We may sound elitist to beginners

I can say with confidence and certainty that a number of posts I’ve read on paddling.com sound elitist. Coming from a beginner’s perspective here.

If not elitist, there is a certain drama and alarmism that some express when talking about paddling accidents and the dangers of cold water that are usually based on anecdotes and don’t analyze the true likelihood of this event happening. It does a better job of convincing beginners to abandon the hobby than it does informing them as they progress in the sport, in my opinion. Not only because of the danger itself, but also the impression that there tends to be a high stress atmosphere in the kayak community, which most people don’t want to deal with (including myself) unless they’re getting paid a lot of $$.

Experienced people made their own mistakes and learned from them. There is no way to bypass that, and preaching endlessly to beginners does not allow them to bypass that stage, I promise.

That being said, I have absorbed a lot of wisdom on this site and there are some experienced AND friendly/welcoming people here. But if the goal is to attract newbies to this pursuit, it’s good to know what helps and what doesn’t. Scaring people generally doesn’t help unless you know FOR A FACT that they don’t give a damn and are acting flippant.


Would be most helpful were you to say which threads.

I have been a member here not that long coming up on a year now. Today was the first time I read this thread and wished I had seen it a year ago.

I have to say when I first got here I had some mixed feelings maybe not that the frequent posters were elitist but that the conversations were way above entry level along with the type of equipment beginners would be bringing into the conversation that they already had or could afford were kind of looked down on. It is a tight group of very skilled people that have some pretty high levels of adventurousness to their likes. Around where I live anyway there are a few such people but many more that simply like the serenity of a flat water day paddle down a basic slow moving creek or around a flat water inland lake. A lot of time spent in the paddle boats are given over to fishing even. That doesn’t mean they don’t need to be safe and have a good idea of what they are doing.
The sad part is the vast majority I see on the water don’t have a clue. It is basically very easy to buy a small cheap boat and get started and the skills to paddle good enough to do the local tasks they have down in a few minutes. It is all good until it isn’t good and then the lack of experence and the lack of planning become paramount. Combine this with our river floating for most here is a combination of sunbathing and drinking using Wal-Mart gear. Normally there are mishaps that go unnoticed as the water is calm and someone comes along to help. Rec-Kayaks get lost and coolers and paddles never to be seen again.
Then there is a young delegation mostly male but not entirely that feel they have skills they don’t have and equipment they defiantly don’t have. An overnight storm hits and the lazy river they are used to becomes something else altogether. Often they had plans and take a look and instead calling it off seeing the water muddy and high think oh boy this will be fun, and it is until it isn’t. The fire department then is put into harms way getting people clinging to down trees out of the water and every few years someone isn’t that lucky.

So I get the tough talk. For the most parts none of the people I see around here would ever look for advice in a forum like this and when we do get some we need to walk a fine line between keeping them engaged with the forum or not.

I’m a old guy that’s been around big water his whole life, but quite new to small paddle boats and have learned a lot here in a year and thankful for the help I have found. It seems the average age here is getting up there. I try and get involved in more of the beginners questions as it is what I better relate to.

This thread would make a good sticky as it lets people know why people say what they do.


Start out buying used, and then keep buying used.
I always make money on canoes.
The best paddle is the one you make yourself.
Judgment is learned by experience.

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In the old days we used to have mentors that taught us skills. We did not call them elitist( though
a very few were arrogant granted)… Where that term came from is an Internet phenomenon and it is very untrue face to face. None of us was born with the innate instinct to paddle well. We learned. Sometimes we learned by very bad experiences and it is our intent to save others from our dumb exploits. Those of us who had teaching paddling friend who cared about us were quite lucky and I realize many paddlers do not have mentors.

at any rate I would not get upset as the Internet actually is devoid of all the cues that allow compassionate teaching.

If we present stuff that is makes no sense to you at any level feel free to call us out for further explanation. Sometimes there is a story behind the advice. Sometimes we do forget to target audiences appropriately.

I got 60 years paddling behind me and still do dumb things sometimes!


I will do my best to compile the worst threads I’ve seen. Probably one of the worst is this one (I linked to one post by @Greyak who hasn’t been around for a while). He is a classic elitist because he is telling people that they are inferior, unabashedly, because they don’t know a skill, and he is very pushy and arrogant about it as well.

