On a quiet Saturday morning over tea and toast, I typed out a question on Facebook. “What are the top paddling debates?” I asked my friends. Before noon, I had over 200 responses. By dinner there were 400 replies, and more than 600 greeted me the next morning.
I had touched a chord.
People love a good debate and waxing on about their opinions. It was no surprise to me the most hotly contested replies on my post centered on the vessel itself. You know how this goes—clashing over canoe versus kayak, new aramid technology versus traditional cedar canvas, keel versus no keel, and solo versus tandem.
Then came the paddle wars: bent shaft or straight? J-stroke or goon? Single blade or double? A close third was camp gear—tents versus hammocks, down sleeping bag or synthetic, stuff your tent or roll it, water filters or chemical treatments, groundsheet inside the tent or outside.
No technique, tradition or personal preference was off limits. For every person celebrating the efficiency of single-carry portages, someone was heralding the safety of doubling. How is the word portage pronounced, anyway? How about comfortable canoe packs versus cavernous barrels? One lone voice cried out for a return to measuring in rods instead of meters but was unanimously ignored. Lifestyle choices were also disputed—dogs or no dogs, bushcraft versus survival, fish fry versus catch and release, and bathing suits versus skinny dipping.
It was my girlfriend who added in the controversy on skinny dipping. Interesting!
Some debates I was less familiar with—DivaCup versus tampons, orange pekoe versus spruce tea, squat versus She-Wee. And some oddities too—cat hole versus carrying out, two-ply versus surrounding vegetation, real beer versus IPA, weed versus liquor, whisky versus whiskey, bringing a less fit friend versus bear spray, true experts versus social media wannabes.
To me, it reads like a long list of conversation starters for my next backcountry campfire with friends. Some paddlers didn’t appreciate the thread, however. One was turned off by the abundance of booze talk. Another used the thread as an opportunity to knock a competitor’s brand. One gentleman opposed the entire posting. He would have much rather read what all paddlers have in common, with a rallying cry to band together for our common good, rather than read the banter.
“I realize why these topics of debate are popular for writers like you, Kevin. I get it. They work. People read them,” he wrote. “That’s cool, but it adds nothing of benefit to our community. I hope you will consider doing a well-thought-out article on what we all have in common and why it is important for us to stick together.”
I commend his point. I’ve listened to too many paddlers who feel the need to preach their views rather than exchange them. Who cares what your canoe is made of, or how you propel it forward, as long as you paddle. Skinny dip if you like, just be thoughtful of others while doing so. And does it really matter if you pack whisky or whiskey, as long as you bring enough to share?
All the same, bouncing ideas off one another about boats, bow saws and bug repellents keeps us talking. It connects us around what we have in common—our much bigger and collective passion for getting on the water—and keeps us learning, even if we don’t always agree. It doesn’t matter to me whether you squat or use a She-Wee. What matters is we enjoy those choices on trip and hopefully intrigue a few others to come out and play in the woods as well… So long as they stuff their tent, not roll it. That’s just plain silly.
Kevin Callan is the author of 18 books, including the best-selling The Happy Camper and a popular series of paddling guides.
Canoe versus kayak? Oh, put a cup in it. | Featured photo: Gabriel Rivett-Carnac