The Buzzkill Brigade, and so on

Posted by Ken Campbell September 18, 2010 2 Comments 1034 views

The sport of sea kayaking (if indeed it is actually a “sport” at all), is in the process of falling off the radar. The sea kayaking demographic seems to shift notably upward every year and the percentage of younger people who are getting into paddling these days is minute. Of course, there are a pile of reasons.

Expense: It’s a pricey activity, this touring sea kayaking. Lots of gear, classes and stuff, many dollars. The people with the money and time to devote to becoming better paddlers are the old-timers, not the young bloods.

The Nerd Factor: Serious sea kayakers are nerds. Face it. They talk about their precious gear with a passion seldom bestowed on their wives and girlfriends. GPS info is cross-checked and commented upon at length. Whole portions of magazine articles are quoted from memory and many countless pieces of gear are ordered online, all to turn the frogs into princes, more akin to the watermen of their dreams.

Safety Overkill: I always wear a PFD. I understand drysuits. I own several and, when the conditions call for it, I love the extra comfort and safety they provide. Recent shifts toward safety above all else have led to silliness, however. This past week, on Sucia Island, I met a pair of kayakers who were not only wearing drysuits, but helmets. To paddle between Sucia and Matia. They seemed like nice men, but helmets? Really? The kids look at that and roll their eyes. And vow to never, ever, ever get in a kayak.

The Buzzkill Brigade: Sort of an offshoot of the nerdy kayak groupie, but much more militant. The Al Qaeda of sea kayaking. Oh-so-passionate arguments about skegs and rudders, with hurled insults and much clucking of tongues, are common. Heavy on the science of kayaking; precious little concern for the art. The rolling purists, who see their kayaks as some kind of large piece of spinning exercise equipment, decry the paddlefloat rescue crowd, the Great Unrolled,
; the winged paddle crowd looks warily at the Greenland stick afficionados, and they both feel quite superior to the Euro-bladers; each of them writing off entire populations of paddlers in defense of parlor tricks and equipment choices they think they know something about. (Oooh, that’s probably gonna raise a few termites up from the heartwood.)

Nobody wants to hang around any of these scenes for long, least of all somebody young and strong, with options. If sea kayaking is to become relevant once more to people under the age of 30, it needs to be about the journey, as well as the destination. WHERE are you going? WHY does it take a sea kayak to get you there? WHAT did you see while you were there? Tell me about the trip now; I can always hear the sales pitches later.

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