Organized below are some materials and resources to help you prepare for a American Canoe Association (ACA) Level 1-Introduction to Kayaking Instructor certification workshop. This material will be covered in your course, but it will help immensely for you to have read over and become familiar (if not practiced at) this body of knowledge.

Some general expectations I’ll have of you as instructor candidates during the course:

  • Plan ahead and come prepared. Attending this course alone will not guarantee you will leave as an instructor. Review the material you’re supplied with and review the materials and information available on the ACA website.
  • Participate to the best of your ability. Be engaged and interact with others with a positive, collaborative attitude during the course. This is a learning experience and you will help your own and other instructor candidates’ learning during the course by adding your own personality, experience and skills.
  • Ask questions. There are no stupid questions.
  • Be creative and be yourself. I value an evolutionary approach to teaching paddling and want to see you becoming a part of forward change in our sport.
  • Be punctual and prepared for activities and exercises.
  • Work on your “soft skills” during the course and between course sessions. I want to see you interact with others effectively as students yourselves, as part of a peer group and as potential instructors. I want to see your ability to connect with beginner paddlers and take them through logical skills/knowledge progressions. Start thinking right now about a beginner’s perspective on kayaking and keep that perspective in mind as you teach.
  • Work on your “hard” skills during the course and between course sessions. Take note that I will be teaching you “model quality” paddling skills that are intended as demonstration techniques for students. Having the world’s greatest forward stroke is of no value to an instructor if s(he) can’t teach a student to perform it. I’ll be looking for specific forms and techniques for the modeling skills that I’ll advise you of and work with you on.
  • Take notes. You will be presented a mountain of information during the course that will serve you well through your career as an instructor. You’ll be glad to have these notes at hand in the future.
  • Rest up prior to the course and take good care of yourself during the course. We will have long days in class and on the water. You’ll learn as an instructor that you won’t be at your best if you aren’t well fed and hydrated. You owe this to yourself and your students.

You’ll see that some of the following material is directly from the ACA web site and some is information that I have developed specifically for the course as it relates to the skills you’ll need to know and demonstrate. In addition to the direct links to pages on the ACA website provided below, it will help you to browse around the ACA website ( and become familiar with the location of the materials you may need, particularly in the “Education/Instruction” menu.

  • Level 1 Kayak Instructor Criteria. This material will be covered in the course but  it is expected that you enter the course with these basic paddling skills. There will be little time to develop skills and bring you “up to speed” during our brief course.
  • To participate in the course, you’ll need to be an ACA member. You can join here and sign up as an instructor candidate.
  • You will need to own a personal copy of the ACA Instructor Manual (either the spiral-bound copy($25) or the CD($15)). These can be purchased here. Please read and be familiar with this manual before coming to class.
  • Before teaching as an ACA Instructor, you must have current first aid and age-appropriate CPR certifications (appropriate to the age of students you will be teaching, e.g. “Adult”). The CPR certification must have a hands-on component of the training (i.e. can’t be completely done on the internet).
  • Before your certification becomes effective, you must join and pay dues of $25 to the ACA Safety Education and Instruction Council (SEIC). This fee can be paid in advance on the ACA website or can be paid in the course. Once certified, this is an annual due, in addition to annual ACA membership if you want to retain your certification.
  • Study the sample skills courses for Level 1 Kayak including Smartstart Paddler Orientation, Quickstart Your Kayak, and Introduction to Kayaking. The Introduction to Kayaking course is considered the “body of knowledge” that this course will prepare you to teach, with subsets provided by the other two courses. Note the criteria for venue, instructor:student ratios and the fact that the use of (or teaching the use of) sprayskirts is not allowed at Level 1.
  • Study the Level 1 Kayaking Skills Assessment. In an assessment, the instructor is asking the student to demonstrate a list of skills and knowledge, rather than teaching those skills. The student can be awarded the assessment certificate by ACA if they are successful.
  • A large portion of your certification course will be dedicated to learning how to teach and we will thus spend a great deal of time practicing that. You will be responsible for the knowledge and skills contained in the skills courses and assessment. Examples of small topics you may be asked to teach in the course are provided here, but anything in the L1 curriculum is a potential teaching topic for you. You might also consider what kind of information you’d give a group of paddlers prior to taking them on a day-trip on a lake (the “put-in talk”) and what kind of information you might want to capture in developing and filing a “float plan” with friends. I will probably ask your classmates to role-play as students and ask you questions about kayaking.
  • ACA course reporting. There are a couple of key pieces of paperwork you’ll need to be familiar with. In order to maintain your certification, you need to report at least 2 courses to ACA every four years (plus a few other requirements). You can report these courses very easily using either online or hard-copy report forms. All of the forms you’ll need are on this web page. If you teach a class that is not insured using ACA insurance (Yes, that’s OK if you don’t want to use ACA insurance), you can use the EZ Skills report form online. If you do use ACA insurance, you need to provide just a little more info using the Skills Course Report Form online or via hard copy. You will not be able to maintain your certification if you do not report at least two courses every four years. You can co-teach these courses with another instructor and both of you will receive that credit. Please report every course you teach. It helps ACA to maintain its position with government agencies like the Coast Guard as the national leader and authority on paddlesports to be able to demonstrate how many students ACA programs educate.
  • ACA Insurance. The ACA provides a tremendous resource to independent paddling instructors in the form of affordable liability insurance for courses. The process of applying for, obtaining insurance and reporting insured courses is outlined on this web page. Note that every participant of the course must be an ACA member, even it is just a $5 “event member” (which the instructor can collect or pay fees for) and every participant, including the instructor (Yes! The insurance covers even the instructor!), must complete an appropriate (minor or adult) ACA Waiver and Release of Liability. Should any accident/injury occur, the instructor should complete and submit an accident report form to ACA. In perspective, ACA-affiliated instruction programs have an excellent safety record that speaks to its effectiveness. Let’s keep it that way.
  • Most of our work on teaching skills will occur in the course but I have published a couple of videos and descriptions of deep-water rescues that you’ll need to demonstrate during the course. Please review these and practice as much as possible ahead of time. Being proficient in them will save a lot of time and frustration for you in the course. This page also covers some guidance and external videos that give give you some ideas about certain strokes, maneuvers and even teaching styles. I highly recommend this article that covers many of the basic physics of paddling as well as suggestions for how to teach those skills. Though much of it is intended for higher-level courses, the fundamentals are sound even at Level 1.

Borrowing a phrase coined by the candidates in one of my prior whitewater kayak instructor certification workshops, our focus in this course will be to learn to teach “safely, funly and learnly”. I think that sums it up as well as anything I could come up with. Our first priority will be to make you safe instructors and your dedication to safety will be a leading criterion for your certification. Second, we want to encourage our students to have fun during the course because without this important element, kayaking will not become a life sport for them. Last, but not least, we want to do all we can to leave our students with knowledge that they will take away from the course and build on after the short amount of time we have with them. An overview of the course syllabus can be reviewed on this page.

Best of luck in your course!

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