A number of threads about rolling will reveal plenty of elitism. I thought dry suits were the most heated topic on here, but rolling is pretty much a notch below (or at the same level) as a political argument between Democrats and Republicans.

At NWOC here in Seattle, a respected outfitter that has been mentioned positively by some on this board, they do not teach rolling in their Fundamentals of Sea Kayaking course. They do have a special class for rolling, but the point is that they absolutely expect students to be able to go on Puget Sound after taking that 4 session course without knowing how to roll. Granted they are not going to say go out by yourself far from shore obviously.

Greyak again, saying that if you don’t roll you are not a sea kayaker (again, classic elitism):

This one helps confirm my theory that paddlers generally care about what other paddlers do because they don’t want regulations for the sport (or, I imagine registration fees for kayaks and such). There’s a lot of ranting in this thread for no reason and it’s really just venting baggage in a rude way at a beginner and little more at this point.

I’d say this type of post is in the minority but it’s definitely there.

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A good roll is critical for some types of kayaking. Included are if padding in surf or white water.

It is a very useful and possibly critical skill if paddling solo on big open water. However, for many flat water paddlers, it is not as critical. The general public I’ve found has a vastly exaggerated view as to how many paddlers have a reliable roll or any roll at all. With good self rescue skills or paddling with others that are proficient in assisted rescues it’s, in my opinion, generally not that critical. I suspect that I’ll get a fair amount of blowback on this heresy.

With experience, choosing where you paddle, and close watch on weather and sea conditions, many paddlers have paddled for decades without capsizing. Except when getting into or out of the boat. :smiley:

For others, as we get more antique, there may be health issues that preclude rolling. I have spinal issues and have been advised not to try it any longer.

I don’t mind seeming elitist about the dangers of cold water, however. As a scuba diver and long time boater I have a great respect for cold water. Here on the Chesapeake and surrounding area where we often have water temperatures in the upper 40s and air temperatures in the 80s in the Spring, there are a number of deaths every year. You can’t over emphasize the dangers of cold water. Check out the National Center for Cold Water Safety for more information. People tend to equate air temperature with water temperature. Sixty degree air temperature doesn’t sound too cold. It’s a lot different when you are immersed in 60°F water.


I wouldn’t say you are elitist about safety or even pushy or aggressive. My last quote there, however, exposed what I consider to be an ugly position, which is that people making what the poster consides to be a stupid decision will inconvenience the poster with potential kayak safety legislation.

Anyway, the point is not about the merits of rolling or the dangers of cold water. These are just topics among many that people are free to discuss, and there is plenty of literature on topics like that. I am pointing out what I consider to be an aggravating, unhelpful and at times arrogant attitude.

Reading through that thread about rolling is frankly exhausting to me. It’s remarkable that some experienced folk are so passionate about the decisions other people make and what gives them joy. For some reason they feel an urge to mold other people into what they feel is more proper or optimal.

It’s just exhausting is all.

Well, I am not going to agree with you about the criticality of trying to learn to roll for sea kayaking. You have not been at this yet long enough to know. But the process of trying to roll leaves you with a host of intermediate skills like a good brace and comfort in slop that I have yet to see anyone learn any other way.

Now is having a reliable roll the only way to go out there? No, there is calmer water paddling, planning conservatively, that leaves someone with options to get back in via another way. Which I am practicing more the last couple of years because due to lack of time my previously really good roll on both sides has taken a powder. One thing I want to do this year is spend some concentrated time with a coach to recover it.

That said, at some point when I get to the sea each summer I spend time in the water practicing a deep scull. And capsizing a good bit at first. This is not optional for handling dimensional water. Skills practice is not elitist, it is respectful of paddling in the ocean.

But I am also going out in the salty stuff on a body of water I have been paddling for 25 years, and have made changes like getting up early and being back on land before 10:30 am many days. I can stay out of trouble a heck of a lot better than in my earlier days.
Partly due to having sprung for one of those expensive items you were complaining about - a good VHF with weather alert. My husband and I spent 3 hours stuck on an island years ago and came close to having to overnight on it with inadequate clothing because we did not have that device.

rstevens15 has it for cold water. If people did not go out and die each spring and late fall because they end up in the water underdressed, this could go away. But it keeps happening. Some fisherman or two on Lake George coming out of a canoe, someone in a rec boat going out from Bar Harbor - this happens every—(expletive)----spring and fall.

