Wondering whether to seize the day or sleep in? Or which nightcap to pack for your next campfire social? Perhaps your dilemmas are more existential: how to make the world a better place, what advice to offer others, or why is it so difficult to turn dreams into reality?
When we put these questions to some of paddling’s finest coaches, we learned a lot about the leaders we trust to make us better in our boats, safer on the water and, yes, happier in our lives. From dirty jobs and pet peeves to speculations on the true nature of contentment, their responses surprise, inform and reaffirm what we already know: kayakers share many core values, but we are a wonderfully diverse community.
Our panel of paddling coaches
1 Angela Bueckert (AB)
Location: Ucluelet, British Columbia
Occupation: Adventure Guide, Co-owner of Expedition Engineering
Roots: For the past 12 years, skis and kayaks have been Bueckert’s tickets to mountains, rivers and saltwater around the world. From teaching whitewater paddling in Tibet, Nepal and Ecuador to guiding sea kayak expeditions in Norway, Greenland, the South Pacific and throughout British Columbia, she’s expertly spun these once-in-a-lifetime trips into her full-time job.
2 Chris Audet (CA)
Location: Searsport, Maine
Occupation: Outdoor educator and athletic trainer
Roots: His high school students know him as Mister Audet, while his Friday night fans know him as lead singer, rocker and Sammy Hagar lookalike in the Van Halen tribute band, Balance. A registered Maine sea kayaking guide since 2001, Audet’s wild blonde curls are equally recognizable on the water, where his paddling students benefit from his years of teaching and performing.
3 Christopher Lockyer (CL)
Location: Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia
Occupation: GIS mapping tech
Roots: Out of a desire to develop a strong community of skilled kayakers in his backyard and showcase the region’s first-rate paddling opportunities, Lockyer founded Committed 2 the Core Sea Kayak Coaching. In 2013, the Nova Scotia native expanded on those goals with the establishment of the annual Bay of Fundy Sea Kayak Symposium, drawing top coaches from around the world.
4 Conor Mihell (CM)
Location: Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
Occupation: Magazine writer, part-time college educator
Roots: Descendent of a Lake Superior lightkeeper, Mihell has lived with the restless lake all his life, drawing from its infinite well of inspiration and adventure. His students and friends respect him as much for his work-to-paddle lifestyle as his exhaustive knowledge of the north shore.
5 David Johnston (DJ)
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Occupation: Web designer
Roots: Kayakers across the country know Johnston as the tireless and self-effacing chair of Paddle Canada’s sea kayak program development committee. While the role can be a challenging one for the busy coach and father, it embodies his belief that the best instructors listen as well as they lead.
6 Ginni Callahan (GC)
Location: Loreto, Mexico and Skamokawa, Washington
Occupation: Founder of Sea Kayak Baja Mexico and Columbia River Kayaking
Roots: Callahan boasts that while she’s never held down an indoor job for an entire year, she’s survived on sea kayaking for nearly twenty. An impulsive move to Baja in 1998 kicked off her journey to top certifications in coaching and guiding, as well as the migratory pattern she follows between paddling seasons in the Sea of Cortez and the Columbia River.
7 James Roberts (JR)
Location: Parry Sound, Ontario
Occupation: Co-founder of Ontario Sea Kayak Centre
Roots: A product of surfing the steep, gray swell of his native Isle of Wight and exploring the rugged coastlines of Canada, Roberts has also mastered a remarkable repertoire of Greenland rolls, making him a true student of the world. Those who’ve mentored with him appreciate his insightful feedback and outrageous sense of humor.
8 Paul Kuthe (PK)
Location: Portland, Oregon
Occupation: Business, life and paddlesports coach
Roots: Parlaying his extensive kayak coaching experience into a growing life and business coaching career was a natural next step for Kuthe. When he’s not teaching the finer points of paddling as program director for Portland outfitter Alder Creek, he’s helping students achieve their personal and professional goals through his work at Tributary Coaching.
Paddling coach Q&A
My advice for paddlers who want to step up their game is…
AB: Do solo trips. Relying on your own judgment and decision-making lets you know pretty fast where you’re at.
CA: Paddle with as many different people as possible.
CL: Repetition is the key to learning.
CM: Paddle rough water.
DJ: Set specific goals with a deadline for this paddling season.
GC: Try whitewater, surf, open canoe, SUP, competition, sailing, rock hopping and journeys.
JR: Learn to roll. This will increase your confidence and the rest of your skills will get way smoother.
PK: Get some quality coaching.
If I weren’t so into kayaking, I’d…
CA: Take up flying airplanes.
CL: Take up mountain biking.
CM: Take up triathlon.
DJ: Be a professional waterslide tester.
GC: Take up outrigger team paddling, underwater photography and writing a book.
JR: Take up kite surfing.
PK: Take up something more lucrative.
My biggest blunder was…
AB: Not being patient with the weather and I learned that it always pays to wait out the wind.
CA: That I didn’t start kayaking until my late twenties and I learned that the younger you start the more experiences you can have.
CL: Getting lost in dense fog around the Tusket Islands and I learned to never underestimate the ocean environment and the power of the tides.
CM: Not taking advantage of each and every opportunity I’ve had to go paddling and I learned that if you make an excuse not to go, you’ll likely regret it.
AB: In the moment, not something that is wrapped up in the next big thing.
CA: A large glassy wave and a boat to surf it in.
CL: Catching rides on the Shubenacadie River with other members of Team Core.
DJ: Sitting around a campfire with friends.
GC: Living daily according to one’s values. And paddling the turquoise lagoon of a palm-studded atoll in the South Pacific.
JR: An amazing meal, a glass of wine and a stellar sunset in the wilderness.
