Paddle Sports in the COVID-19 Era Pt. 5
This week our journey through the paddle sports world in the COVID era has brought to raft training and education. I chatted with international training guru Mark Hirst about what this last year as looked like.
Tell me a little about yourself and your job/company? Maybe include a little how you got to your current job.
My name is Mark Hirst. I am originally from the city of Manchester uk. I now live in Finnish Lapland. I have been involved in the river industry all of my life.
I spent most of my guiding career traveling around the world exploring lots of interesting rivers and cultures. I eventually used my experience to gain Assessor status in the International rafting Federation (IRF) of which there are only 17 assessors in the world currently. I also teach Rescue 3 courses for both Ice & Water Rescue.
In 2015 I formed my own company called Lapin Koskikoulu (Finnish for Lapland rapid school). Lapin Koskikoulu delivers educational courses for the International Rafting Federation & Rescue 3 Europe.
Lapin Koskikoulu was initially set up to deliver courses in Finland. For some bizarre reason the international demand for courses has sky rocketed pre covid. I normally deliver courses in around 15 different countries per year to either commercial rafting companies or the emergency services.
We are coming up on a year of COVID. What did things look right before first round of lock downs started? Did you have a busy 2020 planned out?
I am a very optimistic person & I believe that every cloud has that silver lining. Last year Covid made life interesting to say the least.
In 2020 Lapin Koskikoulu was going to have a bumper year. We had courses booked in USA, Uk, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Chile, Peru, Georgia, Bosnia, France & IRF conference, Canada, Ukraine, Russia
How did your 2020 season end up panning out? Were you able to keep busy guiding and teaching? What were a couple challenges you saw/faced?
All of the courses above were cancelled. This was soul destroying as I know that the students on all of the courses wanted to attend the courses to enable them to improve professionally. This was also Financially crippling for myself.
So what did I do?
The main stay of my rafting guiding career had been working as a guide for Viking Rafting on the class 4+ East Glacial river in Iceland. They have a solid professional reputation. For some strange reason the East river has a hold on my heart strings. Viking Rafting normally employ a team of international guides due to the travel restrictions I knew they would be short on guides. So I booked my flight and went back to commercially guiding for a few months.
Have you seen an increased demand in training for Lapin Koskikoulu? What about demand for guides? Last season I felt a little short on guides at times but like always, it seemed to work out. If so when did that happen? Has there been any type of training seeing more demand than others?
From talking to many guiding friends around Europe the 2020 season was very busy. The demand for rafting was high which was great. Something I did notice was that there is a shortage of European class 4 guides & trip leaders. Lots of companies who operate on class 3 and above were really struggling for guides.
Looking back it was a great experience to be back working as a commercial guide.
Towards the back end of summer I ran some workshops in Slovenia & the UK which was great.
During the winter months I normally combine teaching Ice Rescue courses at home in Finland with snowmobile guiding. The snowmobile work was all cancelled so this gave me the opportunity to run more Ice Rescue courses which was a saving grace.
Where do you see the rafting world headed with COVID? Is it growing? Shrinking? Would love to hear your thoughts on this on an international scope since you work in a number of places?
I think that again in 2021 we are going to have a big rafting season in the Northern hemisphere. People have been locked down in various stages and are bursting to get out. I imagine that there are plenty of guides and companies waiting with open arms to greet them.
What does the 2021 season look like for you guiding
I plan myself to head back to Iceland for the peak season. I hope to have a busy fall 2021 when I can hopefully travel to run some of the canceled courses. Lots of people have been using the lockdowns and the winter to brush up on the theoretical side of our profession so the fall could be the time to get some practical courses run Fingers crossed!
Thanks so much Mark for taking time out of your froze lake swimming and training to chat. Maybe we will see you in Oregon in a couple of weeks!