If you can find a way to make this stop, go for it. But so far the same mistake shows up every year over and over again.


Not sure why this old thread popped up

Rstevens15, you’re on point and made me curious, so I checked my logs. The earliest start of the season log entry I recorded was March 20, 2010. I use readings reported at Thomas Point Light near Annapolis.

*Mar 20th, water 48° and air 72°.
*Apr 7th, water 55° and air 68° - 84° (8-11:30)
*May 1st. water 58° - 60° and air 70° - 72°. (9-12:00)
*By June, water averages in the 80° - 82° range.
*By Sep 25th, water was 75°, and the next day it dropped to 67°.
*The highest temps I recorded were a few spikes at 86°.

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Celia, I don’t know how you maintain the energy to keep answering some of the questions that get posed here. It’s crazy to see some folks “ask” about some gear or practice and then get offended because the answer(s) don’t go their way. Essentially, these folks were looking for confirmation of their choice rather than truly seeking the opinions of those who have actually had experience, sometimes through “trial by fire” (or what I call the “school of hard knocks” for knuckleheads like me.)

These days I rarely jump into these threads about “advice” although I do respond when folks have reached out with direct PNet messaging. Heck, I don’t even bother with giving advice with bad or dangerous practices in the real world. I remember telling a couple of newbies with open rec boats trying to surf a mellow day, with waves around 3’. Those are mellow fun waves for folks with the right equipment and some novice/intermediate skills. These two were in open cockpit 10’ kayaks and with minimal skills. Both kept getting swamped and capsized by foam piles in barely in hip deep water. I said something like, “Hey, those aren’t the best kayaks to take on surf because of the open cockpits. But if you are going to try, make sure you stay on the ocean side of the kayak if you capsize so you don’t get mowed over by the waterlogged boat.” They kept trying and capsizing. Sure enough, one got caught between the boat and the beach as a foam pile hit. He took it right across the knees/thighs and went over the kayak. I just turned and walked away and left it to his “partner” to help get him back to shore (they were still in only 2’ of water so neither are going to drown.)

Another occaison, while kayak fishing a quiet pond, I saw a father and young son paddling around on some generic SOTs. Perfect venue for those boats. However, both the father and son were holding their paddles upside down and struggling to get a decent stroke. I debated whether to say anything but the young son was really struggling and clearly NOT having fun. Being a father myself, I was thinking that the Dad would want to have a good experience with his son. I paddled over to the father and said, “Hope you don’t mind me saying… but you are you holding your paddle upside.” I got a look of disdain and the guy kept “paddling” his way. I didn’t really care. Heck, at least both had their PFDs on. (Shrug).

Enough good deeds get punished that one wonders about the worth of the effort. Me, I try less and less with those I don’t know or don’t have an obligation. So, I also don’t take too many to go out on the water with because to do so means I am taking on the “obligation” for their safety. Leave it to them to find and paid for “professional” instruction, if they so choose.



It’s also been my observation that unsolicited advice is rarely received well in person. On the one dimensional Internet I think that people that say they are asking for advice are really seeking confirmation bias based on what they think they know. They get upset when reading that their idea is really bad. Some new paddlers are receptive to new knowledge but a lot really do not want it, at least in a blunt form. So maybe presentation is key.

It might be worthwhile to have a New Paddlers corner? Where more experienced paddlers can present their views without bashing the paddler. No one wants to be treated badly. Yes it gets old seeing the same questions, but it is not old to the new paddler, just old to the old paddler.


When I first started posting on here, I recall getting a lot of information I did not understand. It struck me that either a big bunch of people on here were rabid safety/lessons/skills freaks, who were way over the top, OR they were all much more experienced than I, and I should pay attention to them. So I kept reading, took some lessons (yes, they were kind of expensive and I initially was hesitant about spending on them to do something I already “knew” how to do), and discovered that I wanted to learn more. Not everyone does and that’s fine. For those who do this board is invaluable.

And I still read tons of posts in here that I don’t understand. Maybe one day I will; maybe not. We’ll see.


