Is Sea Kayaking a Commercial Sport?
I was asked by my good friend of LuckyKitchen.com Aeron Bergman’s father a good number of years ago when Turtleneck.net was still in action if I felt that the internet was over-saturated with content. It was a really interesting question. I didn’t really have the context at the time to answer the question, it was 1999 for pities sake.
In the sea kayaking blogosphere and especially in the expedition blogs there seems to be a plethora of dynamic people creating top flight content. Unfortunately it seems mostly created out of misery, breakups, arguments, failed partnerships, failed romances, divorces, but surrounded, if not wrapped like a falafel sandwich in the pita bread of spectacular paddling trips and seasoned with heroic efforts. Of course people like Shawna and Leon break that rule.
Greg Stamer has created his first Blog for his trip around Newfoundland as a sponsored paddler. In his post on blogging he stated that he doesn’t enjoy reading blow by blow travelogues of kayaking trips. I can understand the aversion to the gory details. But I also wonder if this is also an aversion to the medium due to the seeming over-saturation of kayaking expeditions to the same four places: Iceland, New Zealand, Australia, and Newfoundland. Do we need another one?
Who wants to read another blow by blow of a trip round New Zealand? Chris Duff pretty well had that covered in his spectacular book, Southern Exposure. I wonder though if Chris might have been tempted to blog if it had been available as a mass consumed medium in 2003. In five years so much has changed about the web. Certainly the overused phrase of Web 2.0 and consumer generated content is paramount here.
Sea kayaking has seemed to me; as an athlete of both running, cycling, and soccer a sport that is horrifically uncompetitive. Before this comes off sounding terrible, there are some very athletic, talented sea kayakers that are very impressive. But in order to become sponsored as a runner, or a cyclist, or as a soccer player, one would have to be so much better than everyone else that it would stagger you to think about it. I’ve played soccer against a few semi-pro and professional players in pickup matches and I can tell you that despite years of training the difference between us was night and day. Running and cycling again are perhaps even worse. My marathon time of 3:40 while quite fast for an amateur and a first marathon is still one hour and thirty minutes slower than the guy who won the race. Cycling again is so competitive that in order to stay in the game performance enhancing drugs have become the norm not the exception.
So where am I going with this? I think with Greg Stamer stepping into the realm of professional kayaking, his blog, and his trip Sea Kayaking might be entering into the realm of professional athletes. As strange as this might sound to Greg, I see this as the end of amateur night. For better or worse. And before you say it this is not so much about Greg, but about the trend. Greg whom I’ve never met, and only emailed with occasionally when debates got heated on Qajaqusa.org forums. He seems to me to be a terrific person and a very dedicated paddler, and who is a great ambassador for paddling in general, not just traditional paddling.
Justine Curgenven’s This is The Seavideos over the last few years, Brian Smith’s Pacific Horizon Video all lead to an increasing marketing push to fund bigger and better trips for more people over a year. This is great in that it brings visibility to the sport, but maybe sad in a way. I think it may eventually lead to a decline in accessibility to good informal training from people as great as Greg Stamer, Leon Somme, Shawna Franklin, Justine Curgenven, Jeff Allen, and Simon Osborne.
Because I help plan a small symposium I’ve noticed that most of the professional paddlers in the years between 2003 and 2006 were fairly accessible and inexpensive to consider, as the years have gone on there are more and more symposiums every year, and a growing number of great paddlers with very booked social calendars. This is great! But also I fear the beginning of the end for smaller local symposiums with low budgets.
For those that might not know this, these symposiums have traditionally been run by local clubs with no profit at the end. The object is to net out at 0 so that the symposium pays for itself. And this may be how all symposiums are run, certainly no one is getting rich, not even the sponsored paddlers. There aim is solely to get their name out to do more symposiums, support their sponsors, and because it is fun. My worry is that the little, out of the way symposiums, in non-glamorous places like Muskegon Michigan may no longer be part of the whirlwind tour. I hope I am wrong.
William Gibson said at the release of his previous novel (2003), Pattern Recognition, that life these days doesn’t seem to be so much about the avoidance of marketing, but the inevitability of it. And for Sea Kayaking that time may have come. White Water paddling has certainly been there for ages with a small number of inapproachable stars who compete for small pots of cash at events. Eric Jackson being the most notable. Surf Kayaking also has its stars, note the wrap up of the Santa Cruz Surf Kayak Festival.
Because Sea Kayaking is more about journeys than pulling of sweet tricks in a hole, (this is the sea notwithstanding), I think climbing may be a more accurate partner for the commercialization of sea kayaking. Who knows perhaps it is this approachability to the amateur that makes Sea Kayaking so great. Anyone can get in and do it. And unless we really are talking about circumnavigating Iceland it is a relatively low impact, easy going sport with little risk.
The people I’ve met through paddling have been some of the greatest I’ve ever met. I certainly am not calling up old soccer buddies to crash on their couch and play pick up games when I have free time. But I certainly will call up just about anyone I’ve met paddling even once to go paddle, sleep on their couch, eat their food, and vice versa.
I think this may be that moment for paradigm shift, or a nodal point where everything seems to change, but who knows maybe some people saw this moment 10 years ago. Paddle sports are quite unusual.