A Shift in the winds

Posted by Ken Campbell May 28, 2010 0 Comment 802 views

Time was, nothing was more fun than a sea kayak symposium. Especially the West Coast Symp up in Port Townsend each September. Everyone who was anyone (with a paddle), was there, and it was a chance to hear of the adventures of others while we planned our own, to try the hot new boats and to take classes from the best kayakers in the business.

It was a successful event model and it worked real well. For a while.

The terrain is a little different now than it was back in those heady days of the mid-1990’s, when it seemed as though kayaking was poised to be the most significant new outdoor activity in the nation. Certainly the most significant here in the watery Northwest. I’ve carped previously about the decline of the industry and I’m not meaning to rehash those tired points… suffice to say, recent symposiums around these parts didn’t come close to measuring up. To the way it used to be, as well as the way it ought to be.

It may be that there isn’t anything organizers can do about it anyway; the whole notion of a symposium based on sea kayaking may be an idea that has outlived its usefulness, and that now it’s time to move on. At first, back when most people had had very little, if any, exposure to kayaks, symposiums were efficient methods of getting the word out to as many people as possible. Spreading the gospel of kayaking. Now, however, when it seems as though anyone with a possible interest in paddling has already had the opportunity to try it, maybe the need for the symposium is on the wane. Has waned.

What else is there to tell people about kayaking? Something that they don’t already know. With the internet (rolling and rescue clinics on YouTube), club activities and dealer demo days, is there anything a symposium format could provide paddlers that they couldn’t get somewhere else?

This is all just talk, but here’s the thing: I think that the idea of a paddle sports symposium could be relevant again, if it wants to be. It would need to combine the different elements of the modern kayaking family… the manufacturers, dealers, maybe even organized programs like the BCU and the ACA, while at the same time court support from sources outside the immediate paddling community. It is problematic for a proprietary event, put on by a single retailer or manufacturer, to be fair to all the participants. (Perhaps a club could take on the role of sponsor and organizer?) The ideal calendar would feature items for paddlers of all skill levels, presentations and clinics that – and this is important – are not just warmed over versions of the same old topics that get trotted out year after year. It would need to feel like a party too, live music and libations. People should be able to attend, knowing they will be able to find good deals, good advice and good vibes. It could be done.

That said, who’s going to do it? Who is even in that position, or wants to be? From where I’m standing, that sounds like a thankless job and a lot of work besides. I don’t claim to have the answers, but nobody else seems to have them either.

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