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ACA Rafting Instructors in Chile

Monday, May 21, 2018  
Posted by: Chris Stec
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ACA 2018 WW Raft ICW: Pucon, Chile

ACA Travel to Chile and the magical take away

Ring, Ring, “Hello?”; “ Hey Marcel; any chance you want to come to Chile and teach a Raft ICW with me?”.

Recently I was invited to travel to Pucon Chile and work with ACA Instructor/IT, Josh Oberleas. Josh asked me to observe his lead teach in order to complete the process in becoming an ACA Raft Instructor Trainer. The experience was amazing to say the least and the following is my account of this unique experience.

The Start
 In 2016 during my traditional western states tour I traveled to Buena Vista Colorado for a few paddling events and to teach a WW Raft ICW for the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center (RMOC). There I met Kate Stepan and Josh Oberleas, the two newest hopefuls for Raft IT candidacy. Josh and Kate were both lead raft guides as well as Kayak, SUP and SWR instructors in the Arkansas valley. The three of us became fast friends and had a wonderful Raft ICW. At the end of the course we made plans to complete their IT process in the year to come. 

Summer 2017 came and as planned I returned to Buena Vista. Upon arriving however I discovered that only Kate and I would be working together as Josh had a situation arise that would not allow him to join us. Kate completed her course with flying colors and became a Raft IT. I met with Josh and we discussed potential opportunities for later in the year. We planned to meet in the fall for another Raft ICW this time in Oregon, but an injury ended that plan as well.

Late in 2017 I received a call from Josh asking if I would be interested in traveling to Chile and teach with him. This trip would not only check him off as an IT, but to also satisfy an intense interest of several local and regional raft guides who had worked with josh over the years. Josh had been guiding and instructing in Chile during North American winters since 2008. He had worked in several regions and on many rivers,  which ultimately led him to Pucon Chile. We immediately went to work to see if a raft ICW in Pucon was a real possibility.

The Location and Timing
Pucon Chile is known as an outdoor Mecca and has been named greatest tourist destination in South America by several travel and outdoor media outlets. It boasts opportunities for about anything from a huge natural lake named Villarrica to the popular rivers of the Liucura and Trancura, mountain biking, canyoneering, skiing, sky diving, wonderful hot springs and mountaineering on the nearby active volcano also named Villarrica. Since Josh had spent 8 season in South America he had many strong contacts with hostels, rafting companies and guides. He would put us up in the Etnico Hostel ( who would provide lodging, a classroom space and we would rent boats from Politur, ( a local guide service. 

Pucon was also a great location because of all the guides who call it home. In Chile as in many countries around the world, guiding is considered a career and is highly respected in the work force. It requires a high level of training and licensure and is strongly regulated by the government or local municipalities. Guides can make a good living and not just as raft guides; climbing, skiing, or any backcountry discipline is paid a reasonable wage. Guiding is viewed as a profession and the raft guides in Pucon would be no exception to this rule.

Josh planned the course for early April because it would be at the end of the South American rafting season, right on the cusp of the winter and the rainy season, and it would fit into my busy schedule. Just like that we were off and running, making paces to plan the first ever Whitewater Raft ICW held outside of the United States.

The Instructor Candidates
When Josh opened registration in late February he was astonished to find that the course filled in less than 24 hours. A diverse group of guides from a wide range of backgrounds were to attend this course and held over a century of experience between them. As a funny side note, nearly all raft guides go by nick names which reflected their unique experience or personality.

There was Balta, a hilarious local guide and ripping safety kayaker who kept us in stitches. Manu and Bastian, talented young men who guide on the Maipo River outside of Santiago who were strong, sharp and always smiling. Then there was Nico, already an ACA kayak instructor thanks to Josh’s efforts in South America. Nico is starting a raft and kayak instruction company in Argentina. Yoyo, owns a raft company in Pucon and is built like a stout hockey player and  brought some impressive guiding skills. Rumy, an Ecuadorian who is amidst opening his own company on the Maipo. Then there is Pataka, a local guide with over 10 years of experience guiding with an intoxicating passion for the river and for Chile.

Gigo is originally from Pucon and also lived in Norway for a decade. He is one of the pioneers of Chilean kayaking and rafting. Gigo also translated the entire 120 page ACA Raft Instructor Manual into Spanish for the course. Paulo is a professional guide and instructor for several organizations including Rescue III and travels the world teaching classes in the off season. Then there was Carlitos (meaning little Carlos). Carlitos has one of those ironic nick names because he was one of the biggest guys in the course and teaches at the Itur University in Pucon as well as guides commercially. Carlitos is one of the most patient and hospitable instructors I have ever met. He along with Paulo and Gigo are deeply respected in the Pucon raft scene. 

Finally we had Danger Mike, a state sider originally from southern California who moved to Colorado for school, found rafting and started living the year round summer season between Gunnison and Pucon. Last but far from least is Gicho, the only female in the course and the first Chilean woman to earn her Level 4 guide license and professionally guides on the upper Trancura river. Chilean culture is somewhat archaic when it comes to female/male equality; this meant that Gicho has had to fight the norm to achieve this honor and is not always treated with the respect she deserves as a talented and extremely capable guide and instructor.

