“You’re totally self reliant when you’re in a kayak out there,” Follis said.
This is the comment made by Bayfield Co sheriff Bob Follis regarding the kayaker who died of hypothermia near the mainland sea caves last weekend. I tend to think sheriff Bob is correct. Its you, your gear, your paddling partners, and your ability to assess your skills in relation to the paddling conditions. I worry however, that self reliance seems to be a virtue in decline. Instead, regulating and managing activites to protect the least competent and most irresponsible members of society seems to be the trend these days. One personal example is Interstate Park between Minnesota and Wisconsin on the St Croix River. One of our annual family events was to pack a picnic lunch, canoe up to the cliffs at the Dalles of the St Croix, and spend a hot summer afternoon jumping off the cliffs. A few years back, a drunk and stoned teenager dove off one of the cliffs, struck his head and was killed. Alcohol dulls the senses and marijuana confuses them; lets get dull and confused and then dive into the river! The NPS, which has jurisdiction because the St Croix is a Wild and Scenic River, immediately banned 'cliff jumping'. I fear (and can actually envision) a day when the "No kayaking allowed" flag is flying in the Apostle Islands Nat'l Lakeshore launch areas. This would likely be based upon some arbitrary wind and wave level designed to protect a 14 year old beginning kayaker in a plastic Carolina-type rec boat with no spray skirt. No public hearings that I know of were held on the administrative order to ban cliff jumping. In fact, a hearing on the Apostles Islands Management Plan that I attended in Minneapolis last year reminded me of those car seats that were around when I was a kid. They were unsafe as hell but had a little plastic steering wheel that let you pretend y0u were driving. Every once in awhile the car would turn in the same direction that you turned the wheel and it gave you the illusion that you were driving. But you weren't and you knew very well who was in the drivers seat. I think that meeting was much more of a 'here's what we're gonna do' rather than a 'please tell us your ideas and concerns' type of scenario.
It was a tragic death last Friday at Meyers beach, one that was completely preventable and a real waste. However we in the kayaking community need to be vigilant of any possible regulatory or administrative backlash. Responsibility, enlightened decision making, and acceptance of consequences are still qualities that a number of us cherish. We need to make sure that the do gooders don't inhibit our right to exercise those qualities in pursuit of advancing our kayaking skills and abilities.