Another huge wave rolled into the boomer-riddled amphitheater. I knew beyond doubt that the worst decision I had made that day was to follow instructions. I had led my peers on a route that went against my better judgment and every gut instinct I had; a decision I now realized could end very badly indeed.
One of our group was not quite far enough left when the wave began to crest. All we could see was her boat pitching near vertical and airborne as she paddled like mad to get over the steep, foaming peak. For a moment, I was convinced that she must have capsized on the far side, but as the wave rolled past I could see that she had made it through upright. Cold relief ran through me, but I felt culpable, having muddled through the scenario in a state somewhere between paralysis and total incompetence.
This was the scene on my Level 3 Guide exam with the Sea Kayak Guides Alliance of BC (SKGABC) last spring. Leading up to that moment I had crossed threshold after threshold, inevitably lingering far too long in sea states that were way beyond any commercial trip I would ever guide. Perhaps the first threshold had been getting out of my tent that morning, after a sleepless night and stress-riddled nightmares.
Age and experience have made me a more grounded and capable guide and instructor, yet they have perhaps had an inverse affect on my ability to manage contrived exam-based stressors. As a result, I walked away from those three days without my Level 3 ticket, but equipped with a greater insight into the exam process and a lingering question: what exactly are we testing for in such scenarios?
The SKGABC guide exam is structured to focus heavily on incident response and crisis management, and to see that candidates are put through their paces in simulated shit-hitting-the-fan moments. Quite rightly, it is testing for the worst-case scenario in dynamic ocean environments. As a rule during an exam scenario, anything that could go wrong does: tucked skirt loops, open hatches, acute illness mid-surf launch, sea sickness, behavioral issues, random capsizes and even stolen safety equipment all in a single...