Just Bring Your Own Bag


October 15, 2017 Comments (2) journal

Talking Kayaks

The last few posts would seem to indicate that I am even more immersed than usual in plastics-related subjects. While it’s true that I do spend an inordinate amount of time on all things plastic, there are other things to keep aware of, quite apart from polymers. Shifting slightly, we could talk about the fact that Puget Sound salmon are on drugs. Or perhaps we could have a discussion about the NFL protests and whether the players or the President is right or wrong. (Soccer players in Germany have made up their minds already.) There are any number of subjects that are worthy but for some nagging reason, I just feel like there are some things that need to be said about sea kayaking.

(If sea kayaking is not to your interest, and you don’t particularly care about whatever, I want you to know that it’s ok. I will undoubtedly be back to plastic tomorrow. Please check back.)

So, kayaking. What triggered it today for me was an article I saw by Tim Shuff about how sea kayaking is suffering because of too much emphasis on “education” and not enough emphasis on adventure. As a guide and instructor for many years, I couldn’t agree more. (I know… ironic.) The main points in the article were similar to ones that John Dowd, the Godfather of Northwest kayaking, raised in an article he penned years ago, and they are that when kayaking was just gaining traction, it was built around by-guess-and-by-god, trial and error adventure and that a hyper-awareness of safety issues and an obsession with certification have damaged the activity, for many.

I watched that happen. From the time when I started, late 1980’s, it was always a surprise what was around any corner, and every paddle stroke carried us all closer to the edge. The magazines carried us to places we’d never even heard of and the idea that kayaks were for freedom was fairly universal. From the guide/instructor perspective, that rationale slowly changed, and a premium was placed on “professionalism,” including additional expectations of certification: WFR, ACA or BCU certs, even Leave No Trace. There was always another cert or recert on the calendar, often taught by people who might not have had much expedition experience but coached well enough to pass. And there were some who lived for these programs, who wore their merit badges proudly, proclaiming to all who were within range their specific level of paddle sports mastery. Some of them were pretty good paddlers and some of them weren’t but that isn’t even the issue; it was the system itself that proceeded to suck the adventure out of sea kayaking.

“The same phenomenon of credential overproduction has befallen society as a whole. The world is now so full of highly educated people looking for somewhere to sell their expensive knowledge that it’s hard to break into just about any field, even with an advanced degree. It befits those who hold the credentials to convince everybody else that they’re necessary.”

It’s a good article, strongly recommended. Thumbs up on this side of the aisle.