Words and Photos by Jason Self
Someone mentioned the other day “how do we turn young people on to sea kayaking?” This is the 4th or 5th year in a row I’ve heard this question from the same group of people.
I work with kids all the time, so I find it quite amusing.
First, you have to ask the right question. Sea kayaking is just fine, it’s the people “in charge” that are boring, uptight, rigid, stodgy and egotistical. They wonder why young people don’t want to join in their grumpy chorus of stay off my lawn! while drinking a fine scotch or sipping hot tea, reminiscing about the good old days, in bed by 7.
Second, Lighten up sea kayaking. Nothing is more of a bore than someone who thinks they are cool when they’re not. No one is cool because they kayak or know a lot about kayaking. People are cool because they are easy to get along with and have fun. Most “elite” sea kayakers are neither. They think they are cool even though they aren’t, they spend most of their time excluding others and arguing over mundane subjects as if life is black and white. They are quick to lash out at and ostracize those with differing opinions or interests. No one wants to spend time with, or be a part of a group like that. I could count the number of sea kayakers I’d want to do an activity besides sea kayaking with on one hand. Stop taking yourself so seriously. Kayaking is a recreation/leisure activity. You aren’t negotiating peace in the Middle East or curing cancer, you are kayaking. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s not about being prim and proper. It’s about having fun.
Third, stop thinking of sea kayaking as a single discipline and therefore excluding everyone else. Ocean kayak anglers, whitewater paddlers, surfers, SUPers and divers all share the same affection for the sea, and a similar set of skills. Stop separating yourself from all other ocean sports. Sea kayaks are essentially a craft to allow access to other activities, like camping, fishing, diving, hunting, photography and wildlife viewing. Only to those of us who obsess about it is sea kayaking an activity to itself.
Lastly, stop expecting young people to come to you, because 1. You’re older than their grandparents. 2. You’re an elitist grump. 3. You think you’re cool because you kayak. 4. You look down on everyone outside of your clique.
Go to them. Start sea kayaking clubs at schools, and reach out to young people before they reach high school and conclude that all the fun young people are at the river or surfing, not caring about what gear you have or what level of certification you’ve obtained.
That’s my two cents anyways. I say these things because I myself have been guilty of all of it in the past. It was only by removing myself from the clique do to relocating to a place without it that I’ve been able to see what is happening from an outsiders perspective.
—Jason Self is a kayak coach and guide in Trinidad, California. His opinions are his own.