A dirtbag, according to the Urban Dictionary, is a person who is committed to a given—usually extreme—lifestyle to the point of abandoning employment and other societal norms in order to pursue said lifestyle. The description goes on to differentiate dirtbags from hippies in that dirtbags are seeking to spend all their moments pursuing their lifestyle. The example provided is the community of climbers found at major climbing areas like Yosemite, Joshua Tree and Squamish. Dirtbags we know can also be skiers, mountain bikers and of course, paddlers. Hippies, I suppose, are just hippies.
By definition then to be a dirtbag you need to be three things
You need to be passionate about something.
You need to act outside societal norms.
You must abandon employment to pursue a certain lifestyle.
Let’s break it down.
Readers of this magazine are life-alteringly passionate about paddling rivers—there is no question about that. Next point.
Talk to your friends and family members about your weekend plans and you realize very quickly that normal society feels you operate outside the rules of acceptable behavior. They worry about you.
For 19 years I’ve been trying to make whitewater kayaking and canoeing more mainstream. As a whitewater industry we’d hoped we could make it appeal to a wider audience. The act of paddling whitewater, like climbing, is scary behavior forever falling way outside societal norms. This is exactly why motorists on bridges make 911 calls to emergency services when they see brightly colored kayaks tumbling in the foamy water below.
Not to mention what society thinks of mullets, ketchup-packet soup and the 24 other defining cultural characteristics in Hannah Griffin’s “ABCs of Dirtbags”. It’s not only the scary rapids that make normal people squeamish, there’s also the whole getting naked in public places they’d need to get over.
For a long time I was never sure if I was truly a dirtbag. I certainly have always had dirtbag tendencies. I once shaved off my beard in a Denny’s restroom sink. Thumbed my way across the country a few times. Used my paddling helmet as a salsa bowl. Have never refused truck temperature beers.
On the other hand, I’ve never milked employment insurance to go paddling. My blue collar sensibilities wouldn’t allow me to fully embrace dirtbag culture, as defined by the Urban Dictionary. As a raft guide, on Sunday nights while my buddies got high and played Frisbee before moonlit surf sessions, I would drive home to work so I could pay for school.
Dirtbag in my opinion should be a state of mind and not the number of zeros missing from your tax return.
The abandonment of employment criteria set out in the definition above is what should be abandoned.
At any given put-in on a Sunday morning you’ll find high school dirtbags too young to qualify for minimum wage. You’ll also find retired dudes and dentists, teachers, lawyers, farmers and oil rig workers. They all smell of wood smoke, whiskey and damp goose feathers. No matter the length or color their hair is a tangled mess. Nobody has showered since at least Friday morning. And if anybody swims on the river, he or she will drink a beer from a soggy bootie.
Like many paddlers in their 40s, I have a job. I also have a gold-colored credit card with a spending limit greater than the sum total of all my days river guiding. This card accumulates travel points redeemable for flights and hotel rooms. The funny thing is, I still find myself driving to rivers, sleeping in my truck and cooking ramen noodles on my tailgate. Dirtbags may not get to spend all their moments pursuing said extreme lifestyle but the moments we do are just as sweet.
Scott MacGregor is the founder and publisher of Paddling Magazine.