Whitewater Symposium generates ideas to ensure the sport remains healthy

Nearly 70 paddlesport professionals attended the second annual Whitewater Symposium, held at Nantahala Outdoor Center, October 23 to 25. The symposium's goal is to advance whitewater paddlesports through an open exchange of ideas.
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Nearly 70 paddlesport professionals attended the second annual Whitewater Symposium, held at Nantahala Outdoor Center, October 23 to 25. The symposium's goal is to advance whitewater paddlesports through an open exchange of ideas. In addition to the gathering of instructors, club leaders, kayak schools and paddlesport organizations, a smattering of retail and industry companies (including Werner Paddles, Zoar Outdoor and Jackson Kayaks) attended the three days of seminars, panel discussions and on-water clinics.  

Throughout all the discussions and seminars, we were told that a common theme began to emerge. If the sport of whitewater paddling is to remain healthy and start growing again, the whitewater industry as a whole needs to broaden the base of participants through a renewed focus on families, kids, and middle-aged paddlers who had drifted away from the sport for a variety of reasons.

The following recommendations to help ensure the health and growth of the whitewater paddling business were discussed at the Symposium and shared with SNEWS®:

  • Market toward families, kids and middle-aged paddlers by emphasizing the scenic and social aspects of rivers and river running and re-emphasizing the less extreme side of whitewater boating. We need to make it okay again to paddle class II and III as a destination in itself rather than as a step toward more difficult whitewater.  
  • Instruction is a key component in attracting new whitewater paddlers, yet many schools find it difficult to choose appropriate instruction boats. Often the students are being encouraged to buy more advanced models that are frustrating for them to learn in and can result in a student not continuing in the sport. Manufacturers, retailers, instructors and enthusiastic paddlers can all do a better job of helping new paddlers start off right so they stay with the sport.  
  • Boat designs are beginning to reflect this shift in focus, but still serve a fairly narrow range of sizes and body shapes. By lowering cockpits, reducing volume and bringing more women into the design process, women and kids can be more successful at paddling, and families will be more likely to enter the sport. Women make up 50 percent of the potential market and are the primary buyers for most families. An option of lighter boats could make paddling more attainable for those seeking easier runs, and for those who feel limited by size or strength.
  •  For a variety of reasons, current boat designs tend to be more radical than the average boater can handle. This also frustrates beginning paddlers and discourages them from making paddling an enjoyable lifetime activity. We need boats designed specifically for the beginning and Class II paddlers with no “back-up” niche in mind — in other words, not a creek boat that will work OK for beginners too).

The 3rd annual Whitewater Symposium is scheduled for early October in Glenwood Springs, Colo.  

"We urge everyone in the paddlesports industry to attend next year," says Kent Ford of Performance Video (www.performancevideo.com). "We are looking to carry whitewater paddling into the future as a vibrant, healthy activity that is profitable for the industry and fulfilling for the participants."

For more information, go to www.wwsymposium.com

SNEWS® View: Whitewater is at a crossroads. Many retailers are telling us that while rec kayaking and sit-on-tops are selling well, they are dropping the whitewater category because no one buys boats at full price anymore, and it is just too hard to make margins when everyone is looking for the "Bro" deal. Sure, freestyle and extreme paddling has garnered plenty of attention, but the folks pursuing that end of the biz aren't going to foot the bills to maintain the sport, that is for sure. The Symposium attendees are absolutely correct. If the industry wants to make whitewater a growth sport they need to ensure kids and families are comfortable playing there. Cut it out with all the extreme shots of athletes dropping off ridiculous drops in some remote part of the world. Rock climbing had to learn this, now it is whitewater's turn. Fun, safe, accessible, easy, healthy, enjoyable are all themes that attract a broad audience. Fear and adrenaline only motivate the few, and not the majority.  

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