, a sport a someone with a fear of water might not be inclined to try, my Dad spent hours researching it online, building board racks, and picking up my paddle loving cat & dog from the beach when they’d had enough.
My Dad is the reason I take people paddling who don’t know how to swim
Fast forward a few years and my dad is stand up paddling through the mangroves in Florida.
I have 17 years of water safety experience. I love fear and respect the water. I have the skills I need to teach swimmers and non-swimmers alike. My SUP 101 class is open to all. That means, I’m ready for anything.
People sign up all the time without letting me know they can not swim. But they show up ready to SUP. They can be 350lbs, have double amputations, hearing loss, PTSD, or Autism. And while I’ve had a a wide range of people come out to paddle who have “disabilities,” their numbers pale in comparison to the number of people with a debilitating fear of water.
Every month, I have a couple non-swimmers in my classes
Most often they don’t identify themselves to me on the beach. I don’t ask. Sometimes I spot them immediately, sometimes it’s not until we are on the water. But it always comes out.
My job as a SUP instructor is to equip people with the tools they need in order make informed decisions. I want to prepare them for when they’re on their own, when they go to the local shop to buy, or are on vacation and want to rent a board. My job is also to inspire them to want to get out on the water again for fun or for fitness for more advanced skills, for whatever – maybe that includes learning to swim!
I don’t create boundaries
The best way that I know how to do this is by not creating the boundary of “you can’t come with if you can’t swim.” Have you ever asked group of people if they can swim? The one person in the group of people surrounded by others they’ve never met before raised their hand waved it around enthusiastically telling you they can’t swim right??!
Yeah they didn’t. Or they all told you they could swim. Doggy paddle counts and no one said you need to be training for he next olympics!
Maybe you didn’t ask, because they signed the waiver, somewhere in the middle of that legal babble it said that they that had to know how to swim and so they must know how to swim because they signed the waiver.
Keep classes small to ensure everyone gets personal attention
I keep my SUP 101 class small to ensure that everyone gets personal attention. If the wind is too much, cancel for their safety and reschedule. Deal with their disappointment and a loss of revenue are small prices to pay for their safety, enjoyment and the chance for a long-term client and friend. If they have a positive first experience it could be life changing, and they will come back.
It starts with safety
From the minute my class starts on the beach I go over safety of the location (wind direction, current, boat traffic and other concerns that may be necessary for the area, the laws) For instance, the law requiring you to have a lifejacket—not wear it, just have it on you or on your board. This is a ridiculous law, one I didn’t make, but one I inform my students of because you can get a hefty fine if you don’t have one.
My law—The Leash Law
More importantly, I tell my students about my law -the leash law. If you paddle with Urban Ocean, you use a leash. This is for my students’ safety and mine. That way, if you fall off your board, you are attached to what is essentially a giant lifejacket (the board) and you can pull it close to you with your leash.
If conditions or the exertion becomes too much for a student, or if I need to rescue you, I will use my leash to tow you.
AND everyone wears a PFD for my SUP 101 class
Because I do not care if you can swim or not. If you can’t, thats fine. Everyone is welcome. You’re here and were going out, if you have a good time and this inspires you to learn to swim, fantastic.
There are no inflatable life jackets for my SUP 101 class
They are available for advanced classes, but in SUP 101, where I don’t know who can swim and who can’t, we all wear a vest PFD. If I have to do a rescue of a non swimmer and they are freaking out on top of me, we are both supported.
That way, I don’t have to struggle to separate us for both of our safety. We don’t have to struggle to pull a cord attached to a CO2 Cartridge on the inflatable and hoping it inflates, ect.
When someone takes their first few uneasy strokes on the water and I tell them that by the end of the class they will feel different, it’s because I know they will. And when I see their smile when they get it, I couldn’t be happier.
My passion for being on the water is something I hope everyone who takes a class with me feels.