Strong partnerships to bring Australian paddlesport into the modern era - a Tasmanian case study
(Next Level Kayaking submission to the Australian Canoeing Strategic Planning Process – Consultation Draft)
“Next Level Kayaking is a Tasmanian company run by paddlers for paddlers. NLK was founded on the firm belief that every single paddler has a next level. We help paddlers enjoy their sport, improve their technique and also supply high quality gear to help paddlers achieve their goals.”
NLK paddlers training at Kingston Beach near Hobart, Tasmania
Thankyou for the opportunity to contribute to the Australian Canoeing (AC) Strategic Planning Process – Consultation Draft.
Overall, Next Level Kayaking (NLK) feels positive about the AC Strategic Planning Process and Consultation Draft process, which is a step towards recognising current limitations, improving paddlesport, and doing more of what we all love to do.
- This submission is from NLK’s perspective of relative independence - working with recreational, beginner, intermediate and advanced paddlers over the last 8 years, focusing on development and experiences, not the production of State, National, International or Olympic medals
- NLK feel that AC needs input from private paddlesport operators more than ever, as they have lived, breathed, embraced and in many cases led the significant changes in our sport over the past decade
- We feel that AC needs to increase their engagement & communication with a broader cross-section of the paddling community to attract & retain modern paddlers, and offer efficient mechanisms to allow participants to spend more time on the water and less time off it
- In many ways AC has been put in a reactive position by not collaborating extensively as paddlesport has gained popularity over the last 10 to 20 years - “reacting” as a large organisation is bound to be a slow & difficult process, but can be assisted by small & nimble operators with good local programs
- As paddlesport grows into the future, stretched resources will require strong partnerships to cover the depth & breadth of paddlesport across Australia’s diverse geography
The future of paddlesport in Australia is bright.
Next Level Kayaking (NLK) is a paddlesport coaching company based in Hobart, Tasmania. Founded in 2010 due to a lack of regular opportunities for recreational paddlers to access coaching, our capacity & scope has steadily grown - nowadays we are a team of 3 coaches, operating 44 to 46 weeks of the year, working with 50 to 150 paddlers across 6 to 12 sessions per week. During our first round of group coaching this year (January 13 to April 8) we delivered 111 sessions involving a total of 1064 participants. We try to offer a relatively independent, best-practice, flexible, mobile & inclusive range of services, with the emphasis on constant development, participation, group spirit, safety, challenges, adventure & fun. Coaching is still the core of our business, but current activities also include paddlesport & multisport consulting, equipment sales & hire, event design & management, and online retail. We occupy a unique position between the general paddling population, and traditional club, State and National paddling associations. Over the years we have developed relationships with more than 20 Tasmanian organisations (canoe clubs, paddling associations, other private paddlespport operators, regulatory authorities, insurance agencies, schools and events), involving the disciplines of ocean ski, sea kayaking, whitewater (slalom, downriver & Xtreme), surf lifesaving, sprint, marathon, multisport, outrigger & triathlon. Currently, all our coaches are members of Australian Canoeing (AC)-affiliated clubs and maintain some form of AC and/or Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) qualification, and we adhere to AC operating guidelines where they exist. Personally, I have been an AC-affiliated club member for over 20 years, and was always made welcome & supported by this system in my early paddling days.
Since our inception NLK has evolved has evolved from working with local paddlers 1-on-1, to writing training programs, to coaching small groups, to running clinics for larger groups all over Tasmania, to taking paddlers on adventurous trips around the State, to running regular group training sessions catering for paddlers of all levels. Currently NLK has the capacity to introduce complete beginners to paddling and offer them a pathway of sessions and experiences all the way to the advanced level, or until paddling becomes an enjoyable & regular part of their lifestyle. Our programs are not limited to paddler development, we also try to make a positive difference to people's lives, including physical & mental wellbeing and encouraging friendship & support on and off the water. NLK is built around the “paddler first” principle - putting the paddler’s interests first and building everything around them. NLK was built from an idea on a piece of paper to what it is today through passion and hard work in the face of many challenges along the way.
