Reflections from the Cockpit
"Sharing Experiences"

Another new calendar year is upon us. Instead of making resolutions I enjoy reflecting upon the past year(s). As I relived some experiences (in my mind) I thought about the subject of experience. One of the reasons I became a professional educator was to provide opportunities for others to gain experience. I also enjoy sharing my experiences with others with the hopes they can learn from my mistakes.

I recently retired from UC Santa Barbara after twenty-nine years of service. During that time I spent twenty-five years directing UCSB’s Adventure Programs. Aside from leading hundreds of trips and teaching even more classes I was heavily involved in training adventure trip leaders, outdoor instructors and ropes course facilitators. I have trained more than one thousand staff in my tenure at the University. As a result I am a firm believer that one can teach what is commonly referred to as "good judgment." There are many aspects to teaching good judgment but I want to focus on just one for the purposes of this month’s reflection. The aspect I am referring to is experience. As a side note, the entire subject of teaching good judgment (which is really quality decision making) will be addressed in the future in an in-depth article on the USK web site.

As I grew up my dad often said, "you should learn from other people’s mistakes." Sometimes I would and sometimes I would go down the path of destruction. However, after I made the mistake there was little chance it would be repeated (except in my dating life). As dad also said "experience is the best teacher."

As I reflect upon my experiences and how I trained my staff I firmly believe we can learn from the experience of others. I found that lessons are best learned if you experience it yourself. However, there are experiences with potentially severe consequences that we hope we never have to face. Most of the time it is extremely difficult or not feasible to simulate the experience. One of the best ways I have found for training numbers of people at one time is setting up scenarios. I use the term scenario to describe the situation being presented to the group for consideration. If I had the time I would actually have the trainees role-play the scenario without prior knowledge of the scenario. After the role-playing was over we would collectively debrief (in writing with a discussion to follow) the courses of action taken by the players. Role-playing seemed to be the next best thing to actually living the experience. If I did not have the luxury of time, I would present the situation in writing and have the participants commit to their courses of action in writing. This also helps in developing the decision making process. Writing down answers seemed to make more of an impression than just talking about it. "What I hear I forget, what I see I remember and what I do I know." This quote is a basic tenet in my teaching philosophy.

I am not going to tell you that all of the staff learned all of the lessons I was trying to present. I do know that lessons were learned and potential disasters were avoided through this form of training. As an experiential educator I cherish learning by experience. However, there are some mistakes that should be avoided if possible because the consequences can be severe.

To this end I am adding another component to the USK web site. I am calling it "Course Of Action". Each month I will present a scenario for your consideration. At the end of the month I will post my course of action with the rationale for those actions. I will also post responses from others (see "Course of Action" for more details). My goal is to share collective experiences so we can hopefully learn from each other. At the very least we will be exposed to other perspectives, which in the long run increases our collective awareness.

There is a slippery slope that needs to be avoided with this type of forum. Who is right and who is wrong? Right, wrong, good judgment, poor judgment are matters of opinion based upon your beliefs, values, goals, perceptions, knowledge and experiences. As I have matured (a fancy way of saying aging and mellowing) I find I actually get annoyed when I hear folks judging and criticizing others who have had difficult decisions to make. It is easy to back seat quarterback when you are not in the exact situation. I am not saying people don’t make mistakes. After the smoke clears it is easy to say he/she could have done this or that. At the time a decision needs to be made I believe most people try to make the best decision they can. I don’t believe people intentionally try to make poor decisions when the consequences are serious. Even as I write this I am using the words best and poor. These are judgment words based upon my beliefs, values, goals, perceptions, knowledge and experiences. The USK Course of Action page will be a place to share ideas and alternatives, not a place for judgment.

Regardless of what is written and the actions we choose to take, we each must face the consequences of our actions. Consequences can be good or bad. It is part of the decision-making process. "I did this because someone else told me to do it" is a cop-out. You should have a rationale for all of your actions and believe in your actions. By sharing our collective experiences my desire is to have more of our consequences be good ones.

I find the paddling club environment a great resource for training. I recommend to all clubs to put aside some time to have scenario practice days. Select controlled conditions and role-play the scenarios. Make sure to take time to debrief. I guarantee the group’s collective skill level and decision-making skills will show improvement.

To get the ball rolling here is the first scenario for your consideration:

"Panicking Swimmer"

One of your friends is panicking in the water after they did a wet exit. You paddle up next to them to try to calm them down. They freak out and grab you and try to climb onto your kayak. In addition, your bracing skills are not very effective. What is your course of action?

As a side note, this is an excellent scenario to practice with your paddling partners on some calm water. This one is most affective when done without prior warning other than we will practice some scenarios. Remember your goal is to explore alternatives not to drown your partner.


Check the USK web site "Course of Action" link to see the posted response(s) at the end of the month. If you wish to share your response with us send them to Please include the reasons for your actions so we can better understand your point of view.

In closing we at USK want to thank all of you who have supported us over the past years by visiting our web site, e-mailing comments, taking clinics and purchasing our "In-Depth" instructional video series. In addition we want to thank all of you who voted USK’s "ABC’S of the Surf Zone" as the best video of the year in the Sea Kayaker Magazine Reader’s Poll. Hadley & I wish you a healthy & prosperous 2006.


Wayne Horodowich


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