How To: Date a Kayaker

31 Dec 13
How To: Date a Kayaker
Paddler Chris Gragtmans and author Ashley Woodring. Photo: Stephen Brooks Photography

I have always believed in the power of continuing education. Through a double major in accounting and economics as an undergrad, and then two years worth of studying for my certified financial planner designations, I’ve spent a lot of my life learning. In terms of pure sweat equity, however, none of the letters after my name can hold a candle to my grueling PhD in Kayaker Behavioral Psychology.

Kayakers are a complex and interesting species. After five years of dating and studying my unique boyfriend, Chris Gragtmans, I want to let the ladies know that there is hope.

Here are my top 10 tips for how to date a kayaker:

1) Gold-diggers steer clear.
Let’s face it, kayaking is near the bottom of the totem pole as far as athletic compensations go. I often tell Chris, “I date the only pro athlete that doesn’t make any money!” Compared to other professional athletes, you’re no A-Rod, Chris, sorry. Most of the disposable income that kayakers do make will go towards trips or gear anyway.

2) Kayaking is weather-agnostic.
I haven’t quite figured it out, but every day seems to be a great day to hit the water. If it’s sunny outside, “it’s a beautiful day to go kayaking!” If it’s pouring rain, “whoa dude the rivers are pumping!” If the snow is melting in Canada, “Stakeout! Let’s go surf some waves!” We just can’t win ladies…

3) Set communication expectations.
It’s often difficult to get in touch with the boys when they are kayaking. Whether in deep river gorges with no cell service, or getting lost on gravel roads, they always manage to take longer than expected to call or show up. I would recommend keeping all dinner plans after kayaking “tentative,” and have a backup plan to throw in the microwave just in case.

4) Learn the Kayaking Drinking Game.
This is the greatest invention since two-ply toilet paper. Girlfriends who get dragged to the kayaking party, fret no more. The rules are simple:

a. If kayaking is mentioned, drink.
b. If bro-brah words are used (examples include gnar, boof, stout, squirrely, portage, huck, or brown claw), drink 5 seconds.
c. If the Green Race is mentioned, FINISH YOUR DRINK.

5) Speaking of Green Race, get ready for the October mood swings.
You thought your new kayaker boyfriend was tough? Just wait until this race and that illusion will disappear. Chris can’t sleep, gets extremely nervous and grumpy, and puts all other aspects of his life on the backburner to prepare for it. I don’t see what the big deal is; I mean you just follow the water through Gorilla… it takes you right down the middle. And the line at Zwicks just looks silly. Why do you bounce over all those rocks with no water?

6) Learn to love burritos AND PBR.
Welcome to the staples, girls. Bang for your buck is the name of the game in paddling; it’s a protein and alcohol per dollar game here, and this combination reigns supreme. Save the tapas for ladies’ night, and just keep the pressure on to get a respectable date every month.

7) Try to overlook the unflattering gear.
In other sports, players wear sexy, tight uniforms that define their butts and muscles. No such luck here. Kayakers have huge drysuits, and they are always wearing these very strange looking “skirts.”

8) Buy extra air fresheners for the car.
No matter what you do to the aforementioned gear—washing, drying, rinsing—it doesn’t matter. The smell will always permeate any area that holds it for more than 10 minutes. It’s definitely a good idea to have some extra air fresheners in the purse for when you get in his car. I recommend the Yankee Candle brand, Apple Pumpkin scent.

9) Don’t feel bad if you suddenly realize you know A LOT about the gear.
I have sat in a kayak maybe five times in my entire life, but I can tell you everything you need to know about the rocker profiles of the Dagger Green Boat and Liquidlogic Stinger. I can explain to you why the Nomad is high volume, and how to pad out your bulkhead to prevent broken ankles in a piton. If I had to rate my shop-talk skills, I would call them a class IV+!

10) Strap in for the long haul.
Kayaking is a sport of confidence and commitment, so it’s surprising that these boys struggle a bit with commitment in other areas of life! I mean, it’s been five years, Chris.

