Are you a boater bully?
Here are the facts:
Fortunately, the 99.9% of paddlers, mountain bikers, climbers, and other extreme adventurists are all too eager to offer assistance and welcome newcomers to their respective sport or past time. Some even take them under their wing, making every minute spent together a teachable moment for both the veteran and the rookie.
You’ve seen it before. The image of a bully has been stereotyped into the category of the middle school or high school student who intimidates others in order to get what they want or make themselves feel better. Unfortunately, this image is not one that should be stamped into everyone’s mind as a bully. Some bullies want more than just the physical “goods” of another. They want to rob the psychological part of their victims; thereby, robbing them of their self-esteem and confidence to do something they really enjoy. You are probably wondering where I am going with this article, but it does have some credibility and certainly applies to paddling. As a ten year law enforcement veteran, I have seen it all too often and the signs are appreciable to even the most unwary individual. It should leave you asking if you are a bully or if you have been bullied while on the water.
One phenomenon I have observed over time is the formation of sub-groups of popularity within the “cool” crowd and not-so “cool” crowd. In other words, the “cool” and “not-so cool” groups begin to divide according to interest. For example, both groups will ultimately divide and rival one another based on interest. Rather than joining together for solidarity, unnatural competition festers and ends up with the nastiest of all bully beasts—“cliques”. This is not only an observation, but an experience I know all too well in extreme sports and life in general.
Sadly, I have witnessed flatwater paddlers ostracized because they really aren’t into cruising down a waterfall at Mach 3. Some are not even into anything more than a Class I or very mild Class II. Does this make them the not-so cool paddlers? No. Does this make those that love to “huck” jerks because they push their limits? Absolutely not!
I have seen creek boaters snub their noses to river runners and play boaters get snubbed by both. Furthermore, I have seen unseasoned paddlers who have the money and means to “look the part” of a sponsored or veteran paddler; present an air about them as better than the others. They often talk incessantly about the rivers they paddle among those who are new to the sport. Some have even gone so far as to mislead the unwary or beginner paddler into thinking some rivers or certain areas are so treacherous; it psychologically puts the paddler at a disadvantage. This automatically sets the stage for failure simply because they have it in their head, they will never make it through a section based on a “Boater Bully”. (If this has never happened to you, trust me, it is the worst feeling in the world and total confidence deflation).
This is not a phenomenon indigenous only to the world of paddle sports. It is common in all sports, especially extreme sports. I have seen mountain bikers and climbers mentally bully newbies in order to come out looking like the “top dog”. Many years of law enforcement and dealing with people in general, trumps any degree in psychology as it is easy to figure out what is going on. Quite simply, the “bully” has no sense of control over their own lives or situations in which they find themselves in. They project their bully-like actions and behaviors onto others in order to feel important and regarded highly in whatever part of life they feel they should shine the most.
I would like to relate two examples of what is awesome in the world of paddle sports. My first example is of the Mecklenburg Regional Paddlers (MRP). They have their standing Tuesday night roll session and one night I was feeling a little tired and kind of in my own little world. When I get this way, occasionally I can become aloof. As standard boater etiquette would have it, paddlers I had not met before came up to me and cheered me up.
While practicing my roll (still with an injured shoulder), I started to take notice of the number of new folks at the session. All the intermediate to experienced paddlers were out of their boats and assisting all the beginners or some of us intermediates with new skills. This is how I learned to use hand paddles and roll my kayak with them (thanks Jennifer S.). During my observation, I noticed no one made the other feel weak, unskilled, or inadequate. In fact, it was the opposite in that experienced paddlers were offering to paddle rivers with the newbies in order to get them more experience. I sat and watched and injured pro-kayaker and kayak instructor guru, Chris Wing, offer his advice from the side line to anyone who seemed to be struggling. Talk about setting an example for everyone to follow suit.
My second example is after taking a raft guide certification course at the US National Whitewater Center. My cohort was the first one of the season and the first one’s to brave the cold. By swim day, I was beginning to get too cold. Swimming the channels can be grueling on a warm sunny day; however, on a day where the high temperature was 43 degrees was crazy…crazy awesome. By that evening, I became hypothermic mainly because my layering was stupid so everything I had on was soaked. I don’t remember too much other than my team members and staff were instantly in rescue mode. I was told I was walking on my ankles because I could no longer feel my feet. Stubbornly attitudes, such as mine, can make you look like a dummy and cause other’s to sacrifice for you. I still feel horrible for allowing my stubborn, tough girl attitude slip me into such a vulnerable state. On the other hand, US National Whitewater Center staff and my cohort fixed everything. They were not judgmental nor did they make me feel silly for trying to the iron butterfly and tough out the cold. The brotherly and sisterly love displayed by everyone warmed me and has kept me warm ever since.
After raft guide school graduation, I have been back every day I have off from work in order to practice and get in the experience. EVERY SINGLE GUIDE and PADDLE SPORTS EMPLOYEE has been helpful in giving students and customers the very best experience. They take the lead and set the example. They essentially and effectively stop bullying by providing an atmosphere and learning environment that is safe for everyone.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Don’t be that guy or gal.Don’t be a bully.
Do the right thing. Do be a hero.
Dedicated to those who set a great example and place the bar high in the paddle world industry.
Outdoor Solo Chronicles by Sgt RiverRat