Paul Stevens Gets PRO
I had a feeling that I would like Paul Howard as soon as I first found out about him. He is a well spoken fellow Englishman, who moved to Whistler around eight years ago. Paul is a great rider, soon to be father, has somehow memorized the entire order of a QWERTY keyboard, and has an uncanny ability for teaching. So much so, in fact, that if he was to have written this article, he would probably have told you everything you need to know, concluded it and taken you out riding by the time he was at this sentence right here. Last week, taking my Level two Professional Mountain Bike Instructor (PMBI) course with his company, ZEP Techniques, and Paul as my instructor, was eye opening in a number of ways.
Paul gets the course rolling with a few laughs…
Paul leads the group across the Crank it Up bridge.
The first thing was just how well Paul can teach things. The guy is so unassuming that it is sometimes not obvious how dialled his skills are. In the same way as anything that can be mastered, years of practice have brought him to the point of excellence, and his vast teaching experience shines through as soon as he begins a lesson. Trying to do the same yourself quickly makes you appreciate how much information he can get across in a single, simple sentence, and how difficult that can be as a newbie to teaching!
Listening intently to the master!
Also, it is amazing how you can go along with your riding, day to day, even improving significantly, without really thinking about what you are actually doing, and the bio-mechanics that make things happen. Suddenly, if you are put in the situation where you need to teach these skills, you realize you need to have a real appreciation of what is going on, so you can pass that on to a student. This was a new concept for me, and breaking it down was at times pretty difficult.
Explaining to a group of students what you do when you ride can be harder than you might think…
I had a great time on this course, and learned a lot about my own riding, as well as how to teach, and did a lot more riding than I was expecting to, which is never a bad thing! Afterwards I got a chance to ask Paul about a few of the finer details of his company and its courses:
Paul Stevens: How long have you been in Whistler, and how long have you been teaching?
Paul Howard: Been in Whistler full time since 2004. I’ve been teaching biking and training mtb instructors for nearly 15 years now.
PS: Can you tell me a bit about ZEP techniques and the courses that you offer?
PH: ZEP is the main hub for the two main things we do: ZEP MTB CAMPS and Professional Mountain Bike Instructor (PMBI) Certifications. For the ZEP MTB CAMPS we offer adult-specific, multi-week skills training camps in Whistler with 1, 2, 4 & 5 week options. And for PMBI, we offer three levels of certifications in Canada, USA, Australia, and we’re looking into new venues in NZ and UK for 2013.
PS: What is PMBI, and why is it such a widely recognized qualification?
PH: PMBI is the Instructor Certification Program that we run for mountain biking. As for why it’s become so widely recognized, I think there’s a few main reasons;
1. Design: We started PMBI in 2006, as certified Snowboard Instructors & Snowboard Instructor Course Conductors. While the Snowboard Instructor courses weren’t perfect, they were way ahead of what we had experienced in the MTB industry at that time. The PMBI courses have been developed from the ground up by instructors who have not only years of experience in MTB teaching, but who have also been trained in how to train instructors. This is a really important point… training people how to teach is very different from teaching them how to ride. Consequently, any instructor certification course should be developed by people with experience in both teaching biking, and teaching people how to teach.
2. Fun: We ride a lot on the courses because we’ve seen a lot of different courses in different sports over the years, and the best ones have always been the ones where you have more fun. No one wants to take an MTB Instructor course and sit around all day talking! Granted, we obviously do stand around talking a bit (we have to to train the instructors) but at the same time, the best way to teach someone about riding, teaching and guiding, is to be on the trails and actually doing it.
Paul Howard: If you need to learn anything about riding or teaching, you could do a lot worse than going to this guy.
3. Value: The PMBI Courses are unique in that they certify you how to teach and guide. When you train people how to safely and effectively teach, a huge part of that role is to train them how to guide groups safely on the trails. Our courses cover both guiding and teaching theory (on trail mostly) in substantial detail, so you can work as either after the course. Also, due to the design of the course and the PMBI Curriculum, you learn how to teach skills and maneuvers relating to both XC and DH riding. Once you’re PMBI certified, you can guide and teach in both XC and DH environments. This helps people get into the teaching of the sport more easily, while still improving the quality of teaching within the industry.
4: Availability: We have tried our best to offer the PMBI courses as often as we can, in as many locations as we can. In doing this, we can run a truly relevant, international certification. If you only run a few courses each year in a few locations, how do you really know what the industry, as a whole, needs? In spreading our wings as much as we can, we’ve been able to see how different mtb schools, bike parks, lesson and tour companies, etc, operate in their different areas, on different trails. Ultimately we’ve learnt a lot from this process to really fine tune and deliver courses that people want and need, and not what we think people want and need.
PS: What is PMBI’s mandate?
PH: Simple really… to get more people on bikes and into the outdoors! We love biking and what it brings in to our lives, so the best way to support something that has given us so much, is to help it grow. We can do that by making it easier and safer for people to get into biking in the first place…and PMBI can do that by ultimately making sure that the teaching of the sport, is as safe and effective as it can be. The better the instruction, the more people we can encourage into mountain biking by getting them to see that it’s not this “crazy”, “extreme” sport that the media so lamely portrays, at times. When you’re teaching a 64 year old grandma how to ride the Aline rock drop (true story!), you know the sport can be for anyone!
PS: What prerequisites do you need to be able to take one of these courses?
PH: Must love biking and people, and be comfortable on “blue” single-track trails for the Level 1. A willingness to want to share the passion of biking and get more people on bikes to improve their lifestyles, is really important too. A passion for fun, sharing and teaching as just as important as a passion for riding if you want to do this job properly. Patience and an understanding that different people learn in different ways is useful too!
Trying my hardest to exhibit perfect form.
PS: How do I sign up if I want to take one of your courses?
PS: I have to ask this as a fellow Englishman, do you know anywhere you can buy Jaffa Cakes in Canada?
PH: Two ways. One, try and make them (I tried, it didn’t work). Two, go to this website and you will be hooked up for life!
PS: So, did I make the cut?
PH: Only if you can tell me the order of all the letter keys on a keyboard next time I see you. Joking aside, you’re a natural teacher and will make a great instructor… was great riding with you buddy!
PS: Anything else you would like to add?
PH: We’ve been lucky over the years to gain some great support from the people we’ve trained and still work with many of them today. Bike parks all over BC (particularly Silver Star and Kicking Horse Bike Parks have supported us since the beginning) from Whistler Blackcomb to COP, to Angel Fire Bike Park in New Mexico, to all the individuals who travel way too far just to take our courses in Whistler… it’s been amazing! If you’d told me we’d be running nearly 40 courses each year all over the world a few years back, I wouldn’t have believed it. We rely on word of mouth a lot and we couldn’t have done this without all the wonderful people we’ve met on the courses over the years, so thank you everyone!
Sounds like it’s about time to go for a ride with Paul Stevens… have you ever taken courses, either for riding or for teaching mountain biking?