Kayak Tour at Devil's Lake State Park

Better Start Swimmin’

Come gather ’round people/ Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters / Around you have grown
And accept it that soon/ You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you/ Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ / Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’. – dylan

I’ve come to really enjoy the kayak tours we lead at Devil’s Lake State Park. Well, maybe love isn’t quite it, but I feel good about what we’re doing. Evangelical even. We are on the frontlines of the new battlefront, getting people outdoors. Just outdoors. Our single most important task (Much like an intro to kayaking class), is guide folks to enjoy nature, the outdoors and doing it by kayak.

I can still remember when I realized that I most loved coaching beginners. This was the part of kayaking that spoke out to me.  As a student’s first instructor, your job is very specific, give your students the knowledge they need to be safe, and the inspiration they need to “get out there”. This has value both on and off the water.

In the last few years I’ve learned that even getting folks to the first class is a challenge. We need to get even further ahead. We have to get them outdoors. If we can’t inspire people to get out of the house, out of the urban environment or away from their screens, we’re F#*ked! Yes, I said, F#*ked. One could argue that the whole outdoor industry is teetering on the last gasp of a dying generation. The lives of this generation, their childhoods, their value systems, their idea of “relaxation and adventure” are simply fossils of a pre-tech world.  Even their disposable income is mostly an anachronistic leftover of a former world. Sure, there are exceptions, provisos and lots of young faces.. but really.. I think we all know that they are not coming in at the volume of their elder generations. I know, you’ve heard it all before.

So here’s me on my soap box; I wonder sometimes that we may have too many great coaches teaching exclusively at too high of a level to too few well-heeled students. I respectfully suggest that we need more of our “best and brightest” dedicating time to just getting people, families and children outdoors. The ACA sets many requirements for top level coaches, maybe there could be a requirement that all top level coaches spend xx amount of hours just getting kids outdoors…? There should be a requirement not just to be a knowledgeable instructor, but to help shore up the foundation of the sport as well. Something to ponder…

Sunset from the seat of a kayak

Sunset from the seat of a kayak

The war we face as an “outdoor” industry and even as a human population is primal. We can’t assume we’ll always have students, customers or even nature lovers. Times, as Bob Dylan once said, are “a-changing”. Here in Wisconsin and all over the country we are devaluing the environment, educators and scientists more with every passing day. The survival of the paddlesport industry will not be won by teaching folks an obscure twist on a popular rescue or by debating the value of a rescue stirrup. These days, we need all hands on a different deck. We need to spend more energy just teaching people the value of getting outside and watching a sunset. Then, the joy of watching it from the seat of a kayak is only a step away.

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