As a competitive kayaker, I have always laughed at the word “pro” when it is accompanied with my sport. Due to the small numbers in the whitewater industry, there are very few, if any, athletes who can eke a living solely out of being an athlete. The people who are passionate and dedicated enough to try to make their living in the industry end up doing a number of different things to make ends meet… design product, produce videos, take pictures, etc.
I have sometime dreamt of what it would feel like to sign the multi-million dollar contracts that exist in some larger sports. There couldn’t be anything cooler than doing what you love to do, and being compensated well enough to support your family once you have cashed in your athletic shelf life.
As far as kayaking goes however… there is no doubt about the fact that our sport is continuing its movement towards the mainstream. I just watched this video of whitewater legend Steve Fisher dropping Jackass personality Bam Margera off of 82 foot Metlako Falls in Oregon:
With Margera and motorsports icon Travis Pastrana giving kayaking some legitimate press, things seem to be accelerating towards the world of energy drinks and other commercial involvement in our sport. While athletes are obviously going to be psyched about the increased revenue injection into the pie, my question to you is this…
Is exposure, money, and the movement to the mainstream a good thing?
There is something to be said for the grassroots nature of a bunch of people doing something that they love simply because they love it, and with no ulterior motives. The river is a place of solitude and meditation that doesn’t lend itself well to spectators, grandstands, and booming commentators. We risk losing something essential about our sport if that is the way things develop…
On the other side of the coin, it is impossible to get on the river without being affected by its power, and realizing what is really important out there. The same people who are currently leading the mainstream development of our sport are also those who have the deepest respect for the river.
I competed in a spectacular event this past weekend by the name of the North Fork Championships. This race was an unbelievable one to be a part of… 30 invited athletes, five wildcards, a massive class V rapid, remote control camera helicopters, a Red Bull ramp… you get the idea. Regardless of the high profile nature of it, and the huge cash purse that was up for grabs, the competitors banded together like no event that I have ever seen. Lines and strategies were shared freely, and everyone had each other’s backs at all times. A great river was done justice through a great event and great paddlers. And there was not a spec of garbage to be seen afterwards… the rapid roared on as it always had.
Ultimately, there will be people on both sides of the argument here. I am excited about the development of our sport, but I just hope that we can all keep those roots in mind. Let’s channel that development to increase advocacy for clean water, river access, and protection of the wild places on the planet. I think that we can have it all if we do it right.
What do you think?