Professionalism: The Day I Ruined Paddling
I took on a deadline-based paddlesport promotional writing project once. I celebrated the opportunity like it was a presidential nomination, packed my underprepared gear bags, and headed to the lackadaisically scenic Houston waterway. I didn’t have the typical Pro Staff resume to presuppose that any of my opinions would matter – assuming that these credentials actually exist and aren’t just self-awarded gold stars based on personal relationships or longevity in the infant industry. But I’ll be damned if I was going to paddle back in at dusk without an opinion formed that would give the intellectually-comical push of a Patrick McManus column, the emotional pull of an old Bill Dance rerun, and the subtly placed sales tactics of a well-crafted promotional product listing.
But the paddling was uncomfortable, forced, and left me sitting at home staring at a blank computer screen, well before the sunset I was supposed to meet at the dock even thought about breaching the horizon. I wasn’t paddling for the thrill of it. I wasn’t fishing for the admiration of the chase, and I wasn’t enjoying the adventure; I was getting bullied around the lake by a piece of plastic that kept whispering in my ear “sell me, sell me!”
The next morning I asked for an indefinite extension.
I love paddling. I enjoy the growing pains that come with learning to become a better angler. And making mind-numbing content seem interesting through my writing has been my closet-forte since I got a perfect score on the writing section of my SAT with an impromptu essay relating the negative effects of picking up dog poop to the assigned topic of democratic equality. So what gives?
For one trip, I made paddling my job; for that one trip, I ruined paddling.
Paddlesports is trending right now on a global level. It’s morphing our hobby into a larger industry than we ever would have imagined a couple of years ago and, hey, that’s a good thing.
But in a young bull market like this, the industry is growing faster than the infrastructure can support and, therefore, we fall into these roles as industry leaders. Hobby paddlers become professionals. Do-it-yourself inventors become titans of industry standard. Niche media outlets form cult-like followings that end up making the nonexistent relationship between two complete strangers run deeper than blood and, well, it makes average guys like me feel responsible for creating content for these budding media outlets to share.
There’s no need to get so caught up in our industry professionalism that we forget why we picked up a paddle in the first place. It wasn’t because kayak fishing was the cool thing to do; it was because the economy tanked, both boats and gas became exponentially less affordable, and we didn’t care about the counter-culture label our power boat friends were inevitably going to slap on us. We didn’t get our first big-box-store starter kayak to end up on the cover of a magazine, win a tournament, or get a discount on some already ridiculously cheap lures. And – without a doubt – we didn’t gauge our success based on the number of brand-based arguments we could start on the forums or the number of mismatching cheap vinyl stickers that we could form into a collage on the side of our cheap piece of plastic.
Don’t complicate it. Life is professional enough these days. Don’t ruin paddling; do it for fun next time.