Alzar students = rescue technicians!
Yep, that’s math right there. The equation written above relates our school population to a specific skill set they now possess. Now let me show my work….. Over the weekend, the Alzar students were introduced to Nate Ostis, a McCall local, seasoned paddler, and member of the school’s advisory committee. But most importantly, Nate is one of the top educators in the country of whitewater rescue education. For two intense days, the whole group learned about rescue priorities, philosophy, and techniques.
Saturday morning began cold and foggy with a sit-down classroom session and a whiteboard. At least this time they got to hear a new voice presenting the discussion. By lunchtime, we were all outside tossing bags full of rope back and forth. Later in the afternoon, we hit the water and put our new hard skills to work. Previously timid paddlers were aggressively swimming rapids head-first and learning to self-rescue. After making successful throwbag tosses, all of us were humbled by the tension in a rope with a swimmer holding on to the other end.
On the second day, we spent even more time in the water practicing kayak rescue techniques, swimming into a simulated strainer, safely wading across shallow channels, and getting more practice with the staple river rescue tool: throwbags. The students were unanimous about their favorite activity, however: live-bait rescues. A swimmer would enter the current and it quickly became obvious that they couldn’t help themselves. Downstream, the rescue team was waiting. Wearing a USCG type V rescue vest, Liam went on belay with a rope tied to his back. He performed a sort of James-Bond-combat-belly-flop into the river, swam aggressively toward the unconscious swimmer, and grabbed hold of their torso. On the other end of the rope, Katherine and Aaron were holding on and bracing for tension. As Liam and his patient swung to shore, Alec and Ines were on scene to pull them from the water, re-warm the patient, and protect their spine.
We all hope dramatic rescues like this never have to happen, but the reality is that throughout our whitewater careers, things go wrong and we need to be prepared to act fast. Formal rescue training is a course that disappointingly few kayakers and rafters have pursued. I’m very excited to make safety education a major priority at Alzar. Throughout the semester, we will continue prompting the students with scenarios and discussions to practice these skills and always remember: the most effective rescue is one that never has to happen!