As I took my seat on Finnair flight from Helsinki bound for Bangkok, Thailand I had to take a reality check to see if this was really happening. In the matter of two short weeks and a few emails I was heading to Thailand to run the first ever IRF workshop deep in the jungle close to Chiang Mai.
Ex-kayak freestyle world champion, Eric Southwick had invited me to run an IRF guide and trip leader workshop for his newly established company 8adventures in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand.
Rafting operations on the Mae Tang river in Chiang Mai only started around 20 years ago but the area now has around 14 companies. 8adventures is the leading company in the area, offering a professional operation to the hoards of tourists wanting to experience the jungle.
Eric had kindly picked me up from Chiang Mai airport and given me the lowdown on the job ahead. My first priority was sleep. After a good night’s sleep at the 8adventures camp it was time to crack on and start the 5 day workshop. To assess the river I joined onto a trip and was pleasantly surprised by 2 things:
- The Mae tang was super high due to recent rain. We had a solid 2km section of class 4-5 rapids to test us on all week.
- The team at 8adventures were slick. Eric and his co-owners Sak & Oat had a tight operation. This was a pleasant surprise.
I had planned the workshop over 5 days to allow for extra teaching. None of the guides had ever participated in any type of structured teaching course. I also had to allow for language barriers so the plan was to take things nice and slowly and move at a speed that suited the students on the course. The 5 days were mapped out in the following way.
- Days 1 &2 were dedicated to personal rafting & kayaking skills. I needed to spend time observing each guide running the river. This worked out really well as we had commercial trips every morning so I got to see the guides with real customers.
- Day 3 was set aside to focus on whitewater rescue skills & safety kayak skills such as dealing with panicked swimmers & unconscious swimmers.
- Day 4 was used for trip leader assessments.
The days were long as they are on all workshops. We started early in the morning and finished late in the evening. The Thai guides really took an interest in the whitewater rescue aspect of the workshop. They had lots of gear and wanted to know how to use it. Now was the time to introduce them to my favourite mnemonic that I find myself using time and time again on workshops
KIS, KIS: Keep it safe, Keep it simple
The Nature of the Mae Tang river really keeps the guides on their toes. The river is full of Bamboo strainers mixed in with some fatal sieves. I needed to ensure that the guides really took their time and used the self, team, victim principle to ensure their own safety not only during the workshop simulated rescues but also when on the river operating commercial trips.
The extra time spent developing the rescue skills of the guides & safety kayakers really helped out during the trip leader scenario tests. Not only had the guides progressed in their understanding of rescue skills and principles, their team work had improved dramatically. Having skilled safety kayakers really made the life of the trip leaders a lot easier during the test.
To sum things up, Thailand now has its first IRF certified guides, safety kayakers & trip leaders. The bonus is the fact they all work daily together for the same company. We shared an inspiring week together. New friends were made and the IRF now has active guides in Thailand.
I boarded my flight home tired and happy. As I sat down I realized it would all be starting again in 7 days time. This time I would not be in the river deep in the jungle but in the high mountains of the Indian Himalaya on the mighty Zanskar river.
Happy paddling, Mark