As the latest in the activities I do with my son through YGuides, yesterday we went kayaking around Sausalito. It was a nice trip: the day was sunny and warm enough, and we saw seals, cormorants, two Great Blue Herons, a pelican, terns, jellyfish as we paddled around.
There were some lessons, however, in the training. Our guide nicely prepared us for a comf0rtable trip, providing splash skirts so we could stay dry inside the kayaks, in addition to the required life-jackets. And he gave us some useful paddling advice about using our bodies to turn, not just our arms (I’m happy with the latter, trying to keep my board-paddling muscles in tune), which way to turn the paddle, etc. However, they missed the boat (arr arr) on a few other things.
For one, the boats steer with a rudder at the back (in addition to the paddles) that is operated by the stern paddler. These pedals work in a funny way that seemed counter-intuitive, pushing left to turn left. Also, it’s easy to overcompensate one misdirection with too much the other way (common in driving and flying). I could do it slowly, but if pushed my instinct was to push with my right leg to turn left (I can’t even place the origin: bicycle? surf/snowboard?). Shortly after taking off, he led us through a pier, and I managed to bounce the kayak against a barnacle-covered piling despite my best efforts, due to my tendency to initially make matter worse before I remembered to push the pedal the other way. Now, I can be slow on the uptake sometimes, but not usually on something like this. The lesson here was to give us more time to get comfortable before challenging us. It’s their boat, so they can risk it, but it wasn’t fun to make the mistake when it counted.
The other two problems came from paddling. While the paddles were pretty smooth, moving them in your hands for close to three hours can wear away your skin (particularly if your usual ‘hard work’ is pushing keys). They mentioned gloves on the site, but only for half-day trips. It was fun shoveling dirt today (helping out on the landscaping project my wife’s currently involved in) with pre-existing blisters on my hands. Not. I wish they would’ve recommended gloves for all, and the lesson is to consider your learners abilities.
The final problem isn’t a training problem, but of course ends up being. To be fair, they did say to keep your arms up while paddling. BUT, it’s hard when your digging deep to get out of the way of a dredge, or pulling against the tide and the wind (and, of course, arms can get tired and/or sloppy). I don’t mind pulling and digging in, but there was a consequence: the side of the kayak right where I was paddling had two screwheads sticking out from each smooth side. In 3 hours, I managed to drag my fingers across those screws several times, with a bloody consequence. It shouldn’t be a training issue, and I note that the other pair had the Seascape 2 (we were in the original Seascape, or Seascrape as I told the guide I’d renamed it) and it no longer had those screws. They were training me to avoid problems from a bad design! The right solution should be to have a good design first, and then design to get optimal performance, not train to cover a bad design! But, of course, that’s not always the case. Which is why usability folks, and I’ve been one and remain committed to the cause, suggest that you need to get the support folks and the trainers into the initial design process. They know what users will face, and can help keep problems from getting into the design.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a good time with the lad, and I’m glad we went (my hands will heal :). Still, it could’ve been better, and as the saying goes, “it’s OK to lose, but don’t lose the lesson”. So, get the design right first, then prepare learners for success, and give them sufficient time to adapt to the newness. Please!