by Captain Jim Kakuk
Why do we test new Rangers?
I remember as a young scruffy kid hanging out with my friends down by the river in a tree fort. We were always coming up with big plans and scheming on who would get to join in our gang as there was always a need for enlisting new recruits for various nefarious endeavors.
Later in life, as young braves on a remote beach wrapped in tatty clothes, sitting around a smoky campfire staring into the fading flames, Eric and I shared our plans for a kayaking gang. Smoking cigars and passing a jar of whisky, we wondered if there were other people like us and talked about building a team of kayaking adventure companions. So late in the night, lying in the dirt, we laid out our plans for the Tsunami Rangers ranking system.
We started by giving ourselves rank and it was arbitrary to begin with. Eric wanted to be Commander Soares, because he identified with Commander James Bond, 007. I claimed the title of captain because I identified with the explorer Captain Cook. Eric suggested we qualify new “recruits” by evaluating their skills before giving them rank starting at the entry level of Lieutenant JG.
Eric then structured and ran the first tests on willing friends. Eric’s background in the US Navy was instrumental in why we started to use the Naval ranking system and he developed a testing procedure to establish rank for the new members of our team. Later, Commander Eric Soares and I initiated the testing procedure with our first recruit, Glenn Gilchrist.
Rank is necessary to determine where you fit in the command structure and decision making when on the water with team Tsunami Rangers (note: your TR rank does not transfer into personal relationship situations). The ranking structure works by using diverse skill sets to keep the team together, especially when in difficult conditions. Decisions are made by the senior officers and relayed to the rest of the team. It is not a group decision or a democracy.
Rank is determined by your knowledge of your equipment, handling your boat, interaction with others on the water, understanding the sea conditions and leadership ability. The highest rank we give new Rangers is lieutenant and they can increase in rank over the following years. The ranking system we use is based on the centuries’ old Naval system developed by merchant and military seaman.
We also take into consideration courage, initiative, compatibility, self sufficiency, camping skills, what he/she can add to the team and what emoji’s they bring. After the first few tests we started to require that lunch be provided; we wanted to see if a candidate could pack food, keep it dry and feed a group of people. This was useful to know what their culinary tastes were, and of course the bonus of getting a free lunch for our work.
To clarify something…we only invite people we recognize as being the same in spirit and ability, and we discuss the new prospect over a period of time. After many outings together and several camping trips we make cogent observations of their skills and what they would add to the team before we talk to them about joining the Tsunami Rangers. The test is set to showcase their skills, knowledge of the ocean and environment; it is not a hazing ritual and no one fails.
The invite is usually formal (around a campfire or walking on the beach) and if they accept our invitation we then discuss time and location. Usually the test is in about a year, but in some cases can be the next day. Senior officers suggest who should administer and assist with the test.
On water discussions happen during the test and on the way back to camp. After landing, there is a wrap up with the testing squad and senior officers wherein rank is determined.
At night there is a ceremonial banquet with lots of food, gifts to the new Ranger and story telling of the high tales from that day. The party follows late into the night, with drinking, smoking cigars, reveling in the day’s adventures and telling more stories from when we were kids.
What we look for is what all ocean white water kayakers should be able to do. The following is most but not all of what we cover in a test.
BASIC TESTING POINTS:
- Equipment used and why, a quiz on conditions, use of vocal and hand signals.
- Strategy for the day – they lead a mission with us through a field of operations.
- Initiate launching, landings and keeping the team together throughout the day.
- Negotiate complex rock gardens, caves and evaluation of the course.
- Seal landings on a rock, running pour overs or blow holes.
- Surf landing, launches, surfing, surf zone etiquette and ability to self rescue.
- LUNCH and a story from their past kayaking experiences.
- Rescues – the usual things that you should know plus swimming survival skills.
- Meandering back to camp we look for play spots, do stunts, go fishing, diving, foraging, and see what comes up for photo ops; a good sport is always a good show off.
Scott’s Two Cents: The obvious is that new inductees will be given an entry level rank regardless of their skill set. This rule seems to never have been as glaring as having both Cate and Jeff become Rangers. Their individual and team skills are above and beyond what anyone could expect in a leader in any group. My other comment brings me back to a time with Jim and Eric. The rank system was designed to work on the water, whether in an extreme situation or not. Both totally accepted that they would follow it. To the point, as Eric said, ” If a superior officer gives a command (can’t remember his exact word here) you follow it OR then live or die by your decision. But it’s yours!” And he said that the ranking system stays ON THE WATER. On land we become The Tribe.
For more on recent Tsunami Ranger tests, check out the reports on Paula Renouf, Jeff Laxier, and Cate Hawthorne! The Rangers have been busy! Also, don’t miss Eric’s post on How to Become a Tsunami Ranger!
Questions? Comments? Let us know below!