A Look at the future

Posted by Ken Campbell October 25, 2012 0 Comment 1187 views
“One of the mysteries of late is the demise of various paddlefests…”
So begins John Kimantas, the Editor of Coast and Kayak magazine, in the opening pages of the issue from this past summer. He goes on to talk about the possibility that it is the advent and proliferation of cheap plastic recreational paddle boats that is to blame for the declining popularity of sea kayaking.
He quotes an industry insider as saying, “… lots of people figure they’re going to give this paddling thing a try. But unsure if they are actually going to like it, they make the smallest investment possible (Costco Pelican)… The old Pelicans, however, with no keel, often frustrate people because they can’t paddle straight. After a couple days of paddling in circles everything is up on Craigslist and they are headed off to the bike store to try something more familiar.”
He concludes by asking if this is where all the kayakers have gone, fended off by the very activity they wanted to pursue in the first place. “Thousands of boats are collecting dust in garages because as a boat it never lived up to the dream – it was too poorly designed for what the user envisioned. And so someone who could have and should have been introduced to kayaking instead gets turned off, and… instead is doing something else.”
I believe he’s right. It’s a good analysis of the current state of affairs and, to be honest, it wasn’t hard to see it coming. I’d only add two things to the critique:
The demise of sea kayaking as an activity that is open to sensible aspiration is, at its core, a situation where the manufacturers are to blame. The companies that make kayaks went for the quick sale, the cheap boats in volume lots, and they sold to any retailer who ponied up the cost. Walmart, Costco, Canadian Tire, West Marine, Dick’s, and so on. There was no thought to education that went with the sale; indeed, no education was needed. The manufacturers of these plastic tub toys knew they were undercutting their own market, but like whaling or logging, or any extraction industry (in this case, the extracting of cash from ill-informed yokels), it’s the day that matters and to hell with the future. Which is exactly where they put sea kayaking.

The manufacturers, along with their sales reps and the rest of them who should have known better, convinced the big box dealers and their customers that what they would get – for a discount – was the real experience of sea kayaking. It’s the old bait-and-switch. Sell ’em one thing and give ’em another. Everybody made scads of money, although the seeds of destruction were sown when that first Keowee went out to market. (Remember the Keowee?)
The second point I would add is that now, with all these excess recreational floating devices having been sold and absorbed by the market, we have only added to the plastics problem. Whether these aquatic toys are actually used or not, the industry has only put more plastic in the junk-stream, where it will add to the immeasurable accumulation of all the other polymer garbage that is being stored up against our collective future. An activity that should have been all about preservation and the valuing of our wild places has instead become part of what will eventually destroy them.
It’s about more than simply the future of kayaking. That’s an important point, no question, but it’s ultimately about the future, period.

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