There’s no doubt that sea kayakers are clean, quiet, politically sensitive, over-educated environmentalists with 2.4 perfect kids and a golden retriever. But there is at least one way in which they are also the most god-awful polluters around.

Joe Kayaker and his not-so-amazing Technicolor dreamboat

Yes, kayakers are unlikely to litter a beach with their granola bar wrappers, tofu containers or Tilley-hat price tags. Kayak campsites are never strewn with cigarette butts, empty beer cans, or even organic yogurt containers. Leftist NDP pamphlets or slim tomes expounding the virtues of yogic veganism are conspicuous by their absence. There is the occasional propensity to leave behind some unbleached, hypoallergenic, Environmental Choice-certified, post- consumer-fibre bum-wad (bought in bulk and transported home in paper bags, thank you very much, not plastic). But on the whole, sea kayakers are a tidy and respectful bunch who will go to just about any length to tread inconspicuously upon the land.

illustration of a kayaker decked out in multicolored gear and various accessories
“What? I can’t hear you above your outfit!” | Feature illustration: Scott Van de Sande

Kayakers are also quiet. They are in search of a balance with nature. Besides a sip or two of specialty coffee—grande mocha frappuccino with extra foam and a whisper of cinnamon—kayakers want nothing more than to drink in the healing qualities of the bush, the ocean, and especially the silence. Walkmans are okay for listening to Enya or new age refrains of ebbing tides and bird songs. (Kayakers are an earnest bunch, and a CD of indigenous bird calls is a great educational tool on a wilderness trip.) A live guitar session around the campfire is fine too—it’s like Eric Clapton unplugged—as long as the singer stays away from any politically incorrect, racially insensitive, or overtly right-wing songs. “Running Bear Loved Little White Dove” by The Guess Who, for instance, would be out, despite marks for Canadian content. Better stick to kum ba yah.

When it comes to visual pollution, however, kayakers are the worst. A 17-foot fuchsia-decked kayak with yellow trim and hatches over an international-orange hull (for safety!) doesn’t exactly disappear into the bush. And why not slip into a pair of red quick-dry pants and a turquoise paddling jacket? Be sure to wear your flare-orange PFD with the hornet-yellow towline and reflective patches. Royal blue pogies and an eggplant-and-mango-colored nylon hat set the whole outfit off. Just leave the rest of the kaleidoscopic mess in your gold-and-bright-blue tent. Now picture eight people on an otherwise beautiful beach all committing this fashion suicide!

A riot of color run amuck

Let’s hope that most of the animals that actually live in these areas are color blind. If in fact the unfortunate critters have the ability to see the full color spectrum, it must seem to them as if these kayaking interlopers have come to their homes for the express purpose of metaphorically pissing in their eyes.

If you ever hang out with hunters or fishers, you will find that their wardrobe is distinctly different. Sure it may be a stealth thing—after all, they want to kill, kill, kill—but it also makes a surprisingly big difference in terms of visual peace and quiet. With kayakers, I am sometimes tempted to say, “What? I can’t hear you above your outfit!”

Isn’t it hypocritical that kayakers strive to stand out so obtrusively, like some petroleum-based peacock, from the very landscape they profess to embrace?

For folks who are so earnest about every other aspect of pollution, why are kayakers so visually loud and obnoxious? There’s no excuse for this fashion faux pas. Visibility on the water often directly relates to safety, but we don’t need to be so visible in camp. In nature, highly venomous critters sport wild, vibrant colors to warn predators, but I doubt if this works against bears.

Are we dressing up in mating plumage, trying to get lucky on our trips? Maybe, but I for one think that there’s no color sexier than a modest forest green. Flesh tones are better still—flesh is our most natural color. Tans are what the fashionable Parisians are all wearing on beaches this year. Earth tones are in! Grey is nice too. Navy blue is handy in case a business meeting breaks out.

Isn’t it hypocritical that kayakers strive to stand out so obtrusively, like some petroleum-based peacock, from the very landscape they profess to embrace? It’s time to try subdued colors for a change. Otherwise, change the CD and crank up the volume, ‘cause kum ba yah doesn’t go with the outfit.

Cover of the Winter 2003 issue of Adventure Kayak MagazineThis article was first published in the Winter 2003 issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

“What? I can’t hear you above your outfit!” | Feature illustration: Scott Van de Sande



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here