Rambling through a mine field

Posted by Ken Campbell March 15, 2011 3 Comments 1765 views

I went to a kayak club meeting the other night. Of the people in the room – about a dozen, more or less – I was, by my reckoning, one of the two youngest there. I will be 50 next year.
This is not really a reflection on the others who were at the meeting; it’s more of a question about those who were not. And it can’t only be kayaking that is wondering where the kids are, is it? Are the other outdoor sports going through the graying process too? Nordic skiing certainly knows this feeling as well, with less youth involvement in the telemark and alpine touring environments. What about canoeing, or simple backpacking? Every year, I see fewer and fewer kids on the trail and on many trips, I see none at all.
So, what gives? More importantly, where do these pursuits go from here? If there is a lack of youth involvement in these activities, is it a cyclical thing? Is it just a matter of time before the momentum switches and people start reconnecting with the idea of wilderness? Of adventure? How much wilderness and adventure will still be here then?
I believe that this dearth of generations x, y and z have brought repercussions for the ones who are still involved in outdoor pursuits. With fewer young paddlers to train and educate, there are fewer older sea kayakers with the skills and confidence to conduct any such training. Kayaking is mostly the province of the mature set, not much interested in waves or caves.
And I only pick on kayaking because I know it so well. I could say many of the same things about the others. Which is not the point. There are sea kayakers who are looking to expand their skills and become better paddlers, who seek out demanding conditions and relish the challenge of mind and body that comes with kayaking at a high level. Good on them! The point is, that if the core group of a sport or an activity is made up of folks who are closer to the grave than the cradle, it doesn’t inspire confidence about the future.
This is a book-length topic and I don’t know how to adequately address it in one blog post. It’s just something that has been on my mind for a while now, that bubbles to the surface every now and then. As a father, it is an issue that affects me on a personal level as well, as I try to figure out the best way to introduce my own son to wild places. Is a love for the outdoors something I can teach him or is it something that has to come from inside?

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