This kayaker species certainly has its idiosyncrasies, but what becomes evident very quickly is that they are also some of the most passionate people alive. They have reverent relationships with the natural places on our planet, and that passion for life and nature is only magnified in their relationships with people around them. In a world focused on material success and social standing, these free-spirited beings live life fully in the present moment.

In my case, it’s certainly true that opposites attract. I work in the financial industry, and Chris works in the paddlesports industry. The two worlds couldn’t possibly be more different. In spite of this, he has pushed me out of my comfort zone and into some of the most amazing and unforgettable experiences of my life.


  • great been married to a paddler for 40 years become the shuttle bunny like I

    Pam   13 Jan 14, 7:33 pm

  • Spot on observations, but girls, if you actually want to know these boys, get your booty in a boat and get on some creeks with them. Not only will you have a better understanding of these mysterious boater bros, you’ll have a better understanding of yourself, the intoxicating high that is whitewater kayaking, and your natural surroundings. Not to mention, they never can resist a chick who kicks it with the rest of them.

    Hailey   07 Jan 14, 5:19 pm

  • This did make me giggle. The peter pan syndrome for many can be intense to manage. Try dating a Climber!!!

    Sarah   07 Jan 14, 1:20 pm

  • Ok, I’ll play ………

    1) yup, sorry to say but there’s more to a relationship than buying stuff for someone else. right? Unless of course that happens to be kayaking/camping gear!
    2) Actually there are days I’d rather not go out, but only because I don’t have a drysuit , yet.
    3) It’s just the nature of the beast really, if you stay home that can happen, but if you’re with me out there then just paddle closer to me to chat. Need a faster boat? I told you those short fat boats were slow!
    4) Great game, let’s play!
    5) The Green Race? cool, I’ll check it out! Though whatever race or adventure it happens to be it’s pretty much all the same in getting ready for it.
    6) sure, kayaking food tends to differ from regular daily food, and cooking couldn’t be easier, just add boiling water! You’ll find your favorites after a little while ……. sure, there can be so called real dates involved from time to time. But really, isn’t being “out there” better? I can show you great sunsets !
    7) Not the case here really, not on South Padre Island, Texas where it’s mostly warm and YOU get to wear something skimpy! Notice how I like to involve you in this?
    8) OK, I admit it, my jeep is usually a wreck, but it’s not normally from kayaking gear, but could be. I have lots of other stuff that I do, though you will always find sand in there, always. That’s not so bad is it? I live at the beach!
    9) yes, your vocabulary will increase! don’t worry though, it’s not like learning another language, besides, it’s fun and easy! Now jump into your cockpit and get to class!
    10) Five years? That sounds like commitment to me. What do you want? A shiny gold ring? gold is over 1000 bucks an ounce ….. say, Let’s go gold dredging/prospecting for it. By now you got all the gear to camp out and be very comfortable so ? Cool, a new adventure, lets go!
    summary: Opposites? only in what you do for a living maybe. You have to have passion for being “out in it”. If you’d rather be in a mall then you might not have that cell phone reception you’re looking for! Kayaking isn’t the only thing I do but it’s all related. If you haven’t done any of these things it’s not too late. Read the comments to know about one who opened up the door to a new world! That could be you!

    Dennis Barrett   06 Jan 14, 10:50 am

  • While it was impossible to overlook the heavily sexist idea that a woman’s place is on the shore (or left at home apparently making his dinner?), this article was a little cute if not informative. Also, MOST professional athletes make almost no money.

    Emily   06 Jan 14, 10:17 am

  • My husband, a physician, married me, an attorney, a woman who dressed well, wore stilettos to work, had weekly mani/pedis, and shopped for recreation. When my knees gave out from distance running, I gave sea kayaking a try – at the age of 60.

    Six years and five kayaks later, the only suit I own is a wetsuit, and heels have been replaced by various water booties. I paddle 3-5 days a week, unless on a paddling/kayaking trip which may be longer than a week. I never camped until 3 years ago, and now do it fairly often.

    Everything I buy is related to kayaking, whether clothing, gear, or another kayak. I’ve travelled around the country to paddle or attend symposia. I’ve taken more classes to get better at this than I did to get better at my profession. I am no longer the woman he married, but my husband is the best guy an obsessive kayaker could ask for. Though he doesn’t paddle, he tolerates and supports my passion. I’m a lucky woman, to be sure.

