Back to the Lion

Posted by Ken Campbell March 11, 2009 0 Comment 829 views

I just confirmed the times and dates for my classes and presentations at the Port Angeles Sea Kayak Symposium, April 17 -19. It’s a kayaking rendezvous that I try to get to every year, even though it’s not the biggest or the most convenient one on the calendar. The reason that I enjoy it as much as I do is that it represents a connection to my kayaking experience that the others just don’t have. It is an anachronism in many ways and if it ever disappears, it’s not likely there will be another.

When I began sea kayaking, the symposiums were celebrations. A symposium was a chance to get in the same space as others who loved the water and small boats, who took the idea of adventure quite literally, and who saw kayaking as a means to explore not only the world around them, but their places in it. It seemed that everyone had stories to tell, the libations flowed with the conversations and time would melt away in the yarning process.

That has changed. The kayaking business has unfortunately become the province of large conglomerates (Perception and Dagger have been the same company for a decade, for instance, and a cursory look at their current catalogs should be enough to convince anyone that they no longer understand what sea kayaking is about.) The money, it seems, has somehow become more important than the stories. Yes, there are still small kayak manufacturers that hold onto the local touch, but there aren’t many and they compete in a game where the other side holds all the advantages. The bigger players outsource their manufacturing to China and Thailand in an effort to maximize their profits, and by doing so they kill the innovation that used to spring organically from within the sea kayaking community itself.

I could go on about the current state of the paddlesports industry, how the suits have ruined the product, how big-name kayaking “celebrities” pitch themselves more than any love for the game and how most symposiums now smell more like corporate events than a party at the beach. When it comes to the vision and the kayaking sense exhibited by most of today’s sea kayaking cogniscenti, however, the picture above is worth at least a thousand words.

That’s what I like about the Port Angeles gig. It’s hosted by a kayak shop with a real owner who really lives in the community. Organization is loose but effective; the menu of classes and presentations caters to developing skills as well as telling the stories that get us all fired up to get out on the water. Everywhere is within walking distance, not only at the event itself, but because PA is such a compact town, nothing is all that far away. There’s a party each night at the Red Lion, with a solid band and a busy dance floor. (This year it’s an encore for Deadwood Revival.) When you leave this symposium, you will remember why you wanted to start kayaking in the first place.
– Be sure to visit the Olympic Raft and Kayak site for a full rundown of the scheduled events for this year’s symposium. When you get there, stop by one of my presentations and say hello.

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