Kayak Kitsch

Identifying spring's silliest pastime.

With the possible exception of road cyclists (see “Living with Lycra,” Summer 2009, and my subsequent stacks of hate mail), whitewater kayakers—and playboaters, most of all—are perhaps the most visibly flamboyant, linguistically challenged, and cognitively "distinct" group of outdoors-people in the Gallatin Valley. Frankly it makes me want to ‘yak (excuse the double entendre).

In my years spent in and out of rivers, certain things have become clear. First, all hardcore whitewater kayakers are mentally ill. Who else but a crazy person would choose to sit all day in an uncomfortable plastic dinghy, submerged in water one degree warmer than a witch's teat, while splashing at surprisingly high rates of speed over boulders, through log strainers, between hydraulic death-traps, down rock slides and waterfalls, and God-knows-what other unfriendly environs, all while publicly wearing a skirt and dainty little stretch booties? These are not normal people.

Second, many kayakers seem intent on making sure that everybody knows, at ALL times, that they are really into their sport. You know these people. They’re the ones driving around with two day-glo green kayaks on the roofs of their SUVs all year long, just in case Main Street floods in February and they have to abandon their cars and float to safety like Eskimos. They get extra douche points if their tiny neon vessels are pristine and have obviously never suffered damage from the rough rock of actual Montana rivers. Of course, these aren’t real kayakers anyway. Every sport has its posers—kayaking just seems to have a lot of them.

Third, what’s the deal with the heavily innuendoe'd jargon on the river? Especially among the playboaters, conversation often sounds like a perverse play-by-play of sexual experimentation: “So I pulled out of [the] Eddy, I squirted right away, then transitioned to a nice, easy back surf and did a quick clean spin before setting up with the Kay-Y and giving it a nice McNasty, right on the face [of the wave].”

Seriously. These are not made-up terms. Even less interpretive kayaking language is silly at best. Boof? Splat? Words like these sound like a two-year-old trying to tell you their diaper needs changing.

And I couldn’t possibly stop before I bring up the ridiculous fashion. (If you learned anything from last summer’s issue and subsequent hate-mail shit storm, sport-fashion commentary is how I roll.) Kayaking is possibly the only sport outside of single-speed mountain biking in which burly men with tattoos, artfully and painstakingly trimmed sideburns, and stainless steel body piercings can get away with wearing a skirt in public. Not only that, but they call it a… skirt.

If I were the first dude to realize that my sport of choice required me to wear a floppy piece of neoprene around my midriff that looked like a cross between a ballet tutu and the great rings of Saturn, I would have called it something cool and manly. Like a Gut Gasket. Or a Fart Seal (think about it). Not only that, but these Brokeback barbarians wear neoprene booties on their sweaty dogs and enforce a proud tradition of drinking beer from said booties at the end of the day. It’s all fun and games until someone gets athlete's foot… on his face. Try explaining that one at your sister’s wedding.

So the next time you see “that guy” driving around town with his brightly-colored boats on display, or pick up that dripping hitch-hiker with the amazing sideburns and girly outfit, just remember: There’s something wrong with them. They’re kayakers.