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June 18, 2006

Just about all kayakers can remember getting encouragement from another paddlers in the form of compliments, or simply learning about new opportunities that they didn’t know existed and how to find them (like the creek that flows after the big rain, 10 minutes from their house, or how wonderful and easy Costa Rica is to get to.) These paddlers make kayaking more fun for everyone.

The past few years many top kayakers have outwardly positioned themselves as a certain type of kayaker, dissing paddling and paddlers that don’t specialize like them. This breaks the rule we all learned in Kindergarten, “Don’t try to make yourself look good by putting others down.” It is a little more gray for some boaters because they tend to generalize instead of pointing fingers at specific boaters that aren’t like them. It was apparent to me just yesterday just how destructive it is from the top down while here in Bremgarten, Switzerland. I was paddling on a wave/hole here in downtown with Nick, Dane, Emily, and I, and one other guy who is 21 years old. When I got there he was smiling and having a good time and we were all playing away. At this particular level there are both hole moves and wave moves available. Nick and I were mostly doing lefty air blunts and working on our clean and back blunts, while Emily was doing cartwheels, and Dane was trying Tricky Woos. This guy was cartwheeling. I asked him his name and how he was doing. I then said, “Sweet Spot” and pointed at the wave. He said, “It isn’t really my style, I like surfing big waves”, and then went in and did some more cartwheels. I was thinking, “humm, the guy lives in Switzerland, where there isn’t much for big wave options (Europe in general). I have seen a lot of this type of thing and my impression was that he felt that by telling me that, I would put him in the “big wave surfer” category and I would think he was cooler than if I just figured he was a local guy having a good time on the best spot in Bremgarten.

So what does this mean? Well, for starters, I have paddled my share of “big waves”, small waves, big holes, small holes, big rivers, little creeks, steep creeks, and class 2 and have spent many years trying to find the best places to paddle, some hard to get to, some in my back yard. When somebody goes out of their way to explain how what they are doing at the moment isn’t what they like to do; that they like to do something else, I simply pity them and what they are doing to themselves in regard to the best sport they may ever partake in.

People who think what they do is the best, and therefore what other people do or have is of lesser value are acting like snobs, the best word I can find to describe their actions. High society snobs are not n to be with unless you are also just like them. Wave snobs, creek snobs, playboating snobs, or slalom snobs are a relatively new occurrence. The good news it that they are new enough for the majority of paddlers to learn to identify the actions and attitudes that turn a paddler into a paddler snob before it happens to them and ruins their paddling and the paddling of those around them.

Who were the original paddling snobs? Slalom racers for sure. They didn’t pay value to anything anyone did outside of the slalom boat and it took 10 years of a downhill trend in slalom and the explosion of freestyle, expedition boating, and creeking before the next generation of slalom boaters were able to see eye to eye with the rest of the paddling world. Now, slalom boaters truly see other aspects of paddling as an equal to their endeavors (in general).

Now the paddling snobs are a little different in that they simply see the other areas of paddling that they don’t specialize in as being a threat to their time in the sun. People who like to run creeks are awesome, until they call themselves “creekers” and pretend that people who like to flop around in holes, waves, or simply run class 3 rapids are anything less than they are. Big Wave Surfers, who, if they only paddled on big waves, would for the most part, not get to paddle very often. Freestyle boaters who think slalom boaters don’t have any real skills that apply on a real river are just as ignorant and hurtful to themselves and the sport in general.

You do what you do and that is awesome. Approach paddling with a broad open mind and don’t limit yourself by your own prejudice. If you paddle but can’t roll yet, good for you, you know that a lot of paddlers are better than you, but you can still help a newby learn to do their first ferry. If you are one of the top steep creek boaters in the world (either in your own mind or the minds of others) that is something you should be proud of and I hope you will treat each outing from the point of view that you have many years left in a normal mortal life. How many of those years you will live depends on making the right decisions regarding safety and leaving margin for error each time you hit the water. How you treat others who decide to watch you from the bank, but enjoy other areas of paddling, determines how well you will be treated in return.

My challenge to all paddlers out there is simply this:

  1. Know that you aren’t cool if you aren’t nice, period. When I select a team member to represent Jackson Kayak, for example, I look first at how they treat others. Those who: Argue, complain, or can’t treat a beginner with as much respect as their personal hero, have no place on Team JK. Paddlers who can’t have fun on the Chattahoochee, at a play hole, at a slalom race, on the Nile, or on a creek, or even in a swimming pool don’t truly love paddling, they are looking for “what can paddling bring to me”. REMEMBER THAT ANY TIME IN YOUR KAYAK IS SOMETHING TO BE ENJOYED TO THE FULLEST, (IF NOT, GO BACK TO WORK OR SCHOOL), YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE ON THE WATER, MAKE OTHER’S TIME IN THEIR KAYAK AS ENJOYABLE AS YOU CAN TOO.
  2. Try different types of paddling. Get in a slalom kayak, a playboat, or a creekboat. Get on different water, and if possible travel! Mark Twain once said, “Travel is the cure for prejudice.”
  3. Join a club and volunteer: If you are good at what you do, you will be a big help to others that don’t have the skills you have and you will be a club hero. Don’t try to sell the club on how what you do is better than what the other club hero does, but allow each person who brings something different to the club their chance in the sun. There is no right or wrong way to enjoy your paddling, it is too individual for that. Me, I like my paddling straight up. I get the river and want to get in the boat and not stop until there is no more paddling to be had. Dane is the same way. Clay likes to hang out and will be the one who will talk in the parking lot about boating for hours on end. Which is better? Neither, everyone has their place.
  4. Beware of the magazines, and definitely beware of the kayaker forums. Magazines and forums are awesome and offer everyone something worth reading or looking at, BUT, they also are often printing stuff that isn’t too far off the enquirer in terms of looking for the “trends” what is “hot” and what is “not”. Paddling is too big to be a fad, and being a “fad paddler” is a waste of your potential and won’t make you cool. Forums take it to the extreme.

If you are 60 years old and bump into an 18 year old in an eddy and he is wearing all of the latest gear, and you are in your Dancer, Hurka paddle, Seda lifejacket, etc. and you don’t need to be stressed about what that kid is thinking, nor do you have to defend yourself and why you don’t have the latest stuff also. You are on the water, having a great time, just like we all did back in 1983 when the Dancer came out and we went hog wild paddling it, thinking life couldn’t get any better, nor could boats. Relax, smile, and enjoy the rest of your day. Strike up a conversation with the kid and he’ll probably be impressed that you paddled when he was still a baby.

Jackson Kayak is committed to the concept of each person involved taking it upon themselves (as well as the company as a whole) to “Leave the World a Better Place”. We hope you will take a look inside yourself and determine whether you are an asset or liability in kayaking in regards to improving other’s paddling as well as your own.

See you on the river!

🙂 EJ