EDITOR’S DESK: Dirt Bag Paddlers, One Love One River, and World Wide Wallace… The main phrases of our community embody our ethos of unity. Taken directly from our official mission statement- “Reminding each other that our community is the same no matter where the River is, the color of skin or language spoken. On The River it’s all one language, the language of Flow.” We really don’t care what your skill set is or where you’re from. What matters to us is- Are you friendly, and down to paddle?
That is evident when you look at the members of DBP- 200 Admins from everywhere, running everything. Members hail from Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, Nepal, India, Turkey, Iran, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Greece, Germany, France, Spain, Norway, Iceland, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Italy, Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Costa Rica, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Panama, Ecuador, and Canada. In America we count members in Florida, Alaska, Maine, California, Oregon, New York, North and South Carolina, Colorado, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, Montana, Idaho, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Kentucky, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and our original HQ in Wisconsin. We are rafters, kayakers, canoeists, SUPers, riverboarders, cat boaters, surf kayakers, slalom boaters, surfers, inflatable kayakers, sea kayakers, coracle paddlers, even whitewater swimmers. We are pros and guides, and rookies and beginners too. We are men and women, ranging from kids to in our sixties, parents and children, siblings, couples, friends old and new. And we are white, brown, yellow and black, every shade of skin. We are as diverse as humanity itself.
A few months back we kicked up a minor controversy when we published an article addressing racial diversity in advertising and magazine covers and how what is currently the typical portrayal is mirrored in the paddling community. ( https://www.dbpmagazineonline.com/2016/12/11/whitewashingoutdooradventure/ ) In that article DBP Admin Kelsey Gaffigan noted that there weren’t many example of mainstream outdoors adventure magazines putting people of color on their covers.
Then and there, I decided to put my money where my mouth was. I looked over our history of covers since our inception in November 2014. Unconsciously yet conspicuously, our featured athletes were white and male. Yet I have assembled a cast of characters representative of the full spectrum of characters running rivers around the world. So since the beginning of this year I’ve consciously selected covers more representative of humanity. As Kelsey pointed out, not only will diversifying covers more accurately illustrate the diversity of the paddling community, more importantly it will invite young people around the world looking for examples of people who look like themselves into paddling. Whitewater is one of the greatest influences on my humble life. I want to share that with as many people as possible. I hope to see the rewards of this choice ten years from now. I know that kids are tuning in to our product now, and finding young paddlers like Gage Laughton, Mayo Cross, Ben Higson, Owen Maddox, Albie Binkley, and Luke Henthorn repping as Admins. We are here to inspire a better tomorrow.
And so I introduce you to DBP Admin Javan Robinson, our cover athlete for April. We first struck up a friendship after Kelsey’s article. We talked about the underlying realities of the American whitewater experience for the average member of a minority community, and vowed to contribute to the conversation together. Today we join forces to do just that, open honest and cordial dialogue that’s been far too heated and divisive for much too long in our America.
“Hello everyone, my name is Javan Robinson and I’ll be your paddling poet for the day. Sit back, relax, try to follow along – and you just might learn something. Hahah just kidding! First and foremost, BIG UPS to Mike for welcoming me into the DBP inner circle and allowing me to speak on these topics we feel so strongly about. It’s been an honor and I can’t wait to achieve more with DBP!
I’m multiracial and I love the outdoors and partaking in “non-traditional” sports. Whether it’s running my dogs, trying parkour classes or of course my main squeeze – whitewater paddling, I can’t get enough of it. While I was quite rambunctious as a child, my teens and early 20’s – I hadn’t really found one true hobby or particular interest that I could call my own. At the time I didn’t think about it much. I was too busy drinking beer, hanging out with friends, or taking road trips cross-country. I always thought that one day I would discover that special something that would complete or benefit my journey in life, but never really gave it much thought past that.
It wasn’t until I was around 22 that I got into “real” outdoor activities. One of the best times I’ve had was our first whitewater rafting trip to the Upper and Lower Gauley in West Virginia in 2010 and again in 2013. For my second trip out, I was a lot stronger mentally and physically. I had the time of my life on the whitewater that day and knew it was something I wanted to do more as time went on.
A few months went by, and probably every third night I would wake up in a cold sweat screaming “WHITEWATER!” I knew something had to be done and soon. So, before I started cutting up rotomolded plastic and shooting into my veins, I went out, purchased a few used kayaks and made the trek out to my local river. I ended up getting tossed quite a bit, and I even remember the water screaming at me “YOU’RE A DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDREL” but after acquiring the right gear and serendipitously sniffing out the local whitewater community in my hometown – I was hooked like a fiend.
