Thanks to Marc Ornstein for this article!
Promotion: It’s a job for all of us
Anyone who has been to a symposium recently is aware that student attendance is down. The reasons are many but times they are a changing, and if we want to see FreeStyle grow or for that matter continue, we all need to play a role in promoting it.
There was a time, not so long ago when things were simpler, or at least we understood the rules better. Paddle sports were covered by a couple of nationally circulated magazines. If you got an article published in one or both of them, you got exposure to a large segment of the paddling community. Most canoes were sold by specialty dealers where, often, instruction was offered or references for instruction were provided. Today, most canoes are sold in big box stores, where about the only support to be expected may be help carrying it to your car.
The paddling community was once less fragmented. The largest group of paddlers were canoeists and the balance were kayakers. The majority of canoeists were either day trippers or touring types and freestyle appealed to both. Today, we add Stand Up Paddle Boards to the mix. Further, the canoeing and kayaking communities have become fragmented. Many folks consider themselves to be whitewater paddlers and have little interest in flat water technique. This applies equally to canoeists and kayakers. Finally, as we all know, kayaking has become far more popular than canoeing. I won’t spend time here, discussing the reasons behind that change.
Promoting freestyle must take on a new approach. We need to jumpstart promotion, beginning now. Organizers are already beginning plans for next summer’s events. We all need to help insure that they are well attended.
The internet is a multi-edged sword. It provides us with opportunities for instant access to almost everyone, but is so fragmented that reaching our target audience requires posting items of interest on numerous sites. Since we have no budget for promotion, the fact that internet access is essentially free is an advantage to us. Unfortunately, that free access is available to virtually everyone, and we therefore have to compete for attention. One way in which the entire freestyle community can help is by posting items of interest on the various message boards and face book sites. Just as, if not more important is to keep threads alive, once a post has been made or a thread begun. If you see something on Facebook, share it and add comments. Share it on your own page AND on the pages of any groups that you have access to.
Keeping a thread alive is easy, if enough people get involved. Here are a few examples of how to do this easily.
- Simply ask a question to which others may respond.
- Post your own opinion on the topic of discussion.
- Contribute a relevant anecdote.
- Post a relevant photo.
- Simply state that you agree or disagree with the original poster or one of the other comments.
- Post a contrary point of view. A contrary viewpoint is guaranteed to get attention.
Each time someone adds to a thread, it brings that thread to the top of the list. In some cases, people have their computers configured so that they get alerts when someone posts to a message board, they are subscribed to. This largely applies to face book as well. We know from past experience that this approach works. A couple of years ago, a handful of us utilized a site called paddling.net (now paddling .com: https://paddling.com), posting items of interest and promoting those threads diligently. We picked up several new participants at FS events, directly as a result. If the larger FS community actively participated in this effort, it could have a significant impact.
Some of the more active sites are
- Paddling.com (https://forums.paddling.com/)
- Paddling in the Adirondacks (com/forumdisplay.php?f=62)
- Canadian Canoe Routes (myccr.com/phpbbforum/viewtopic.php)
There are several face book pages related to flat water canoeing including a FreeStyle page. When you see a posting of interest to the FS community, LIKE it, SHARE it, or COMMENT on it. Help spread the word. The list below is a start.
- (Freestyle Canoeing Group) https://www.facebook.com/groups/101297126601004/
- (Open Canoe Association) https://www.facebook.com/groups/opencanoe.info/
- (Canoeing.com) https://www.facebook.com/Canoeingcom/
- (WNY Paddlers) https://www.facebook.com/groups/457633751000707/
I’ve likely only scratched the surface of how we can utilize the internet. My understanding of it is limited at best. I’d love to hear ideas from those more knowledgeable. The FreeStyle face book page would be a good place to share those ideas.
Beyond the internet, we all have the ability to make personal contacts. Stop in to your local paddling shops and spread the word. Take any opportunity you can to speak to local paddling or outdoor groups. It’s even ok to speak with kayakers. Some of them also own canoes. If you’re out paddling and see other paddlers on the water, show off a bit. You don’t have to do much to get their attention. Often a nicely executed side slip or axle will be enough so that they begin asking questions.
John Powell developed some very nice handouts. Bruce Kemp is in the process of updating them. They provide a very brief description of FreeStyle and contain website and contact information. They’ll soon be available on the FS website so that you can print them at home, on your computer. Until then, if you email him, he’ll be happy to send you the file. Keep a dozen or so in your car so that you’ll have them when someone asks.
If we all participate in this project, we can stem the decline and better yet, reverse the trend. We can help sustain, and grow, our little community.