Predators and Prey: The Forum Watering Hole
I sit back and watch a certain scene play out over and over. The names, people, and outlets are interchangeable; the scene remains the same. One person is thrilled beyond containment, maybe a little naïve, and doing everything humanly possible to feign a reputable level of courage as they open up to a group of strangers, a group of slightly more experienced keyboard warriors ready to attack at the first sign of weakness.
I read, watch, and nod my head along with the worn out choruses that immediately follow.
Internally, I am biting back a stream of type-ready words of encouragement to counterbalance the negative spears of the predators from completely deflating the enthusiasm of the once-unsuspecting prey. In this cyber-feeding time at the local kayak forums, the circle of life is simple. Confidence – like nutrition in the real circle of life – is gained by the predator at the expense of the spirit of the prey.
I understand the rock bottom of entering the sport as a beginner; I’m not far from it. I also know that most people will never cite the Golden Rule – or the conveniently located spell check button for that matter – before posting to the social media and popular forums. This is a battle not yet worth fighting.
Instead of over-romanticizing the underdog story of the newbie poster battling off the packs of blood-sniffing predators, I want to spend my time elsewhere. I want to discuss my first-hand experience as the prey. The predator, let’s call him Mr. Pro Lifer.
I posted a paddling picture from an exciting 20+ mile day on the river learning to fly cast and having minimal-at-best luck. Long story short, some people – led by the fearless Mr. Pro Lifer – found something to be offended by in the post, because America loves to be hurt in 2015, even by something as trivial and innocent as my decision to post a picture from the short period I was not wearing my PFD. The photo that I chose to post – a one-off representation of my entire kayak fishing trip – did not express any politically incorrect social opinions on the sanctity of marriage, it did not reference health care reform, and it most definitely did not include any Miley Cyrus levels of nudity.
It was much worse; it did not include a PFD.
Blood was in the water. The predators came, the predators feasted, and there were three lessons I learned that day.
Lesson No. 1: Keyboard Confidence is Real
I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure Mr. Pro Lifer is a successful adult living a normal life, a normal life he recreationally escapes from through his kayak fishing hobby and the social aspects that come with kayak fishing. When he isn’t enjoying his time on the water, it’s natural for him to flip to Plan B and hit the forums or the social media groups. We all do it. It’s, well, normal.
That’s where normal stopped for him as he took a hit of Keyboard Confidence and prepared to eat. After a couple of post likes and some supportive comments from real-life friends, that little red icon popped up to notify me that Mr. Pro Lifer commented on my photo, rounded up the troops, and single-handedly changed the tone of my post. He pointed out the absence of a PFD from my photo, the dangers that come from paddling without a PDF, and the fact that I am a terrible person (paraphrase) for using my company backed position (paraphrase) to support the promotion of PFD-free paddling (paraphrase) and essentially accused me of the eventual homicide of future kayak anglers (not as paraphrased as you would think).
It’s a critique that a normal adult would never say to my face, and it was presented in a manner that would make his wife, his boss, and his mother wildly embarrassed.
The new trending topic in my comments took on a mob mentality that would have made Charles Manson nod in approval, Adolph tip his cap, and all those Salem Witch descendants run and hide. Twenty-some comments later by other circling predators, my impromptu study on the psychology of Keyboard Confidence was complete, and I deleted the post.
Lesson No. 2: Kindness Kills
One last little red notification popped onto my screen, a display I hoped to stay little-red-icon-free for a while. I got a message from a kayak fishing buddy of mine who witnessed the predators feeding time on my hardly-ever-this-active social media account.
It was in the privacy of our conversation, and it was simple, kind, and constructive. He complimented my picture, encouraged my continual learning of the techniques that I was once so proudly posting about, and empathized with me that, yeah, PFDs are hot, annoying, and cumbersome.
Then, with the tone of a teacher, he explained the personal and professional responsibilities involved in always wearing a PFD.
I was sold. Call it ignorance, laziness, or simply summertime survival instincts. Whatever it was, it was cured by kindness and understanding, a heal the predators had no intention of providing for me.
Lesson No. 3: Wear a PFD, Mark!
The beauty of the result was proof of its genius.
Mindset changed: check. As I prepared for a lifetime of discomfort and overheating, I stumbled upon an alternative that just might be the golden ticket that bridges the safety and social awareness of a PFD with the comfort and freedom of movement more commonly associated with a PFD-free expedition.
It’s called The Wingman.
The manual inflation PFD weighs less than one and a half pounds, it is only centimeters thick, and it rocks a real-life tapered profile for my non-chiseled-manikin chest. Designed by some guys who were in the same teetering between safety, public appeal, and comfort boat that I was, the Wingman by Hyde Sportswear is now on Kickstarter taking preorders to fund their US Coast Guard approval process and an initial production run.
Watch, learn, and be nice on the internet, folks. And if you can’t be nice, at least use spellcheck.