This Blog

This blog is dedicated to explorations of spirit, life, adventure, and people. I hope that it encompasses much more than the actions of people, but rather creates a more complete picture of what it means to be an athlete and a person in the outdoor community.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


"All kayakers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Kayaking a river is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can kayak nothing worthwhile unless one constantly struggles to efface one's own personality."

George Orwell in the essay Why I write. I have replaced anything to do with writing with a word related to kayaking. You can read the whole essay here

His essay is all about his motives to write. Which succinctly are:

1. Egoism 
2. Asthetic Enthusiasm
3. Historical Impulse
4. Political Purpose.

Surprisingly, all these reasons have a great deal to do with why people kayak, at least at higher levels.

1. The first is obvious. Egoism. At this point I feel a tremendous need to just move on because it seems as if this goes without saying. I would be surprised if kayaking was started by anything but the egotistical need to seem cool, be talked about, feel hardcore, etcetera. It is a joke if you believe you kayak hard shit without this reason, especially if you are involving media in any form. I don't mean this as anything negative. I believe the ego is necessary to achieve things. If people didn't have an ego, why would they try to discover, create, or do great things? Kayakers, like many others pursuing their own limits, use their own ego to their advantage, and thrive off what it gives them: confidence and purpose. 

2. The second reason resonates as well: Asthetic Enthusiasm. A clean waterfall is a perfect example. This is a strange thing about kayaking: Beautiful waterfalls are the easiest thing to run. If the fifty footer on the south branch were pool to pool, you could send anyone who had a roll off of it, yet we all flock to do it. It is precisely because it is one of the most beautiful rapids in the country. Runs are named after their one beautiful drop, like Fantasy Falls. Everyone I know gets excited about a beautiful waterfall, no matter how easy it is, even if they are only willing to run class V all the time. Kayakers are enthusiastic about beautiful rapids as much as they are about fun, challenging ones.

3. Historical impulse, Orwell says, is "To see things as they are". This is a tremendous impulse for kayakers when scouting. We truly want our vision, the vision in our head, to match what would actually happen. This is a huge motivator, we will ignore danger to align our vision with reality, to see if it is as it seems. Kayakers derive great satisfaction from knowing that they see things as they are. If things aren't as they seem, and things go horribly wrong, from my experience I get really frustrated and look harder, wanting, from some unknown place, to known where my vision betrayed me, where I did not see reality. I will run it again to make sure I see things as they are.
Galen seeing things as they are. 

4. Now upon initial inspection, kayaking would have little political purpose, and perhaps it is a stretch. But upon reading his description of the term political it seems that kayaking could have everything to do with politics, the politics of kayaking. Orwell states that he has the "Desire to push the world in a certain direction". This is precisely what kayakers are doing all the time. Even if we look at the evolution of the word 'classic' over time it has changed from relatively low gradient runs with very few to no portages with a long season and somewhat large flow window to what it means now: Clean Granite,  steep drops with some waterfalls, can have huge portages or tons of work(hiking in, paddling in or out), and almost no flatwater or slow sections. This was someones agenda to change the face of kayaking, to change what people perceive to be "Fun".

This is merely the reticent agenda of the top 5% of kayakers disseminating their media to the masses, whether it is video or blogging, or hearsay. And of course what they are doing makes what is cool to the rest of us, then we all want to go do it. I have friends that like nothing better to bash down rocky, high gradient creeks but since it isn't 'cool' we don't do it that much. It is not glorified or hyped, so we strive for clean drops and beautiful granite, despite the fact that many other styles of boating are really fun.

There will never be a correct answer to why we kayak, but it is worth searching. 


  1. Seth, I like the blog much more that I thought I would which really doesn't surprise me...because I am so predictable.
    My question would be do we invent danger to make it seem like we are doing something really special? You know, like, when my self is watching itself and becomes really impressed with what it sees because it has the reality remote in hand.
    Your writing has spawned much in the old how unextreme kayaking seems when one thinks of hunting large seafaring mammals in the arctic with 100% organic, locally produced gear. It would seem them boys got the ultimate charge. They were doing something completely rad. Getting their stones charged and feeding people. Many of my pursuits ring all too hollow at some point...and it is usually when I am searching for something. The something is never what I was looking for which is why I am working on a new frame. Finding. This I must do in order to keep from setting all of my possessions on fire and opening a soup kitchen. Screw searching...I am finding. Very few climbs or lines are indelibly etched in my mind. What I find when I go there are close friends and piles of newts having sex in camp while I look up at canyon walls and know that few human beings will ever experience this thing. Hell, they all experience the same adrenaline rush. Ask them about tax season, mortgages, investments, or almost killing themselves and others while racing to a job through a sea of cars (filled with kindred) in order to not be fired from a job that is killing them. And many are on the most extremely scary and unpredictable track of all...parenthood. Yikes!
    Seth, you have set me about some finding.
    Soon I will have one other book to read besides Siddhartha.

  2. Nice! I like the way you used Orwell's essay to frame this one!
    It's interesting to me to read about why you kayak. The reasons are so different then my own, though maybe if I continue those differences wont be as far apart.