The health of whitewater sport is a topic central to the annual Whitewater Symposium. This year it was the best ever. Easy logistics meant that the leaders of whitewater sport had lots of time to focus on ways to improve the health of whitewater sport. The optimistic attitude was pervasive. The recent slip in whitewater kayak sales might prove to be like the dot com bust of 2001... people still use the internet don't they? Rivers are going to be the same. The allure of flowing water will always be present in rivers, and entice new people to explore its currents.
The symposium should take credit for many positive changes in the sport. In the years of the first symposiums (2001,2002), there was great concern that large guys, smaller women, and kids could not find an appropriate boat. Now we have companies that excel in offering each. For a while it seemed as though the entire sport was nothing but extreme imagery playboating. We've still got a lingering extreme image. But among the leaders of the sport there is more widespread understanding for the need to balance that image with the smiles of accessibility. Now the waterfall image is seen as eye candy, rather than representative of what our sport has to offer.
Every one of us is in the drivers seat for this awesome sport. We need to take newcomers under wing. Make them comfortable in a stable boat on Class II. Provide them a realistic progression to learn- with Class II-III as a suitable goal.
This year at the symposium there was consensus feel that we can put our best foot forward for whitewater sport. Widespread backlash has begun to diminish the negative vicious banter of anonymous internet forums. In its place are more personal blogs with a positive message welcoming newcomers. Gone are those who promote one branch of the sport to the exclusion of another. River runners will feel at home again. Some have likened our situation to that of skiing. When snowboarding came along, skiing had a few years of turmoil, then figured out how to make everyone feel at home on the mountain. We are in the process of doing that on rivers! The great divide between whitewater rafting, inflatable kayaks, canoes, and whitewater kayaks is blurring.
And the imaginative programming that is on display in whitewater sport is mind boggling! No lack of kids in the outdoors in whitewater! Many towns have thriving kids kayak programs. Alzar, WorldClass, New River traveling high school academys focus on rivers. Girls at Play thrives. Team River Runner connects wounded vets returning from Iraq/Afganistan to our positive communities. First Descents makes a wish for cancer battlers. World Kayak promotes homegrown events focused on the social aspects of paddling. And we have a sense of where we've been (shameless plug for The Call of the River).
More than ever, whitewater paddlers are putting fear on the table for discussion. Addressing the potential fears makes it easier to learn whitewater paddling! The best instructors know and apply this- making it possible for more people to enjoy river time. Secondly, learning to paddle whitewater is the best training ground for handling fears in other parts of your life. Paddlers are confident, bold, respectful, and fun. These are all skills refined through paddling.
We can all do better at properly helping newcomers. Lets share the fun of exploring flowing water. For me that means emphasizing the great people, stunning scenery, and dynamic flow you can find on easy water with a careful learning progression.
Some other posts on the symposium:
Photos from the 2009 Whitewater Symposium go to www.adamducomb.com