“Welcome to the Dark Side,” he says, “we have cookies.”
Ever since I started to seriously train to paddle in 2014 I’ve noticed a certain separation, an us-against-them “the Other Side” mentality in paddle sports. The first time I noticed it was through the use of a simple word: paddler. In response to a question I said “I’ve been a paddler for several years but only started training this year,” to which I was asked “Oh, you have a paddle board?” I said “No, I use a paddle, as in ‘paddle a kayak.’” I was assured by this person that I cannot be a paddler if I am not using a paddle board. Never mind the fact that a paddle is what propels canoes and kayaks. “Not a paddler.”
The same divide separates the “crazies” in white water from the “sane” folks in sea and flat water kayaks. Why is this? I know the human brain sorts things into categories. I know humanity is given to stereotyping, and other behavior.
Last year I jumped the divide.
I finished a thoroughly disappointing Coastal Level 4 Instructor Development Workshop late spring 2017. I was unhappy with my performance; never mind that I was going through a turbulent life crisis, or that I hadn’t fully recovered from a severe kidney infection that nearly took me out. I was disappointed in my skills. Before I had even driven home I had hit upon training in white water, as a way to push my skills forward. I called Mike Aronoff, a white water Instructor Trainer Educator I’d take a class from in the past. A few friends joined me, willing to make the leap themselves. Nothing is better than sharing a new experience with friends, by the way.
In white water I solidified skills in current and ferrying, crossing eddies and eddy turns, problem solving, and strokes like the stern draw. That practice was rewarded when I received my Coastal Level 4 Open Water Instructor Certification this spring. A month later I received my first white water “crazy” cert, a River Level 2 Instructor Certification.
I’ve hit on something that works for me. Who hasn’t heard how great cross training is? So many professional athletes have credited cross training with great performance in competition. Why not cross train in paddle sports? I know some paddlers who do, mostly other instructors, but I offer that we should encourage every paddler to jump those divides, play with ALL the toys.
Which brings me around, back to the “Dark Side.” I brought a stand up paddle board home recently. After some fooling around, I can easily see how this will help me on my journey. “No thanks to the Dark Side, and I don’t really like cookies.” But this is a paddle sport, and I am a paddler.
Let’s get some canoes and mess about in them? Let’s play with a surf ski, or try some strokes on a paddle board? That divide, that chasm, is MADE UP. It doesn’t really exist. Cross that imaginary line. Let’s go play with anything human powered that floats. What have we got to lose?