Wednesday, June 2, 2010


This past Monday was Memorial Day here int he states. For many it is the official start of summer, And this was plainly evident, when I went to the little lake where I paddle when Alone, and shoot all the video (almost) for this blog.

It seemed everyone who owned a kayak in the little city that I live, had decided to paddle on the little lake I call my own. In the two hours I paddled I saw only two other touring kayaks. They were old Wilderness Systems Sealution's - which incidentally was the first kayak I paddled on an overnight trip - and their owners were not technically proficient paddlers. But as I looked around me, I saw that no one was a technically proficient paddler. I saw people paddling powerfully with their arms, people slouching in the kayaks. People with hands way above their heads. I saw all manner of kayaking, and they all had one thing in common. They were all wrong. Or were they? I will come back to this.

The boats I did see were uniformly of one design. I don't mean that they were all one manufacturers particular model, I mean that they all met a certain criteria. They were between 7 and 12 feet in length. They were all 28 to 32 inches in width. They all had large cockpit openings. They were - in a word - recreational kayaks.

This is the majority of the kayaking world. People who are perfectly content to paddle incorrectly for a couple of hours, in a poorly performing kayak, with no clue that there is anything different. No clue that around the corner is another world of kayaking. A world that consists of kayaks from 16 to 18 feet long with an average width of around 22 inches. A world where kayaks go straight when paddled. A world open to over night, or week long, or month long trips. A world where kayaks perform like sports cars.

Those of us that live in this world, with our carbon fiber paddles, speak a language that they don't understand. It reminds me - of course - of the various Buddhist definitions for enlightenment. I found this on the web:

The Sanskrit word for enlightenment is "bodhi," which means "awakened." But awakened to what?

The only true answer to the question is to realize enlightenment. Short of that, we must come up with provisional answers that, the teachers tell us, do not really do justice to enlightenment.

Enlightenment can be defined as the cessation of dukkha, which is another word usually mangled in translation. It can be defined as the full realization of the truth of the Buddha's teachings. It can be defined as awakening to a great reality most of us never perceive.

My teaching defines dukkha as suffering, So enlightenment can be defined as the cessation of suffering. Most unenlightened people don't know they are suffering, it is not until you experience enlightenment that you realize what was wrong.

This is how I view recreational kayaks. If only people would listen to me, they would know the beauty, that lies just out of their grasp, that they don't even see. They can't see it until they experience the enlightenment of paddling a 17 foot touring kayak.

But are they wrong, are they really suffering? No of course not. They are happy, and enjoying themselves, and at the end of the day that is enough. We have to remind ourselves that we are the minority. We occupy a very small space in the world of kayaking. But we do offer a service. We are they ones driving the kayaking world forward. Forcing manufacturers to find ever lighter, ever stronger materials to make ever more responsive kayaks for us to paddle. We are a small niche, but it's the people in the recreational kayaks that are paying the bills. And for that we owe them a debt of gratitude. The only way we can pay that debt is by helping become better paddlers, if only they would listen.

As a footnote, something to consider. If we are the minority, Think about what a small niche the Greenland style paddlers, with their skin on frame boats and wooden Greenland style paddles. We owe them a debt as well, they keep us grounded in the past. Kayaking has a long and rich tradition and it is these people keeping it alive. Kayaks date back 5000 years, which for those of you keeping track is more than twice as long as Christianity has been around.

1 comment:

  1. "But are they wrong, are they really suffering? No of course not. They are happy, and enjoying themselves, and at the end of the day that is enough."

    I agree, PO. It's just that we would like them to be even happier. Good insights. Duncan.