PK: Sharing the sport we love and making a difference in the lives we share it with.
The coastline that stirs me most is…
AB: Norway because I feel my Viking warrior princess heritage taking over.
CA: Maine because I feel at home.
CL: Brier Island because I feel I am paddling at the end of the world.
CM: Lake Superior’s north shore because I feel at home here.
GC: The Sierra La Gigants because I feel awe, inspiration and at home.
PK: The Oregon Coast because I feel insignificant.
One thing you probably wouldn’t guess about me is…
AB: I am a Feldenkrais Practitioner.
CA: I hate swimming with a passion.
CM: I was once a hockey goaltender. It taught me to be thick-skinned in the face of criticism.
DJ: I absolutely love china plates, teacups and teapots.
JR: I used to play trumpet in a jazz band.
PK: I’m scared out there sometimes.
My biggest pet peeve is…
CA: When people call a chart a map, or worse, a water map.
CL: People who don’t give things an honest go and self-handicap themselves before leaving shore.
CM: Cell phone towers creeping into the wilderness.
DJ: That my puppy only pays attention to me because I have food in my hands.
JR: Packing trips.
PK: When students attribute either success or failure to their equipment.
More paddlers should learn to…
AB: Roll and pee while in their boats (not necessarily at the same time).
CA: Navigate properly.
CM: Make the time to go on long, unsupported journeys.
DJ: Paddle with a faster cadence.
GC: Look behind them.
JR: Invite me when going somewhere cool.
PK: Roll in conditions.
The worst job I ever had was…
AB: Working in a bookstore and it taught me to do what you love.
CA: Painting houses in college and it taught me that life is too short to have a job that isn’t fun.
CL: Painting fishing boats and it taught me to appreciate how much hard work will pay off.
CM: Assisting with the managing of an outfitting business and it taught me I’d rather be the guy on the water than the one steering the ship.
DJ: Working in a hotrod restoration shop but it taught me how to use an automotive sandblaster.
GC: One day in the Sterilite plastics factory in Lake Havasu City, Arizona and it taught me the tremendous freedom of being outside.
JR: Sanding the woodwork on a sailboat and it taught me that working hard and not drinking enough can make you faint.
PK: Housekeeping and it taught me humility.
Things I can’t live without on trip are…
AB: Dark sea salt Lindt chocolate.
CA: Lots of coffee.
CL: Good friends.
CM: A good book and my harmonica.
DJ: A decent camping chair.
GC: Lip sunscreen.
The best companions are…
AB: Funny and brutally honest and that’s true when you want the truth.
GC: My husband Henrick and my stuffed moose and that’s true even on a small sailboat together for six months.
PK: Willing to challenge you as much as they support you.
The greatest piece of advice I ever got was…
AB: It’s all a game and I made that up.
CA: Don’t be afraid to walk away from a rapid if you’re not feeling it and I got that from Michael J. Smith.
CL: Remember to take things as they come and don’t push yourself too hard and I got that from Andy Stamp, my BCU Level 5 mentor.
CM: Always make contingency plans and backup your backup and I got that from my friend Bruce Lash.
DJ: If you are unsure of the answer just speak with confidence and everybody will believe you and I got that from my father.
JR: When paddling in surf you are playing in a three-dimensional world with X, Y and Z axes—forward, turning and revolving—and I got that from Turner Wilson.
PK: Don’t worry about what you can’t change and I got that from my mom.
Ten years from now…
AB: I will be whispering to wild mustangs.
CA: Will still be trying to improve my personal paddling skills and instruction methods.
CL: I will be watching my three boys surfing waves on the Shubie.
CM: I hope I am doing the same things I do today.
DJ: I will still be debating if I should get that tattoo or not.
GC: I would love to have helped inspire a local, self-sustaining community of paddlers in Loreto.
JR: I will own a Mercedes Sprinter 4X4 dream van.
PK: I want to go on a huge expedition with my son who is now two.
The kayak I’m paddling most right now is…
AB: The kayak that I rent from whatever country I am paddling in at the time.
CA: Jackson Karma RG and my TideRace Xplore.
CL: P&H Aries 155.
CM: Valley Nordkapp.
DJ: P&H Cetus LV.
GC: NDK Romany Classic for coaching, NDK Explorer for guiding, and Pygmy Arctic Tern 14 for kicks.
JR: My Valley Anas Acuta.
PK: P&H Aries.
The world would be a better place if more people…
AB: Would give and receive hugs.
CA: Got together and went to wild places on a regular basis.
CL: Were honest to one another and appreciated the things they have.
CM: Supported the political notion that education, vacation and health care are fundamental human rights.
DJ: Listened to Air Supply.
GC: Giggled like Tara Mulvany. Or paddled like her.
JR: Cared about the environment.
PK: Experienced new places and cultures.
The most important qualities of a leader are…
AB: Great communication, no ego and stoke.
CA: Listening and empathy.
CL: The ability to give quality feedback and ask appropriate questions.
CM: Tolerance and the ability to set a good example.
DJ: The ability to make it fun. Check your ego at the door. Students are there to learn, not to worship you.
GC: The ability to build a team and to help each member feel like they contribute something elemental to its success.
JR: Listening well.
PK: Empathy, confidence and communication.
The hardest part about making that dream trip happen is…
CL: Vacation time.
CM: Choosing between so many dream trips.
DJ: Getting everybody’s availability synced up.
GC: Picking a date to leave. Without a date, it’s just a dream.
JR: Getting free time during the peak season.
This article was first published in the Spring 2017 issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine and get 25 years of digital magazine archives including our legacy titles: Rapid, Adventure Kayak and Canoeroots.