Creating Paddle Ability – A Unique Course for Central Europe


In May 2019, twenty-four participants, five trainers and 12 nationalities from across Europe joined together for ten days of developing kayaking skills and learning new experiential education methods and about each other’s cultures in the Heart of Europe — Slovakia.

The Creating Paddle Ability training course was organized by Outward Bound Slovakia and financed through the Visegrad Fund and the European Union scheme Erasmus+, which offers opportunities for learning and development for young people (and beyond!). This course was a pilot project for Outward Bound Slovakia. It emerged from the need to train facilitators, instructors, youth workers, and volunteers from Central Europe in using water-based activities in experiential education programming and work with youth.

Even though kayaking has a long tradition in Central European countries as both a sport and a recreational activity, its application in outdoor education is gaining traction only recently. The interest in implementing kayaking programs as a platform for personal development is growing. For this reason there is a strong need to develop the professional knowledge and skills of instructors and facilitators to run safe and effective programs. Creating Paddle Ability was likely the first course in Slovakia to offer an opportunity for its participants to take an American Canoe Association kayaking assessment.

The project included instructors and facilitators from Outward Bound Romania, Outward Bound Croatia, Outward Bound Finland, Outward Bound Slovakia, and Prázdninová škola Lipnice (Outward Bound Czech Republic), together with Élményakadémia (Hungary), and Plusko (Slovakia) — organizations which offer programs based on experiential education. It is always great to learn from the work of others and so the course created a platform for Outward Bound Schools and non-profit organizations to meet and exchange best practices. The trainers team was composed of experts from five different countries — Ireland, Croatia, Slovakia, Austria and Bulgaria. The diversity of backgrounds, nationalities, and cultures created exciting dynamics in the group.

It was a challenging course for both the participants and the trainers. At the time of the course in May, the Danube had risen due to melting snow in the river’s upper reaches and with it the level of challenge rose as well. During the expedition, which was a core program element, the participants had the chance to experience the Danube channels under unusual conditions. The highlight was the half-day experiential program designed and run by the participants for youth from different backgrounds. The participants went Outward Bound by implementing their newly acquired skills and knowledge and teaching 20 young people basic paddling skills.

Inspiration is the word that best describes the outcome of this project, both for the participants and trainers, who would like to keep developing in outdoor education, and for the organizations, which are looking at ways to implement more kayaking and water-based activities in their programming. We are definitely motivated to develop the program further — either by making it happen in another partner country or through developing a second stage.

Author: Mariya Georgieva

This article was originally published in Outward Bound International Journal, 2019 Edition, available online here.

More about Creating Paddle Ability project in Slovak language can be found here.