Early morning paddling in Hobart with Mt Wellington in the background – NLK groups train all year round on the doorstep of the Southern Ocean
Private partnerships with the AC system in Tasmania
NLK would welcome the opportunity to work with AC to further develop paddling in our local area, around Tasmania, and across Australia. We have a track record of engaging with the AC system to deliver programs and accelerate paddlesport development in our State. These 5 examples show that our interactions with the AC system have increased over time:
- In 2012 NLK worked with Canoe Tasmania (CT) to run a successful 4-day program of paddlesport activities “Paddle Fest ‘12” with Olympians Steve Bird and Jesse Phillips, involving 225 participants from Hobart, Launceston, Devonport and Burnie. This was a mixture of foundation and higher-level flatwater coaching, mentoring & presentations. These events attracted AC members, SLSA members, and paddlers with no membership affiliation. NLK performed the design, promotion, administration and delivery of the program, with CT subsidising various components for new & existing club members.
- In 2016 NLK worked with CT to deliver our Ocean Ski & Kayak Safety Course to new & existing Launceston Paddling Club (LPC) members. This was a mixture of theory and practice covering flatwater, estuary, beach, open water and entry level whitewater skills. All up 17 LPC participants attended the course. The course was subsidised by CT at no charge to participants. The LPC was a newly-formed club at the time, and the course raised safety awareness at an important stage for many attendees. The course also demonstrated the value of AC/CT incorporation to club members, and attracted new members. NLK performed the design, promotion, administration and delivery of the course. Prior to this engagement, NLK established and ran this course privately from 2011 to 2015, and provided regular coaching & mentoring to around 100 paddlers in the Launceston area in the lead-up to LPC creation.
- In 2017 NLK transitioned our "Paddle Strong" strength & conditioning program (established early 2016 in partnership with Hobart College) to the Derwent Canoe Club (DCC), allowing for expansion and increased canoe club member access. This is currently a successful & growing program, providing participants with structured, paddling- and age-specific resistance training.
- In 2017 NLK also provided input to the DCC "strategy refresh" process (a similar exercise to the one AC is currently undertaking, but specific to that club). We identified discipline crossover as an important part of paddler development, and recognised that pathways needed to be in place before conducting courses or promotions to recruit new DCC or NLK paddlers. We worked out that we had complementary strengths and weaknesses – e.g. NLK wasn’t well represented in the area of junior paddling but the DCC was, the DCC wasn’t well represented in the area of novice adult paddling but NLK was. Many synergies were identified and are currently being applied:
- In March this year we ran a 3-part course for the DCC/CT junior whitewater slalom squad. We ran this course on a cost-recovery (non-profit) basis to assist the squad. This course involved transferring a mix of flatwater, surf & ocean techniques to slalom in order to assist with all-round skill acquisition in younger paddlers. NLK performed the course design in consultation with squad coaches, the DCC handled the promotion & administration, and NLK delivered the course. The process was seamless & very enjoyable.
- In April this year we are running a 2-part course for the DCC called “Paddling Foundations”. We are running this course on a reduced-profit basis to assist the club. This is a multi-discipline course designed to suit virtually anybody – adults, children, beginners & established paddlers. NLK performed the course design, consulted with the DCC committee, and prepared promotional material. The DCC are currently handling the promotion & administration. NLK are delivering the course. The process has not been seamless, but we now have a working relationship with the wider DCC committee and a template for future projects.
- A significant proportion of participants in Tasmanian club-level paddlesport events, as well as State and National-level events, began paddling with NLK, and regularly train with our groups. NLK sponsor and provide in-kind support to many local events, and have always encouraged paddlers to attend them. It’s not uncommon to see NLK paddlers making up 1/2 to 1/3 of the field at these events. A strong “beginner to advanced” paddling pathway is now starting to mature, providing a steady stream of paddlers to canoe club events, the events in in turn provide NLK paddlers with motivating challenges throughout the year.
