I go fishing about once a year, and actually catch fish less often than that. But when I see those bumper stickers—"The worst day fishing is better than the best day at work"—I can relate.
My own mantra goes like this: I have never once regretted the decision to go boating. Not once, in almost 15 years. I've had a few swims, frozen my fingers paddling snowmelt and smashed them on low-water summer runs. I've washed off a thousand playwaves and taken part in my share of shit shows. But I wouldn't take back a single day.
Rivers just make me feel good. They have an extraordinary ability to wash away doubt. Our connection to moving water is probably rooted deep in our DNA, or to be a little less scientific, our souls. I know I'm not the only one who feels this way, because I talk to like-minded boaters every day. Somebody will call from a riverbank to tell me about the first descent he just scored, or my inbox will fill up with mind-blowing photos from the bottom of some distant canyon. That's my job, keeping up with the adventures, triumphs and occasional failures of the world's best paddlers, and retelling their tales in this magazine.
That's why the recent surge in doomsday prophecies about our sport has caught me by surprise. The bean counters tell us participation is down. Boat and gear companies are struggling. The end is nigh. Really? Who do they talk to all day?
I'm not denying the economic recession, or that the whitewater business puffed up and imploded like a Wall Street bubble. But the boaters I talk to aren't looking at company balance sheets. They're reveling in fat, glassy waves, big drops duly stuck, and the camaraderie of a good river crew.
So over the last few months when boaters called the C&K offices to share a river story, or cornered us at the takeout to rant about where our sport is going or what it needs, we asked them to write it down. You'll find the best of their essays in "The State of Whitewater," beginning on page 40. The opinions are sometimes contradictory—claiming the future of our sport is either man-made play parks, or exploration, or extreme racing—but every one is the passionately held conviction of a core boater. Those are the people who matter in our sport, because as river sage Doug Ammons astutely observes, whitewater will never appeal to the masses. It demands too much of its participants. But it also gives back, in spades. — Jeff Moag
The preceding essay is Jeff Moag’s letter from the editor featured in the 2010 issue of Whitewater magazine, on newsstands everywhere now.