As modern life skills go, harpooning styrofoam seals from a kayak doesn’t rate that high. Nonetheless, I can hardly describe how happy I am to have won the styrofoam seal hunt at last weekend’s Traditional Gathering.
The Gathering is a seven-year-old event that’s set up for those of us who are interested in traditional kayaking skills. A few of us build skin-on-frame boats in something like the traditional manner. Some of us make our own paddles out of two-by-fours, or sew native-style paddling garments, or learn the repertoire of kayak rolling techniques perfected by the Greenland people.
Many of my friends are pleased to observe that the native peoples did not skin their kayaks with polyester cloth, nor make their paddling jackets from neoprene, nor run a power cord to the ocean’s edge where they plugged in their table saw. Yeah, the quibblers are right. But I’m not trying to pass myself off as a historical re-enactor. I’m only trying to get a glimmering of an idea concerning the roots of modern kayaking. And, as I’ve observed here before, I like to make stuff. I take it as a little victory over The Man.
The Gathering’s highlight in my view is the harpoon contest run by my friend Jeff Bjorgo. The contest is famous for it’s constantly changing rules. In previous years, Bjorgo awarded “style points,” or gave points to contestants who simply managed to clear the bow of their kayak with the harpoon. This year you had to actually hit the styrofoam seal with the head of the harpoon to get points. If you stuck the harpoon in the seal you got more points. And if you completed a roll after you scored a hit, you got additional points. We each had five minutes to navigate among three seals and toss the harpoon as many times as we were able.
If I were an Inuit seal hunter providing for my family, I’d be one hungry dude. But among my middle-aged pals on Saturday morning, I was a mighty slayer of styrofoam. The jeering at the Saturday award ceremony was no worse than usual. When Bjorgo hung the coveted Green Aluminum Turtle around my neck, with “1″ scribbled upon it in gold marker, well, let me say that Michael Phelps couldn’t have been that much happier.
Needless to say, there’s a downside. I feel like a hunted animal now, because I know that all my fellow competitors are just biding their time until next year. Some of them might practice. Once, maybe twice. I mean, it could happen. They may even show up sober for the competition. I’m just saying right now, I’ll be ready.