Adventures: My Experience with Outdoor Instructors so Far

As I explained in a recent post, learning can make me feel nervous.  It’s something I’m getting over as I challenge myself to learn in the great outdoors.

There are some things I pick up easily and others well, I need a helping hand! Trying to tell Google you’re looking for help to find the right type of outdoor instructor is hard. Google doesn’t assess personalities….  So I took to social media and was swamped with lots of people willing to talk about it. Interestingly enough, they’re all female!  ( I can see a follow-on post for this).

I often think about this subject mainly because I class myself as an outdoor enthusiast looking to learn from experienced people.   I also considered training as a mountain leader  and so I find myself wondering what type of leader I’ll be.

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I love to be shown how to do a task first,  unlike Rik who learns as he goes along. I admire that. There’s no right or wrong way of learning a skill as such, and we all have to start somewhere.  I generally feel that starting out with someone who can offer you advice that may end up saving your life, a much better option. It’s worth remembering that all the advice in the world is no true use if you don’t use it and experience first hand what it’s like. 

So first, why go with an outdoor activity instructor?

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Avoids bad habits – when you start learning something by yourself, it’s easy to pick up bad habits.   I find an outdoor instructor always knows the best way to go about something without cutting corners and that’s probably down to their ton of experience.

Saves you time –  a good instructor will be able to plan a fun day and miss out the boring bits like getting lost and non-scenic routes.

Keeps you safe –  it’s their job and lifelong ethos, they’ve had first aid and safety training which means you can have fun in a responsible way.

Passes on skills and knowledge –  not every activity needs an instructor at every stage but their years of experience means they can show you a thing or two which will keep you safe and make things easier and more enjoyable for you in the long run. And more importantly, when you go out on your own. 

A Few Dodgy Experiences …..

I’ve come to learn that finding the right outdoor activity instructor is quite a challenge mainly because it can be a bit of a personality clash.  Outdoor instructors, like the rest of life, are a mixed bag and there’s no exact recipe, it’s all trial and error.

My experience so far with outdoor instructors both freelance and with centers, on the whole, has been great but I’ll tell you some of the not so good experiences. 

  • I’d gone with a group to walk a mountain with two mountain guides and they’d not done a final head count before they left, only to realise halfway up, I wasn’t with them. The mix-up had happened because I’d gone to take off certain layers as instructed to do so and everyone left without checking if we were all there.

Safety is so important in the outdoors and it left me wondering could they have done that on a top of the mountain?

  • I took a surfing lesson with a bunch of people who’d mostly done it before (I was a complete novice and still am) and noticed the instructors were more keen on improving the ones that had potential and were quicker to teach, rather than spending time with the ones flapping about in the water trying not to hit themselves with their board (er hello, me).  

I think the true test of a good instructor/teacher is being able to take the underperforming student and assist in their transformation. 

  • Paddleboarding with an instructor who thought he was a sergeant, getting frustrated at those who couldn’t keep up, overall he wasn’t a bad guy but I found he couldn’t identify from a learner’s perspective and he wasn’t comfortable with teaching women.

My instructors have only been men (I’ve yet to meet a female one!) but there’s only been a few occasion when I’ve felt gender has got in the way of learning, specifically in this case.  I always feel that a good outdoor activity instructor should design a day that can cater to mixed abilities or at least make it known that sessions are only suitable for e.g. beginner, intermediate and so on rather than trying to cash in on everyone.

Awarding Bodies

Thankfully there are training bodies that regulate the industry and to be honest that doesn’t mean you’re always going to get a great instructor. Generally, they at least work to rules and regulations.  So before thinking about your instructor’s personality, you should always ensure they are at the very least qualified and there are some simple ways to do this. Depending on what outdoor activity you choose, there are different boards and here are some popular ones you should look out for;

Mountain Training is an awarding body that trains people up in walking and mountaineering.  There are different Mountain Training for England, Scotland, and Wales;

-The British Canoe Union is an awarding body for all paddle sports;.

MIAS  and British Cycling Org are awarding bodies for those wanting to train in mountain biking and cycling awards;

Don’t just Look for Qualifications Though…

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Certificates of Achievements are a great way to provide hard evidence but pay lots of attention to instructors that personally and professionally develop.  I love following instructors who are quite open to sharing their journey, joys, and mistakes along the way. A good instructor should be able to accept a mistake and learn from it. The bonus with blogging and social media is you can easily find instructors who share their thoughts. 

Try a range of instructors…

The one size fits all approach never applies to teaching and instruction.  Over the last  2 years,  I’ve got into stand up paddle boarding (SUP)  and have had quite a few lessons with an array of instructors. It’s a sport I wasn’t particularly good at to start with (still getting there) and felt ‘not fussed’ about it.  It was only my irrational phobia of water that encouraged me to keep at it (there’s a contradiction!) But thanks to some skilled instructors, it has meant that I’ve wanted to learn more about the sport and myself. Recently,  I’ve found a local provider who I feel I can learn loads off without feeling intimidated.

I recently took a walking skills course and had the loveliest of instructors.  Any more laid back and he’d been lying down! It impressed me at how much of the scenery he paid attention to rather than getting to the top of the hill, the quickest.  It’s not to say his style was right or wrong,  he just matched what I looked for in an instructor. And that’s the key message here, find out what kind of person motivates you.

Other Learner’s Thoughts…

Let’s hear from some  ladies who kindly donated their thoughts when I asked them what they thought made a good outdoor instructor:

” Segway, sense of humor and patience especially with nervous clients.”

“Kayaking- letting you discover things for yourself before giving the correct way of doing something (obviously when safe). It makes you appreciate the correct way and remember it.”

” High ropes… Patience and knowledge.”

“Kitesurfing instruction: -found patience really helpful. Calm voice, low tone and asking me lots of questions after showing me what I should do. -use of analogy/anecdote so we create our own kind of language almost when discussing things “wiggle room” “sin wave arch” for the figure of 8 movements needed etc. -the relationship between instructor/student. There has to be trusted and I found it easier to build if the instructor chatted generally and used anecdotes so you get to know each other (3-hour lessons helped too). -consistency and integrity. If the weather wasn’t good enough for me to really learn, we didn’t have the lesson. I respected that and therefore trusted him further. – videoing my achievements. Such a little thing like photographing at the end of lessons added confidence. But videoing my first board ride etc also helped me understand form and posture (as well as great for my ego).

Final Thoughts

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It’s worth mentioning that mostly the outdoor industry is a really helpful bunch of people keen to share their desire and passion with you. And as I meet more skilled instructors, I find myself achieving all of the time.  As a trainer (not in the outdoors) I understand just how hard it is to cater to everyone’s learning styles and needs and to be honest you can’t.   It’s humanly impossible. So that’s why I urge anyone who is thinking about getting some extra help from an instructor to go with a recommendation, make sure they have the right qualifications and don’t pin your hopes and dreams on one person, just like finding your other half, it can take many attempts!

I’d love to know the experiences you’ve had with instructors, good or bad – keep it constructive. 

Disclaimer: I won’t leave any links to companies I recommend because I don’t want this to be a promotional type of post.  I’m more than happy to recommend a bunch of Welsh based activity instructors which I’ve adventured with, so please just ask!

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