Yet, there was one thing that I always noticed when I went out paddling or even hiking – and it’s that I was the only black guy. Always. This was NOT 28% African-American Akron, or even 13% of the national average for African-Americans in America today. But always, throughout every trip on the river I’ve been the sole African-American kayaker.
Let me be clear: The people that make up the paddling community are some of the kindest and most altruistic people I’ve met. The friends and bonds I’ve forged through whitewater paddling are just as strong, if not more so, than friends I’ve known for 20+ years. The river will do that to you! But at the same time, I think if there were more individuals that were representative of my race participating in “non-traditional” sports, I might’ve latched onto whitewater paddling or something similar a bit sooner.
Let’s take it back… Growing up, my family never took outdoorsy-style trips. We may have taken our dogs to a cabin in the woods once, and even took a road trip to Arizona but no real “adventures”. (Well, the trip to Arizona was pretty eventful! You’ll have to ask my dad if he remembers falling asleep at the wheel going 70mph in a U-Haul carrying a car on the back!) Perhaps if we would have witnessed other African-American families venturing out into the outdoors or even gotten an invite from a white family – would we have sought out some of those activities? Perhaps…
Don’t get me wrong, I had a pretty solid upbringing and we did take part in “outside the box” activities from time to time (as far as black/multi-racial families are concerned). My Dad loved to take us swimming as much as he could and he even had a pretty nice boat he’d take us out on. Some of my greatest memories are either riding around in Dad’s boat or swimming at the local watering hole. I love my parents and they did fantastic job of raising us.
But with that said, some of my foulest memories are participating in activities and sports that my parents felt that I “had” to do. When I was about 10 years old, Dad got me a basketball hoop out in the driveway. For us, it was a really nice hoop. We had an older one that was concreted into the ground but it was rickety and it wasn’t regulation height. The new one was adjustable, went up to exactly 10 feet (and down to 6-7 feet so I could dunk!) and had sandbags in the base so even my all-powerful dunks could not bring that hoop down.
But I wish they had. I hated that fucking hoop. I remember something along the lines of my dad saying, “You need to practice 50 free throws a day and you will become a NBA superstar”. So I practiced my life away, but still never got any better. My free throw percentage never went up and even after getting the pants beat off me by my next-door neighbor countless times and 2 seasons of organized ball, I think I had scored something like 8 points combined in both seasons.
Needless to say, basketball was not my sport. I was able-bodied and athletic but I never knew what to do with it. Throughout the years, I had tried the trio of soccer, street hockey and even golf at the local urban league but nothing ever seemed to stick. Had there been a local whitewater program, or a rock-climbing gym in my neighbourhood, my parents and I may have been more apt to think outside of the box and try new things.
As Mikhail Martin, Co-founder of the diverse climbing group ‘Brothers of Climbing’ expressed, “It just goes back to not being exposed to the outdoors, and the problem is we’re telling ourselves that we can’t do it and on the other end there’s no one telling us that we can do it, so it’s a problem on both sides of the coin, and we have to attack it on both sides.” Although these opportunities may not be prevalent and widely available to communities of color, it is through groups such as Brothers of Climbing, Outdoor Afro and Latino Outdoors are creating that much needed space for minorities to explore new spaces as well as new opportunities.
With Dirt Bag Paddling, and my own paddling club, the Keel Haulers, I hope to bring these issues of race and diversity to the forefront of the paddling pile. While we are becoming more diverse as a nation overall, there are certain groups that are still being cast aside in areas such as leadership, recreational activities, local politics and other places. We at DBP are just a small (but growing) team of different paddlers from different backgrounds, but like my waitress told me the other day as I was writing this “Keep it up, you’re going to change the world!”. If more people share that mindset and that ideal, I think we’ll be okay.
Let’s spread the love girls and guys. I’LL SEE YOU ON THE RIVER!” – Javan Robinson.
We’ve got another issue full of topics to deliver. From a story of a wicked highwater swim (Michael Potter’s THE LONGEST WALLACE) to Taz Rigg’s humorous raft guide story (WHAT’S IN YOUR DRY BOX?); from coverage of the UK’s National Student Rodeo to an interview and for-hire ad with River Manager Jim Greenbaum of Whitewater Adventurers out of Ohiopyle, PA; from the next-in-the-series excerpt of Joe Norwood’s book PEARLS IN THE MOUNTAIN to an excerpt of author Bill McGinnis’ who-done-it WHITEWATER: A THRILLER… There’s something for everyone in this month’s DBP MAGAZINE ONLINE .COM! Enjoy!!