Why Do We Test New Rangers?

by Nancy Soares on June 5, 2017

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.

Commander Eric Soares administers the TR test for candidate Misha Dynniikov

Commander Eric Soares administers the TR test for candidate Misha Dynniikov

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.

Candidate Steve El Rey King on a pourover under guidance of the camera

Candidate Steve El Rey King on a pour over under guidance of the camera

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.

Jeff takes the role of leader when discussing The Plan for the day

Jeff takes the role of leader when discussing The Plan for the day

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.

Candidates El Rey and Scott Becklund display their prowess as foragers as part of their test

Candidates El Rey and Scott Becklund display their prowess as foragers as part of their test

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. 

Navigating a departure route into the sea

Navigating a departure route into the sea

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.

It's all about the food...

It’s all about the food…

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.

Celebratory lunch during Paula Renouf's test - she did a great job!

Celebratory lunch during Paula Renouf’s test – look at that table cloth! Elegance!

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.

Paula navigates a pourover on her TR test

Paula navigates a pour over on her TR test

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. 

Seal landing - check!

Cate’s seal landing – check!

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.

Cate received a shiny new knife as part of her TR swag

Cate received a shiny new knife as part of her TR swag

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.  

And there was much rejoicing...

And there was much rejoicing…

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.


  1. Equipment used and why, a quiz on conditions, use of vocal and hand signals. 
  2. Strategy for the day – they lead a mission with us through a field of operations.
  3. Initiate launching, landings and keeping the team together throughout the day.
  4. Negotiate complex rock gardens, caves and evaluation of the course.
  5. Seal landings on a rock, running pour overs or blow holes.
  6. Surf landing, launches, surfing, surf zone etiquette and ability to self rescue.
  7. LUNCH and a story from their past kayaking experiences.
  8. Rescues – the usual things that you should know plus swimming survival skills. 
  9. 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. 
Jeff rocks the rocks as part of his TR test

Jeff rocks the rocks as part of his TR test

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. 

Welcome to the Tribe!

Welcome to 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!


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim Kakuk June 5, 2017 at 7:53 am

Nice layout Nancy, the photos add a lot to the post. Scott: thanks for the additional comments that clarify why we start with a lower rank even when the person has the skill sets that are above the entry level, and that on the beach we are all one.


Nancy Soares June 5, 2017 at 5:31 pm

Great post, Jim! And thanks to you and Deb and Jeff and Steve and Scott for the photos. I’m sorry I couldn’t put in the videos, especially the one of Scott, Cate, and Deb all doing the tandem roll, but WordPress couldn’t upload them. Too many bits or something. But it’s great to see the Rangers rock, roll, and remember. The adventure continues!


Steve King June 5, 2017 at 9:52 am

Capt Kuk,

Thank you for sharing the history and details of testing. The celebrations after the testing is also a pure tribal ritual that is always memorable! The last test we did with Cate was an awesome afternoon on the water and that celebration was also memorable.


Ken Brown June 21, 2017 at 1:30 pm

Captain Jim
So glad to see you are still riding the waves. I don’t know why I thought of you today, but then via the fantastical place of the “interweb” there you were.
I have fond memories of travels and trips with you and another gang many years ago, including a home made skim board on agate beach.
Forwards and upwards


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