One of my favorite things I get to do is prescreen the films entered in our Paddling Film Festival. Picture this: Two bags of Orville Redenbacher’s microwave popcorn, plaid flannel pajamas and snuggled on the sofa with my two young children. Watching some of the coolest, most eye-popping paddling films is fun for me, but it serves a secondary purpose too. The screenings help to induct my kids into the paddling way of life, which could lead to a lifelong passion.
How to get your kids hooked on paddling
Brainwashing, according to D. M. Kowal in the Encyclopedia of Psychology, is a controversial scientific theory in which human subjects can be indoctrinated in a way that causes, “an impairment of autonomy, an inability to think independently, and a disruption of beliefs and affiliations.” Brainwashing, writes Kowal, is the involuntary reeducation of basic beliefs and values.
Controversial maybe, but exactly my master plan.
You see, the goal with the film festival from the very beginning was to feed the enthusiasm of paddling enthusiasts and cause an impairment of autonomy, an inability to think independently, and a disruption of beliefs and affiliations in our friends and family members.
Why else would you invite your brother, boyfriend or buddy to an evening of paddling movies? I know brainwashing works. I’m living proof.
The beginning of an obsession
I was sent to school on snow days—days when the country roads were too dangerous for school buses but safe enough for half-a-dozen working mothers in Oldsmobiles to drop their kids at the school’s doorstep. Six of us would be corralled in the gym where the teachers fed us whatever films our tiny library had in stock. Paddle to the Sea by filmmaker, author, environmentalist and canoeist Bill Mason was my favorite.
My parents were not paddlers. They couldn’t even swim. So how did I end up with a degree in outdoor recreation, teaching whitewater canoeing and eventually running the world’s largest paddlesports media company? If you watch the story of a carved wooden Indigenous man in a canoe trying to find the ocean enough times it causes an involuntary reeducation of basic beliefs and values.
Growing a new generation of paddlers
Six years ago, my son Doug’s favorite film was Rediscovering North America. Six dudes in three canoes leave the Gulf of Mexico and head up the Mississippi River toward the Arctic Ocean. It’s a great film of adventure and tomfoolery. Two hundred and forty days, seven rivers and two bags of popcorn later, the boys make it to the tiny hamlet of Kugluktuk at the mouth of the Coppermine River.
Most scholars do not accept the theory of mind control as scientific fact.
But after the viewing, Doug grabbed his pillow and announced he was changing his summer camp electives from in-camp activities to the traditional canoe tripping program and went off to his bedroom to message his cabin buddies to do the same.
Years ago, I was at a fundraiser for the Bill Mason Scholarship Fund where Becky Mason’s husband, Reid McLachlan, told a story of watching Paddle to the Sea with his friend Thomas Mapother in their grade three class. Looking back, Reid wonders if Thomas was inspired by the magic and power of that same canoe film. You see, when Tom became a teenager he went to California to become an actor; he changed his last name to Cruise and has done quite well for himself in Hollywood.
True stories. If you don’t believe me, read it a few more times.
This article originally appeared in Paddling Magazine Issue 65. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here, or download the Paddling Magazine app and browse the digital archives here.
Kate, 15, just nailed her first roll. Dougie, 16, is working as a safety boater on the Ottawa River and an assistant guide for Black Feather Wilderness Adventure Company. | Feature photo: Scott MacGregor