The Course
In my many years of running ACA instructor courses in a variety of disciplines, I have always found Rafting ICWs to be the most difficult. Often candidates come in with a huge wealth of knowledge and years of teaching commercial guide schools. This experience can lead to questioning the value of taking a raft ICW. Fortunately and more often than not, candidates quickly realize that the purpose of an ICW is to learn how to teach and offers many techniques to do so. Soon minds begin to open and grow as Instructors as well as improve understanding and skills used to guide which ultimately helps make better boat people.
This course however was different. The group easily had one of strongest resumes and experience levels I had ever seen in a raft instructor course and yet they were immediately open to new ideas and teaching techniques. They were attentive and present and never wavered at an opportunity to learn something new or take part in a new activity.
As a non-Spanish speaker I had left Josh to do more work than I would have normally required of an IT candidate, but given my lack of Spanish he was forced to run the course, translate what I had to add and on occasion translate what was said back to me. Luckily most of the time I knew what was going on simply due to my understanding of the topic, contexts and the actions of Josh and the Instructor candidates.
The course itself was full of information and each day we slammed through hours of exciting activities, teaching topics, games, elements and river time. Every ICW has a unique challenge and in this course the weather would prove to be it. We ran this course over 6 days, from Sunday to Friday in order to have extra time for both oar and paddle boat disciplines and as a buffer due to the language barrier. Luckily we did because the weather barreled down on us, driving high winds, cold temperatures and heavy rain into the area. 

On day two we found the river at flood state which fortunately presented the opportunity for the candidates to grown as we discussed the options and let them choose what to do with the high water. As expected they made the right choice and moved us to the Rio Liucura, a lower class of river which at the high water still provided plenty of thrills and teaching opportunities.

And so the class went, each day looking at our options and teaching goals, then deciding where the day would go. Josh adjusted, researched and planned to insure that the class would move forward and remain valuable to the Instructor Candidates.

Finally on day 5 the clouds broke, the sun came out and the water levels began to slowly drop. We immediately moved to the other sections of river and saw some incredible skills from the candidates. More impressive however was the candidates ability to come up with fantastic lessons, creative activities and smart examples which helped me with understanding more than I ever thought possible.

On the final day of the course we were able to run the section of river we had planned to do on day 3. It was a wonderful day of emotion, whitewater thrills, spectacular scenery and impressive lessons. On this last day we only took oar boats so we could rotated around in order for everyone to have a crack at the big water fun. We ended with a throw bag session in the chilly waters of the lower Trancura River. Tired but grinning we headed back to debrief the class and hand out some fun schwag that ACA HQ had sent.

An Asado is the traditional name for a Chilean Bar-B-Que and it is a regular occurrence to celebrate about any important event. This class was no different. We feasted on local foods and drinks while basking in each other’s company.

Take Away
This was my first time to Chile and South America and although Josh knew everyone in the course there were several surprises that really impressed me.
1) This was hands down one of the strongest groups of instructor candidates I have ever had in an ICW in any discipline. Not only are they incredible rafters and skilled guides; as a whole they had the strongest teaching skill I have ever seen. I do not know if this was due to their willingness to open their minds to the ACA way, due to their culture or some other obscure reason that alludes me? Regardless, it was inspiring.
2) This was one of the most profession groups of instructor candidates I had ever worked with, each added something to the course and each showed a deep understanding and passion for what it means to be a profession Raft Guide and Instructor. 
3) The entire group was clearly there to better not only themselves but Rafting in Chile and South America  as a whole. They all plan on taking the techniques they learned back to their own companies, organizations and their governments and countries of origin.
4) Earning the Instructor cert was an incredible honor for them. They will wear the certification with pride.
5) These individuals had a deep respect for the ACA and what the ACA is trying to do. Several times we had discussions about each of their experiences in guide school and trainings with other organizations. They each felt something was always missing and this course was that missing piece they had been searching for.
6) I have now mentored several ITs through the process and am actively working with 4 more. Josh was the perfect example of what I expect in an IT. I was pretty much there as a sounding board and to help where needed. He simply did an incredible job leading the course and worked so hard to teach complex ideas in his nonnative tongue. It was impressive and it is clear that he is passionate about the ACA, its mission and is ready to be a Raft IT.
7) It became clear that Chileans and South Americans in general find it pretty uncool that Folks from the USA think we have the trade mark on “America”. Early on while chatting around the fire a humble Chilean pulled me aside and said, “You know we are all Americans”. This was profound to me and I realized that he was totally correct. We all live in the Americas and I live in the United States. I began to think about this throughout the length of the course and found this idea eye opening, especially because we are all part of the American Canoe Association, which suddenly has even more meaning to me. Meaning that encompasses not only the United States, but also the rest of North, Central and South America and maybe even the world; because what we are doing is good and valuable and can help us grow into compassionate, passionate and ethical people who want to unite the world of not only paddlesports but of people.

Thank you to the Guides and now ACA Instructors who honored my presence in Pucon Chile. It is people like you who truly help our sport grow and flourish. I will share what I have learned from you as I hope you will reciprocate.

Written by ACA Western States Outreach Director Marcel Bieg


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