Say you don’t need no diamond ring and I’ll be satisfied
Tell me that you want the kind of thing that money just can’t buy
I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love
I don’t know about you, but I need a vacation. Thankfully tomorrow morning we’ll be heading back up to Point Beach State Forest on the coast of Lake Michigan for a few days R & R. Sounds like the weather may be mixed, but hey, if we get some waves out of it I’ll be happy.
The Point Beach event called, “Kayak Week” is hosted by a group of paddlers from the Two Rivers, WI area. It was this annual gathering of area kayakers that actually brought me into Wisconsin paddling “fold”. Back then there was an amazing diversity of paddlers who showed up for a variety of local paddling events. There was always something going on, and someone to paddle with or learn from. Of course that was back before the days of liability paranoia that put a choke hold on social kayaking. I hear all the time how these sort of free-wheeling gatherings have fallen victim to the hemorrhoidal area of lawsuit fears, insurance & sanctioning debates that often burn more energy in a group than actual paddling.
Today a bunch of paddlers can’t simply get a big campsite and invite anyone to join them for a paddle. Well, they can of course, but not without someone shouting to the hilltops about liability. In a sense it’s become rather sick. What it has done more than anything is simply cause a bunch of guesswork, hoop jumping and verbal gymnastics as paddlers try to address un-definable “what ifs”. I mean, anything CAN happen. How can you prepare for ANYTHING? You can’t. This leads to groups falling prey to fear mongers and hobby lawyers who are bloated with examples of possible doom. Arguments about what is safe or acceptable has pitted local paddler against local paddler and friend against friend. In fact I believe the word “liability” alone has done more to hold back the growth of kayaking than anything else. It’s certainly sucked the life out friendly gatherings that are intended to be relaxed and enjoyable rather than official or “sanctioned”.
What’s more, there’s no proof that getting waivers signed will actually protect you or your club as it is. They may. It’s nice to tell a judge that you did everything in your power to get the person who’s suing you to recognize the risks and take personal responsibility. A signed bit of paper makes it a bit more obvious. Still, anyone familiar with the legal system will tell you that once you get down in the mud, there is no guarantee that a signed form will protect you. I’ve asked over and over for examples of the ACA’s legal eagles coming to the defense of clubs and individuals. It seems real examples are hard to come by.
Thing is, I’m not against reasonable liability protection. I am against what fear of liability is doing to paddling and society in general. I’m not sure when we allowed fear to move from self-protection to flat out prohibition in our minds. When fear of liability is allowed to break up natural social gatherings, something in our society as a whole is very, very broken. Not everything we do in life should need to be sanctioned or licensed or approved by our “betters”. It’s bloody obvious that sometimes it should be A-OK to simply hang out.
Maybe I’m wrong. I often am, but it seems to me that fear of liability is knocking the piss out of social paddling. What have we become when finding neighbors to paddle with entails filling out a form and sending ten bucks to the ACA for the privilege?