Every spring since 2013, Wet Planet and Sundance Kayak School partner up to offer 5-day ACA kayak instructor courses for those who want to learn how to become a kayak instructor. Teaching whitewater kayaking encompasses so much more than just taking your friend out in a borrowed boat; teaching future instructors how to teach takes a special kind of talent. That talent is J.R. Weir, kayak instructor of 20+ years, owner of Sundance Kayak School, and one of the most reputable ACA kayak instructor trainers in the Northwest. J.R. joins us in White Salmon every May for the annual ACA Kayak Instructor Certification Course, where he arms future kayak instructors with the knowledge and technique to teach the sport of whitewater kayaking.

Teaching the roll in an aca kayak instructor course

J.R. showing a future kayak instructor the best way to teach the roll

So, what does it really take to become a good kayak instructor? How did J.R. become so good at what he does? We sat down with J.R. to learn more about his story and share some pro tips for how to become a certified kayak instructor.

J.R.’s journey to becoming a kayak instructor

J.R. took his first Rogue River kayaking trip at age 11 with his dad, when they came as students to Sundance Kayak School. He was instantly captivated by the river environment and lifestyle. J.R. and his dad returned to Sundance for many family-style, Oregon white water kayaking adventures throughout his teenage years.

J.R. grew up in Crescent City, California, kayaking on the Smith River and perfecting his rock spins. He loves being in the outdoors and exploring his local environment. He is known for saying, “You don’t need to go to another country to find adventure, there are so many great things to experience in our own backyard!” He loves Oregon kayaking, paddling in the Pacific Northwest, and exploring places that are rarely seen. His love of kayaking has taken him to amazing places and teaching kayaking is his lifelong passion.

White Salmon River Kayaking

J.R. enjoying time outdoors while paddling the White Salmon River

When J.R. turned 16, he started working at Sundance Kayak School and never looked back! J.R. has been a professional kayak instructor for over 20 years, and has been an instructor trainer with the ACA since 2013. He enjoys teaching future kayak instructors because being a whitewater kayak instructor has brought so much joy into his own life and made him a better kayaker.

“Great kayak instructors love to see others succeed and find enjoyment through paddling.” – J.R. Weir

kayak instructor course

J.R. and his students having some fun during an ACA course

Now, he is the proud owner of Sundance Kayak School on the Rogue River – the same kayak school where he got his start. J.R. bought the business with his partner, Lori Turbes, and together they created kayaking classes for all types of paddlers, such as a Women’s Holistic Kayak Workshop and youth summer kayaking camps. One of J.R.’s favorite classes to teach is the Class 3 intermediate multi-day kayak trip down the Wild & Scenic Rogue River Canyon. When teaching kayaking, he likes to devise interesting ways to have fun and challenge his students on the water, while enjoying the natural beauty that rivers have to offer.

teaching kayaking

A fun, creative kayaking demonstration. We’d tell you what they’re doing, but we can’t reveal all J.R.’s secrets before the ACA course!

How do you become a certified kayak instructor?

For those thinking about becoming a certified kayak instructor, here’s J.R.’s advice for taking the ACA ICW (American Canoe Club Kayak Instructor Certification Workshop). When teaching the ACA ICW, J.R. tries to instill the concept of “doing” for students. That is, less detailed explanation and more facilitation of students trying and discovering skills. Too much talking is boring!

hand of god rescue

J.R. demonstrating the hand of God rescue before having instructor candidates try the technique

kayak instructor training

Instilling the concept of “doing” for students as they practice the hand of God rescue

When preparing to take a kayak instructor course, candidates should focus on their technique in terms of modeling for their students. Be deliberate about how skills are demonstrated and exaggerate the parts that you want students to learn. Remember, your students will be watching everything that you do!

Throw Rope rescue aca kayak instructor course

Instructor candidates being deliberate when demonstrating a throw rope rescue during the kayak instructor training course

Throughout his 20+ years of teaching kayaking, J.R. has shown that you can follow your passion and make a lifelong career as a whitewater professional. And that’s what makes our annual partnership so successful – that’s exactly how we feel here at Wet Planet. We’re all passionate about whitewater and love to share that passion with our students, friends, family, and guests from all around the world, and we love instilling the confidence in future instructors to do the same. If you’re ready to share your passion for kayaking, come learn from the best and join Wet Planet and Sundance for the annual ACA Kayak Instructor Certification Course on the White Salmon River this spring!

aca kayak instructor training

Newly-certified kayak instructors after successfully completing the ACA ICW!

Learn More about the ACA Kayak Instructor Course

Author Sharon Saltoon is a kayak instructor and Communications Manager at Wet Planet. She loves being a part of the team at Wet Planet and sharing her love of whitewater on and off the river!