Whitewater kayaking as a sport is at a potential crossroads. While we have experienced growth among some market segments through the popularity of freestyle and the publicizing of extreme paddling, we have not paid enough attention to promoting whitewater paddling as an accessible lifetime outdoor activity.
From October 23-25, 2004, the second annual Whitewater Symposium was held at Nantahala Outdoor Center with the goal of advancing whitewater paddlesports through an open exchange of ideas. Over 70 of the top instructors, club leaders, retailers, manufacturers, kayak schools and paddlesport organizations attended the three days of seminars, panel discussions and on-water clinics.
The common theme that emerged from the Symposium is that in order to maintain the health and renew the growth of whitewater paddling, the whitewater industry as a whole needs to broaden the base of participants through a renewed focus on families, kids, and lapsed middle-aged paddlers. As a collective group we came to the following recommendations:
All of us should target our marketing toward these groups by emphasizing the scenic and social aspects of rivers and river-running and re-emphasizing the less extreme side of whitewater boating. We need to make it okay again to paddle class II and III as a destination in itself rather than as a step toward more difficult whitewater.
Instruction is a key component in attracting new whitewater paddlers, yet many schools find it difficult to choose appropriate instruction boats. Often the students are being encouraged to buy more advanced models that are frustrating for them to learn in and can result in a student not continuing in the sport. As manufacturers, retailers, instructors and enthusiastic paddlers, we can all do a better job of helping new paddlers start off right so they stay with the sport. Schools invest tremendously in marketing to and nurturing each new paddler. These new paddlers represent a resource too valuable for us to squander.
Boat designs are beginning to reflect this shift in focus, but still serve a fairly narrow range of size and body shape. By lowering cockpits, reducing volume and bringing more women into the design process, women and children can be more successful at paddling and families will be more likely to enter the sport. Women make up 50 percent of the potential market and are the primary buyers for most families. An option of lighter boats could make paddling more attainable for those seeking easier runs, and with limitations in size or strength.
??A?lriety of reasons, current boat designs tend to be more radical than the average boater can handle. This also frustrates beginning paddlers and discourages them from making paddling an enjoyable lifetime activity. We need boats designed specifically for the beginning and class II paddler with no “back-up” niche in mind (not a creek boat that will work OK for beginners too).
The common thread that brought us to the Symposium is our passion for paddling in general and for whitewater in particular. We hope that working as a group, the manufacturers, retailers, paddling schools, clubs, and associations can maintain and enhance whitewater paddling into the future. Our next Symposium will be held in early October in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. We urge you or a representative of your organization to attend. With your voice added to ours, we are looking to carry whitewater paddling into the future as a vibrant, healthy activity that is profitable for the industry and fulfilling for the participants.
Please go to www.wwsymposium.com for information on the 2005 Whitewater Symposium.
Signed by: Ken Whiting, The Heliconia Press; Leland Davis; Bryon Dorr, Fluid Kayaks; Wayne Dickert, Nantahala Outdoor Center; Sarah Harper, NOC; Sutton Bacon, American Whitewater; Stacy Klinehar, Bowdin Outing Club; Janet Burnett Cowie, Zoar Outdoor; Andria Baldovin; Ryan Linehan, Chewonki Foundation; Josh Rudner, St Lawrence University Outdoor Program; Katherine Edmonds, NOLS Instructor; Sam Fowkes, ACA Instruction Chair; Anna Levesque, Girls at Play; Tom McEwan, Liquid Adventures Kayak School; Jerry McAward, Northeast Kayak School; Mary DeRiemer, DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking; Kelly Stone, Werner Paddles; Robin Pope, ACA Swftwater Rescue; Greg Polin, Zoar Outdoor Retail Mgr.; Chris Spelius, Expeditiones Chile; Paul Dutky, Author, The Bombproof Roll; Brett Davis, University of Tennessee Outdoor Program; Andrw Jillings, Hamilton College; Andrew Holcombe, Team Dagger, Paddling Enthusiast; Lori Hogan; Dave Zader; Fergus Coffey, Zoar Outdoor; Kent Ford, Performance Video; Bruce Lessels, Zoar Outdoor; Gordon Black, ACA Safety Education; Will Leverett, Warren Wilson College, Worldwide Outfitters and Guides; Joe Greiner.