DP, I was likewise in your position. I was a newbie when I found this site early on, as well as the defunct (white water/surf) focused BoaterTalk. I was paddling a WS Pamlico 140T and a Loon 138T, which I used to go out to some local rivers and ponds with wife and sons. The only thing I knew was to wear PFDs and to not go on some class II waters like Androsoggin River near my camp in ME. I love flyfishing that section of the river and watching the whitewater kayakers and C1’s go by me, down the rapids.

Anyway, I asked a lot of questions here and at Boatertalk. I didn’t take a lot to heart (a lot over went over my head) and some that I rightly/wrongly disagreed with, I simply put to test on my own (e.g. immersion wear, techniques, etc), within the safety parameters of being near shore and in water chest deep or less (tested by paddle insertion). Overall, my stance with folks who answered my questions, was of appreciation and thanks for their time and effort. In retrospect, most of the advice offered were spot on – even when it took me a circuitous path to get there. In the cases which I disagree, it’s not because the advice giver was wrong but that there were/are different paths/means to the same goal.

There are still a lot here (and elsewhere) that I read and appreciate, even if it is a bit outside of my interests, skill or physical level, or too esoteric (IMO).



I have been here since I had my first rec boat, too many boats back to count.
I have never detected any elitism by experienced paddlers. Exasperation at know it all beginners, yes. Sharp responses to repeatedly asinine questions asked several different ways, yes.
I quickly learned who knew what they were talking about and who was helpful.
Bnystrom has been a great source for a long time.


I’m not sure how many times I need to say I am taking a course that involves about 13 hours of on water instruction. However, even if I do say that, the fact that it doesn’t include rolling will trigger some of you. I’ve seen posts that degrade instructors or outfitters that do not teach rolling as a fundamental skill, with no knowledge of those instructors or additional context.

That is unfortunate and shows an insular attitude in the community that will repel new people from getting into paddling. That seems to be the case, as I’ve seen @SeaDart mention that it’s mostly old timers who kayak. Perhaps this isn’t a problem for some of the old timers who would just like to always see their kind on the water, never doing something incorrectly, so they can feel like all is well with the world.

Well I’m sorry to say there are people who die doing every activity under the sun, and no matter how passionate you get and angry at beginners you get, it will not change that. Safety regulation is how society generally handles this, but even with all the rules I’m the world, people die in car accidents, by pointing a gun at their face and having it discharge accidentally, taking a selfie on the edge of the Grand Canyon and falling in. Not getting vaccinated against covid-19, which involves a prick in the arm to protect against a deadly virus.

The world is full of people making these decisions. I don’t think a utopian community is going to be possible, and getting cranky st people definitely doesn’t help towards the goal either.

Is kayaking an old folks’ club, or is it an accessible sport that wants to attract young people? That may be the ultimate question.

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I am not making a claim. It is a well respected outfitter in Seattle that was founded in 1980 making the claim that it’s not necessary to learn rolling as a fundamental sea kayaking skill. They are not going to say don’t learn it, and perhaps they’ll even encourage those who show an interest in it during the class to move on to the rolling class. Perhaps I will discover that it would be nice to learn to roll, without needing people to badger me about it or claim that it’s irresponsible if I don’t.

There are many people on this board who will then discredit and demean this outfitter. I would say it’s reasonable to simply disagree with their curriculum decision, but the general attitude from some here is that unless things are being done how they think they should be done, it’s wrong and irresponsible. This is not a healthy attitude for a community in my mind that (should) try to include different people with different perspectives.

Just something to consider. I imagine most beginners just abandon this board instead of voicing concerns like I am doing. I thought I would try to be honest about what I notice from a beginner’s perspective.


Sometimes it’s best just to ignore the doomsayers and naysayers.

I’ve attended four symposiums over the years, each one a week long, and rolling was never on the agenda so I’m not at all surprised your upcoming course doesn’t include it.

You’ll learn a ton of stuff so just go and have fun.

It depends on what symposium and what classes. In the progression for sea kayaking in the ACA there is a level that requires a roll, as was/is in the BCU system. If you do not attend symposiums that include those levels, then rolling is not necessarily going to be present.

I did not say what you just said I did.
I said that the process of trying to learn imparts skills along the way that I have not seen develop well any other way. The outfitter appears to have a different opinion. But I get mine too.

I really do not understand elevating the roll into a big argument, nor do I understand paddling for a long time and not at least giving it a try. It is just another way to be in a boat. No reason to turn it into a big rock in the road.