“River, I’d like to introduce you to my friend, Novice. Novice, this is my old friend, River. By the end of the day, you guys are going to be great friends.”
Like a lot of blind dates, how this goes depends a lot on you, the experienced paddler, who naturally want to introduce friends to an activity about which you are so passionate. What could possibly go wrong?
Are your friends compatible?
We love our friend River (or Lake, or Ocean), and we love our friend Novice. We really want them to get along. After all, you’ve been friends with both River and Novice for years. You may have mentioned River to Novice after a particularly satisfying paddle. Novice may be gung ho about meeting River.
Before you get out the calendar, think hard about River’s personality. While you may be accustomed to River’s penchant for playing tricks on you, this quirk may not suit Novice. Maybe other more predictable friends are better suited, at least for a first date.
You’ll also want to think hard about Novice’s abilities. Paddling skills aren’t the deciding factor, but rather a willingness to look dumb, take a (safe) swim, and his or her flexibility.
If your friends aren’t ready to meet today, that’s okay. Maybe Novice needs a little time in a less stressful setting before jumping in with both feet. You probably talk up your friend River with nothing but enthusiasm. Just be careful not to oversell the experience. River is complex.
Is the timing right?
Timing is everything. Novice might love to meet River on a lazy summer afternoon, which is when many rivers look and act their best. Novice might be interested in River in late April, but it may be best to wait a little. Maybe Novice should take a date with Pond first in the early season.
Does Novice need some instruction?
You’re probably an accomplished paddler. Maybe your friend Novice is new to the paddling scene. You’re also a great friend and wing(wo)man. You’ll coach your friend Novice through all this. You can do this in your sleep. You’ve known River for years.
I am a firm believer that instruction is helpful … if it’s the right kind of instruction. When teaching friends, there is always a danger of what I call the Mozart Paradox. While arguably one of the top composers of all time, Amadeus Mozart couldn’t get the teaching rubber to the road. He couldn’t keep students, infuriated patrons and generally was considered a disaster when it came to teaching. Mozart couldn’t translate what he knew intuitively into a language his Novices could understand.
Your paddling skills might be considerable, but you might consider directing your friend Novice to a trained paddling instructor. The best ones are highly skilled and take great pride in teaching Novices what they need to get together with River. Even if you are a skilled instructor, you might consider letting someone else teach your close friends and relatives. My marriage of 29 years will likely make it to 30 because I let other people teach my wife paddling skills. She learned better and in the end emerged a better paddler.
The worst possible outcome is Novice deciding he or she wants nothing further to do with River or any member of River’s family. While you’re not responsible for Novice falling in love with River, you’re responsible for making sure the conditions are conducive to riparian amour.
The blind date analogy only goes so far, but it works for the most part. So how do you increase your paddling pool?
More to consider
First, never stop evangelizing. For most of us paddlers, the evidence of our passion is fastened to the top of our vehicles. Opportunities to spread the Good News of paddling are everywhere. I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked up to my truck and found people gawking at the kayak or canoe strapped on top. Luckily, I usually have some cards in the glove compartment which I’m willing to sign (good for a free rental).
Unless you, too, own your own paddling shop, your situation is probably different. But having the contact info for your local paddling organization may be a good start. Feeling a connection? Share your email.
Second, be a good ambassador. Like it or not, you are an ambassador. As such, I feel it is a responsibility to dispel any myths and misinformation about paddling.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, kayakers: “You paddle a kayak? You’d never get me in one of those things. You tip over and get stuck … go over waterfalls, etc.” Such are the conversations you find yourself in when you wear your favorite hat or T-shirt from a kayak symposium.
To the people you encounter, you are the expert. It’s your responsibility to set the record straight: “No ma’am, I don’t live in my car. No, you don’t get stuck and you don’t have to go over waterfalls. No, you don’t have to drink Red Bull and get a tongue piercing. I actually have a real job.”
Not all the seeds you plant will take root, of course, but sometimes they do, and that’s a wonderful thing. Novices become Participant and Participants become Enthusiasts.
Once upon a time, your were a Novice, too. Aren’t you glad someone introduced you to River?
Darren Bush is owner and chief paddling evangelist of Rutabaga Paddlesports in Madison, Wisconsin. When not eating, sleeping or working, he’s likely paddling or making something with his hands.