Third weekend in September

Posted by Ken Campbell September 12, 2008 0 Comment 471 views

In a few days, just over a week, I’ll be heading to the West Coast Sea Kayak Symposium. The symposium is the largest gathering of sea kayak manufacturers, vendors and participants in the world, and takes place at Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend. Numbers vary from year to year, and I think the official attendance figures are usually inflated, but it’s still a big to-do, and I’m looking forward to it. Sort of. I have books to sell, and I’m scheduled for two slide presentations on Friday. The rest of the time will be spent in a mad mix of retail, assisting consumers with boat selections on the beach, and doing demos of models that we may or may not select for our store stock next year.

I haven’t gone to the symposium much in the last few years. I used to look forward to it in a much more visceral way, with more excitement and a sense that what I would experience at the event would make me a better kayaker. I don’t get that any more, probably because I’m older now and it’s harder to get excited about doing the same things over and over. I’m also of the opinion that the rise in recreational sea kayaks, those chubby, tubby tupperware paddleboats favored by large rear ends and greedy manufacturers has not been good for the sport. Dumbed it down, really. What used to be a celebration of elegant craft that could take a paddler anywhere in the world has become, in large part, an emphasis on the idea that anyone can kayak, even those who don’t want to learn about the sport, who have no interest in travel and posess little awareness of nature.

It’s a situation that has been openly encouraged by the boat manufacturers. Give the people something simple, something that will match their abilities rather than improve them. Make it all about safety, and erase any sense of adventure that may remain. Make it cheap, simple and artless, just like they are.

All right. Enough with the sour grapes. Apparently, I’m in something of a funk this morning.

There will be presentations that I would like to see, stories of intensity and excitement on the high seas, tales and images of discovery and wonder. I hope I can sift through the swill and find a nugget or two along the way. I am also hopeful that I will find some new boats that will capture that excitement, render it in fiberglass, and make sense, according to my understanding of what sea kayaking should be about.

When it’s all been said, I think the real reason for my ambivalence is tied somehow to my own memories of symposiums past. The WCSKS used to be more celebratory, more of an event. I got the feeling that there was so much out there, so much exploration yet to be done, and the symposium was the catalyst for me planning my own adventures. When I started going to the Port Townsend symposium, I was one of the younger crowd. There were old-timers there, paddling role models, accomplished kayakers with amazing stories to tell. Now, after almost 20 years of attending, I expect I will find that I am still one of the younger people there.

That does not bode well for the future of the sport.

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