A guide to guiding
I’m just back from 3 weeks of guiding for SwimQuest on their channel & distance tour. This has been my first experience of guiding. That is a slightly misleading thing to say of course given that I’ve been running Dover training for 3 years, but guiding is subtly different.
It has been 3 full on weeks. I thought I’d give you a little taster as to what it’s like to guide (from my perspective).
Last time I came to Croatia for a training camp it was as a guest and the weather was glorious. I found myself packing for that weather - my first rookie error!
Week 1 - it was wet, very, very wet! It was also pretty cold. I spent most of the week wearing my entire wardrobe and ‘looking after’ dryrobes of swimmers in the water
Week 2 - beautifully sunny & calm. This is what I had been expecting and had packed for
Week 3 - windy. At least with weeks 1 and 2 we could swim anywhere. With this week we were very restricted in where we could safely train.
Week 2 swimmers definitely got the best deal! I’m sure you can imagine that we start each week with a game plan for where we’d like to swim each day and for how long. I won’t share that game plan as it could be a spoiler for future trips, but needless to say, we had to adapt that plan for the weather we faced. Some of the adaptations were more significant than others. I was particularly impressed by week 3 who adapted to an extra half hour on one of their swims when we decided to adapt to deteriorating weather conditions throughout the day.
So as a guide, there’s lots of watching weather forecasts and then physically going out to assess safety whilst the guests are getting ready for breakfast.
We get through a lot of feeds over the three weeks. So my mixing kit (jug, whisk and funnel) were well used. Each swim we would mix enough feed for the swims and pack a variety of treats (e.g. jelly babies, peaches, swiss roll, etc) to pass to the swimmers in the water. There was one particularly amusing day when one of our carefully packed treat boxes got accidentally left behind! So we changed the plan and adapted for what we did have with us between the boats and no one would have known - there’s always a backup plan. The same was true when I needed to make some more feed on the fly - I had the feed and the mixing kit, but no flavouring - the juice from the peaches went down a treat though.
Many, but not all, people will be doing a camp like this for the first time. Some will never have experienced this type of cold or swum for as long with the inevitable aches and pains. Our role is to firstly ensure safety and if someone needs to get out for safety, that is always the right call. Sometimes, though, the ‘demons’ get to play and swimmers need some encouragement to stay in the water when their head is telling them to get out. Sometimes I suggest that a person borrows my belief in them until they find their own self belief. Demons pass and often all that is needed is a few words to help the person stay in the water until that happens.
Boat driver, safety & beach lifeguard
We have two small boats to escort the swimmers on many of the swims, by the end of the three weeks I was very sad to say goodbye to my little boat. Bobbing and whizzing around on the water is a lot of fun.
Of course as well as being visible support, we are there for safety. I think I’ll be counting in my sleep for a while yet! We are continuously making sure that everyone is safe and accounted for. There is continuous radio contact between the guides. A skill that was never needed and you’d hope never would be needed is that of beach lifeguard. Our intention is to prevent incidents rather than having to react to them, but we remain vigilant at all times and ready to spring into action if needed.
When you start out in this sport there is a lot you don’t know. Much of it you are even unaware that there is something to be known. During the week we run a number of seminars to help build knowledge. We also use some of these sessions to reflect on swims and how they were for the guests and I find these sessions particularly fascinating. A lot of people assume that it’s only them that struggles from time to time, it’s during these sessions that you realise that even the person who appeared to be totally in control of everything still has their own internal battles.
This is the best bit - celebrating all the small and big achievements. The big achievements are fairly obvious. There are the little achievements along the way too - the longest ever swim - getting back in after a challenging previous swim - realising the belief that you can’t is just a limiting belief and not real.
There are so many aspects to guiding. The days are long, we start before the guests are up and often have things to do whilst the guests are enjoying their well earned downtime. Watching people grow in confidence is magic, watching the achievements unfold is awesome. What I like the most is watching 12 or 13 people arrive as individuals and leave as a team, with friendships made that will stand the test of time.
Would I do this again - ABSOLUTELY! I had a blast!