Signs of the times

Posted by Ken Campbell February 10, 2010 4 Comments 693 views

Put it down to greed, poor organization, a lack of vision, an inability to articulate the benefits of kayaking… hard to say. It’s maybe a little of all of these things that has brought us to the point where we’ve lost the two largest sea kayak symposiums in western Washington in the same year. Not that it wasn’t seen coming, but it’s still a bit of a shock.

The Tacoma symposium had a 5-year history of steady growth and good community participation, but it only made a little money each year, and Tacoma Metro Parks, the bloated, top-heavy, organization that hosted the event, has no use for a little money. Given the choice to improve their services or their bottom line, they will choose the latter every time. The Metropolitan Park District of Tacoma, which spends more on a single levy campaign than it did on all five symposiums put together, has gotten its last “yes” vote from me.

The Port Townsend symposium collapsed under its own weight, becoming, for both its exhibitors and participants, more restrictive and less responsive as it died. TAPS, the organization that killed it (after 26 years), was focused more on… uh, not sure what, than it was on the needs of attendees and members in recent years, which ultimately resulted in less people paying to attend, which pushed prices up and value down. This, in turn, brought still less participants through the gates, and the event was allowed (encouraged, even), to cease operations. There was a time when I was a member of the Trade Association of Paddle Sports… it’s hard to remember why.

Avarice and mismanagement, however, as much as they figured into these decisions, can’t account for everything. The other factors that helped put an end to the symposiums are a bit squishier and harder to quantify, but just as real, nonetheless. There are the manufacturers, who continue to dumb their products down to the lowest possible level in order to sell a few more cheap, plastic puddle toys. The kayaking magazines and journals – in print and on line – failed to call attention to the shrinking value of the events, possibly for fear of alienating advertising money. (I never read one article, not one, that called TAPS organizers out for the decline of the event. Everything I’ve ever read on the Port Townsend symposium was a literary genuflection to the self-styled lords of the paddle that ultimately pulled the plug.) Consumers share the blame as well; we should have said and done more to fix the shortcomings when there was a chance at redemption, rather than just pull our money out and go home.

There is more to write about here but I don’t have the time right now. Most importantly, I want to understand why there aren’t more young people interested in sea kayaking – because I think that they are the key to any further progress that will be made – but I need to finish up. I want to get out on the water.

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