Pedal vs Paddle

America, and most of the world, craves polarization. Whether it’s subconscious or completely knowing, people want to know where you stand on certain things.

Are you Republican or Democrat?
Are you Pro Choice or Pro Life?
Are you pro carbs or anti-carbs?
Are you Baptist, Aetheist or Catholic?
Are you a pedal or paddle kayaker?

As you can see, while we want everyone to be one or the other, if we are answering for ourselves, you might be a third or fourth option which isn’t given. I know Libertarians, moderates, Methodists and folks who can enjoy both sides of the pedal vs paddle showdown.

Having a bit of research scientist in me, I did a little experiment over at yakangler.com a few weeks back to see if my hypothesis was correct. I set up a poll and asked if money were no object and you could have any one kayak which one would you choose.

With all the us vs them, pedal vs paddle rhetoric that floats around, I was expecting the paddlers to step up and stay firm. If they truly felt paddle kayaks were “truer to the sport” and pedal yaks were “not even a real kayak” as I had heard, the polls should be widely distributed among Wilderness Systems, Ocean Kayaks and others. I expected the pedal guys with Hobies and Natives to of course choose those. I expected about 15% to be Native and Hobie combined if the rhetoric were to hold true.

It didn’t.

41% of the people participating in the poll chose a Hobie with a Mirage drive. Another 16% chose a Native with a propel drive. The comments were valuable as well. So many of them talked about money. “Well, if you’re giving me $3,000, I’ll take a PA,” (Hobie Pro Angler).

57% of the people participating chose to get a kayak with pedals. Interesting.

So what do I make of this?

While we all have ideas around what we think kayaking is, when the rubber meets the road, what actually plays a large part is money. Of course! If I asked 100 middle class folks if they were in favor of raising the taxes on the rich so the tax burden could be lessened on those less fortunate, I’d bet a large pizza that most of them would say yes. But after they answered you explained that rich meant above the poverty line, their tune would change. Anytime you add or take away money from an equation it changes how people feel. By taking money out of the equation in the poll question, die hard paddle for life guys would purchase a Hobie or Native.

It happens everywhere in life. Think about driving down the highway. I see $125K sports cars and think to myself, “I would never spend my money on that!” if I were to ever have that kind of expendable income. But maybe I would. If I won the lottery to the tune of $350 million dollars, would I think about that car differently? Maybe so. Maybe not. But, when the money is neutralized in the situation, I am much less quick to dismiss the idea.

Kayaking isn’t that much different. We have become a community of haves and have nots. Some guys use a $99 fish finder, some use nothing, and some have $2,000 units on their kayak. Is one right or wrong? No, but $99 guy usually has an opinion about $2K guy. Notice I said the guy. On the water we often draw conclusions about people based on appearance. A pedal kayak with an 1198 Humminbird, all Daiwa Steez equipment and nice clothes means a guy is unapproachable and a rich snob to many. Is that fair? No. But it happens every day. It’s almost a reverse segregation.

Chances are the guy in that “fancy kayak” doesn’t look down on someone in a $200 kayak. Almost every single person I know that has a decked out kayak goes out of their way to be friendly. I have had them show me their graph and point exactly where to throw, during a tournament! I have had these same guys show me rock piles and road beds as well. They only ask I don’t broadcast it.

It’s prejudging. We’ve all heard don’t judge a book by its cover. Do many of us live by it? No, not really. We have a desire to compartmentalize people and things. We want to profile with just a glimpse. Have you ever assumed someone was a certain gender or age while they drive in front of you? Maybe saying something like,” Get out of the way grandpa!”? I have. And then I pass them and lo and behold it’s a 16 year old, nervous out of their mind with Dad in the passenger seat. Suddenly I have more compassion and empathy for the situation and may even feel a little bad for being upset. Why? What changed? It was because I could relate.

Money can drive a wedge in anything. It’s the leading cause of divorce, lost friendships and splitting communities. I’m not convinced we will ever get away from that but we can change how we act publicly.

Money appears to be the reason more people aren’t pedaling and are still paddling. This doesn’t fit 100% but it does apply more than it doesn’t. If given the option to purchase a Hobie Quest for $800 or a Hobie Outback with Mirage drive for $800 (see, neutralizing the money), very few Quests would be sold. Versatility is important but when it costs more, each individual has to decide if it is worth it.

The natural reaction is to defend against your current position. My Facebook feed is filled with political commentary. The problem is, it isn’t filled with Republicans or Democrats saying what they have done that is helping people, but rather what the opposite party is doing that they don’t agree with. We make ourselves feel better by lowering the opposing party. Kayaking is no different.

Lack of money, jealousy and prejudging cause a lot of class warfare. Paddle kayakers tend to poke fun, tease and even badger pedal kayakers about how they aren’t real kayakers. The arguments of whether they should even be allowed in tournaments comes up every year too. It’s not fair is heard a lot. Pedal kayakers either tell them they are jealous, try to convince them why it’s awesome or just keep their mouths shut. So ask the hard question and really examine yourself for the answer. If I GAVE you a brand new Hobie Pro Angler tomorrow, decked out with whatever electronics you liked, no strings attached, would you feel differently? Oh you don’t like the PA? How about a Slayer Propel from Native? Think about it. There will be a few who really aren’t interested but only a few. It’s a money thing.

Pedal vs Paddle isn’t really a debate over what is good for the sport, what the word “kayak” really means, or who is doing it right. I firmly believe it comes down to money at the root of it all. We make ourselves feel better about our current situation by trying to reduce the status of others. Pedals and paddles have their place. So do the people that own them. Be kind on the water. Don’t judge. The newbies are watching and learning from our behavior. Is it something we want to continue in the future?

Full disclosure: I have owned pedal and paddle kayaks in the last year. Currently I do not own any pedal kayaks. There are definitely days where one can be better than the other based on conditions but there is never room for hating on someone because they kayak in a different style. Share the water. Make new friends. Be kind.
  

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