The above examples are submitted as a “case study” for private paddlesport operators developing partnerships with the AC system at the grassroots level. These arrangements have delivered clear & ongoing AC member benefits. Working with local clubs and State bodies has not always been a quick or easy process for NLK, but there is currently a high level of willingness on all sides to give it a go. There is no readily identifiable mechanism allowing private paddlesport operators quickly & seamlessly work with the AC system, each project requires custom arrangements. No one system is perfect, but one organisation can often provide the solutions needed to overcome barriers faced by another. For example, NLK has made website and other online registration & promotion channels available to clubs and State bodies to facilitate the smooth running of paddlesport programs. Club and State bodies have provided funding or subsidies to NLK in order for these programs to be viable. Sometimes partnership opportunities will be identified, then lost through changing private operator priorities. Sometimes partnerships aren’t flexible or quick enough to seize an opportunity due to the decision-making processes inherent to the AC system (e.g. volunteer workloads, committees, long meetings with many people involved). For example, the pathway from opportunity identification to course delivery for the above NLK/DCC “Paddling Foundations” program has taken 6 months, 4 committee members, 4 separate people distributing promotional material, 3 committee meetings, and several “false starts”. Nonetheless, we have slowly progressed in a positive direction. With most private operators being a small & nimble organisations, the different styles can be hard to manage and sometimes the benefits - though almost always present - aren’t immediately clear on both sides.
Coaching a family paddling group at Browns Rivulet, Kingston
Urgent need for an ocean ski paddling syllabus in Australia
The AC Consultation Draft states “We already have some of the best developed education programs for introducing new participants and helping them develop their skills. The challenge is to find more ways of engaging more people in these programs.”
This may be the case for some paddlesport disciplines, however it is not the case for “ocean racing” (hereafter referred to as “ocean ski paddling”), which has been one of the fastest-growing forms of paddlesport in Australia and around the world over the last 10-15 years, and shows no signs of slowing down. The Australian Canoeing Award Scheme (ACAS) is focused on more traditional forms of paddling (flatwater, sea kayaking and whitewater kayaking), and has arguably not kept pace with the type of watercraft favoured by modern paddlers, including ocean skis and other sit-on-top craft. Although many ocean ski paddling events are run under AC or International Canoeing Federation jurisdiction, there is currently no AC syllabus specifically for ocean ski paddling – preventing coaches gaining formal accreditation, and making it impossible for paddlers across the country to obtain qualifications & aim towards a progressive set of recognised standards in this discipline. This urgently needs to be addressed. Many private paddlesport operators in Australia rely more or less on ocean skis and the coaching of ocean ski skills as the backbone of their paddling programs. This is because these craft are user-friendly, safe & forgiving, light & portable, fast & rewarding to paddle, suitable for a wide range of conditions, widely available, well promoted, and can be offered for sale by private operators alongside coaching-based programs. The lack of a National set of standards & qualifications for this discipline has really left anyone contemplating delivery of programs based around these craft no option but to go to the private insurance market and set up independently of the AC system to be properly protected. The existing ACAS qualifications may be adaptable to modern forms of paddlesport, but only for a small percentage of course content, and not in the eyes of most insurers. AC is coming from a long way back with the discipline of ocean ski paddling, and must address the lack of a National accreditation framework for this type of paddling as a priority.
The AC Consultation Draft states “The commercial model for the delivery of paddle education programs needs to be reviewed with the aim of encouraging commercial providers to engage in the system.”
Over the last 8 years, NLK has custom-built from scratch a complete “beginner to advanced” pathway of local coaching programs, support systems (including efficient online channels), activities & events around the discipline of ocean ski paddling. In the short term we believe that NLK could adapt our existing framework and use our grassroots experience to contribute to the modernisation of the AC syllabus for ocean ski paddling, and a National roll-out of paddling programs in this area. NLK has a vision for our paddling programs & pathways to be among the very best in the country, and to achieve that we think they are best aligned & recognised by AC. Further down the track, there is potential for NLK to affiliate with AC/Paddle Australia as a National Training Provider for this discipline and other disciplines. Such an arrangement would modernise the traditional "club" concept and offer something more flexible with a much broader appeal - minimal politics, no decisions by committee, no unrecognised volunteer workloads, an environment where social & recreational paddlers are prioritised alongside Olympic medals, and a place where it's simple & beneficial to get into paddling as a lifestyle. However, affiliation mechanisms remain unclear at this stage, and we are keen to further explore our ideas in this area with AC.
Next Level Kayaking
0439 844 649
Afternoon paddling in Sandy Bay, Hobart