    Zerrielle S   04 Jan 14, 11:23 pm

  • I am a kayaker dating a kayaker. I agree with a lot of things in this article however there are hell of a lot of kayaking girls like me out there and never assume that this is the norm

    Linda   03 Jan 14, 4:00 pm

  • Love it. nailed it.

    Warwick Redway   03 Jan 14, 3:12 pm

  • There’s a lot of girlfriends of kayakers out there who just seem to complain about them doing what they love

    Mart   03 Jan 14, 1:58 pm

  • Saw this and thought of you Chucky!!

    Chuck   03 Jan 14, 1:43 pm

  • YES. Bang on article. I knew nothing about kayaking 5 years ago, when I started dating a kayak guide. Now we own the company he once worked for. I make for a perfect base manager (kayaker: meh, shop talk: check), while he gets to do what he is best at! Now that I not only date a kayaker, but I also employ them – you’re absolutely correct about the passion these folks have: for their sport, and for the incredible wilderness we get to play in, and share. Cheers!

    Valerie   03 Jan 14, 1:33 pm

  • You pegged that one to a tee! Brilliant article.! I want to frame this.

    Kristy Sturges   03 Jan 14, 12:20 pm

  • Best plan? Be the shuttle bunny

    Henu   03 Jan 14, 10:39 am

  • This is great. All of it was spot on! I knew nothin about kayaking until I started dating my man 4 years ago… I have to say I would add one point to the list. #11 most kayakers have badass girlfriends who love to have fun and are tough as nails :)

    Jenny ski   03 Jan 14, 1:11 am

  • every time chris g comes to whistler he wants to ride the bike park ! are you sure he is a pure bred kayaker ?

    cboux   03 Jan 14, 1:02 am

  • My wife understands many of your comments and perspective. We sold everything and travel full time with my recreation focus being whitewater. We share many common interests but she has no passionate hobby like my love of water. It definitely takes a special partner to love a water-holic.

    Millard   02 Jan 14, 10:52 pm

  • The sexist slant on that thing is bullcrap. I really wanted to like it, but it’s so freakin’ slanted I just can’t. I’m so sorry you guys don’t actually know any female kayakers. Perhaps you should check out

    potameid   02 Jan 14, 7:46 pm

  • As a kind of funny side note, I used to paddle and stopped when I started dating paddlers- funny how that works out!

    Jeleven   02 Jan 14, 5:18 pm

  • This is wonderful- silly and so true :) As the girlfriend of a paddler for 4 years myself, you hit the nail on the head. Love it! (BTW, I don’t paddle either ;) )

    Jeleven   02 Jan 14, 5:12 pm

  • not all padders are men ..nor are they all broke

    laurie   02 Jan 14, 4:15 pm

  • Whoever wrote this article is cruisin’ for a bruisin’…. Shame on him for assuming that all kayakers are boys… And boys that like girls.

    Boaterdiva   02 Jan 14, 3:50 pm

  • Whoever wrote this article is cruisin’ for a bruisin’…. Shame on him for assuming that all kayakers are boys… And boys that like girls.

    Boaterdiva   02 Jan 14, 3:50 pm

  • Are there any comments/thoughts on the reverse? Guide for the boyfriend ? I know there aren’t that many out there but just curious… Hmm, or even the gay couple version?

    Lily   02 Jan 14, 3:45 pm

  • Thanks for the deafening auto play song.

    No U Are   02 Jan 14, 3:38 pm

  • Best plan? Learn to kayak yourself!

    Allison   02 Jan 14, 1:56 pm

  • This could not be more accurate. When me and my bro-brah started dating I thought he was speaking a different language. Now that I speak kayaking life is so much easier. It’s also strange to think he wears skirts more often then I do. I’ve gotton used to that as well.

    Bekkah   02 Jan 14, 12:02 pm

  • Girl… pretty sure we could Be best friends. I’m married to an all out kayak-aholic. I’m working on a book I’m calling “Her Name is River”. It’s about my husbands love affair with the water. We should hang.

    Mandy Hope Beaty   02 Jan 14, 11:32 am

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