Kayak: State of the Union Address 2022

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Kayak: State of the Union Address 2022

“Ask not what your tournament trail can do for you, but what you can do for your tournament trail.” Did you read that in John F. Kennedy’s voice? We

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“Ask not what your tournament trail can do for you, but what you can do for your tournament trail.” Did you read that in John F. Kennedy’s voice? Well, you were supposed to. This is the kayak fishing state of the union address after all.  

Maybe it’s our culture these days, but even when we have it good (which we do), we still focus on how things can be even better, and better instantly. If it doesn’t happen right away, we’re frustrated and look to something else. Look, there’s nothing wrong with striving for the best, and ultimately perfection, but the reality is that some things cannot be instant or sped up the way we instantly download apps, stream movies, music, order fast food or instantly make something that took hours in an instapot. I’m sure George Washington would have wanted a chainsaw for the cherry tree too.

In kayak fishing circles, the national competitive scene is still relatively young, but nevertheless anglers across the country are pining for a true Elite Series type tour to rise up instantly. Some anglers even show frustration and question why the tours haven’t simply “made this happen.” I get their side, and as an angler I’m somewhat on that side too because I believe we have all the components that a profitable Kayak Elite Series would need. However, as a former tournament director and a guy who ran sports leagues at the collegiate level for five years, I can confirm this is one of those things that our new instant gratification world can’t speed up. 

Why? Mainly because this comes down to relationships and the time needed to cultivate those relationships. I’m referring to sponsors and tourism partners, who are sometimes tough to get a first date with. Do you think Geoge H.W. just winked at Barbara at the pep rally and next thing you know they went from under the bleachers to running the goodl ole U.S. of A.? I promise you; George may not have had an app to find her, but he still put in that time that no app can ever replace when it comes to naturally progressing the relationship along.

This is the way it has to be for our future pro tour as well because it’s going to take more time and money than we ever anticipated. So yeah, I guess it’s no different than trying to court a bride. For the anglers and our major tours, we certainly don’t want all that money needed to come from them simply raising taxes … I mean, entry fees … now do we?

There is no doubt, we’re at a juxtaposition in the kayak fishing world that’s brought this topic to head. At the highest levels, we have two groups of anglers — full time (or aspiring) kayak anglers who travel and fish between 12 and 25 tournaments per year in the three national trails (B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series, Hobie Bass Open Series and the Kayak Bass Fishing Trail Series), and another group who can really flat-out fish but have, for lack of a better term, regular day jobs. Our issue is that the “wants” and “desires” of both groups are continually growing further apart. We’ll reach a breaking point soon. 

No state of the union address would be complete with a look at what history can teach us on this topic. In 1968, the sport of golf was in a similar position. There was no ful- time PGA “Tour,” only the PGA of America organization that put on some tournaments, along with its other roles in the sport of golf. Just like kayak fishing, quality tournaments with solid participation and payouts were happening across the U.S., but two types of players were sort of in opposition on what they’d like to see happen.

You had your “golf club pros,” who just worked at golf course pro shops, gave lessons, booked tee times, sold clubs, clothes etc. These club pros were allowed to play, and would play, in any events that were “local” to them, but their livelihood wasn’t solely revolving around competitive tournaments. Then there were the pros who traveled around and tried to play in as many tournaments as possible, and saw the competitive side of the sport as much bigger than anyone could (at that time) have imagined. They considered themselves the “touring pros” and wanted some separation from the “club pros.”

Similar to today’s fishing world, a piece of technology is why the touring pros envisioned just how big golf and its economic impact could become. That piece of technology — television. There was now a way for golf to be seen by the masses, which not only creates more interest and viewers, but more participation and thus more club, ball, shoe and apparel sales.

This group of touring pros wanted something to happen bad enough, in their lifetime, that they spent much of their own time and money to help ensure that it did happen. They could have been focusing more on their own game and personal sponsorships, but they saw the bigger picture was better for them and the game. Sure, they may have “pressured” the PGA of America a little much, which is not what I suggest we do with our tours, but they cared enough to act — that’s the point here. These players were a driving force for golf to become the cash cow that it is today, and they rightfully were able to reap in some of the financial gain for the hard work and vision they’d put in.

Among some of the presidential names that helped bring the PGA Tour into existence were Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Lee Trevino. Do we have names like those, who have big enough connections that they can help introduce or facilitate some deals that may lead to speeding up the timeline for an Elite Kayak Tour? 

I know, I know; we don’t have any ownership in these tours and this isn’t our job or concern. Sure, you can have that attitude, but I know just how hard and time consuming it is to run a national tour and what a little help or inspiration it can be to see the participants caring enough to focus on more than what they can take. The golfers that helped develop the PGA Tour realized this and that collectively the sport itself is a “team.” History is showing us how to get where we want to go, the quickest, but will we listen?

I’m not sure if George H.W. had a “wing man” the first time he met Barbara, or if Reagan had a “matchmaker” friend set him up with Nancy, but what would it hurt if we did a little matchmaking or marketing ourselves to help these tours further garner the support and funding needed to take it to a pro tour level? It’s hard work trying to build that on their own, and we can either sit back and do nothing, or we can use our connections to maybe help make a match. If you think about it, we as anglers, collectively, have more connections, social influence and sponsorship partners than the tours themselves.

I’m not saying these have to be “first lady” quality, but every new partner introduction or social media post that helps promote the tours or gets more anglers at events could help us get to our collective goal of having a pro tour with bigger payouts and live coverage.

I know, this is a little selfless, which just seems like a foreign concept these days. You may think, “Well I don’t know any big sponsors so there isn’t really anything I can do.” You may not have those connections, but we all have a social media/marketing influence. Each post about these tours and the tournaments they’ve worked hard to set up can collectively help the field sizes grow, which in turn gets us closer and closer. Let’s not forget what the YouTubers taught us about the power of collective collaboration, and how big something can become when you band together. 

There are many ways we can help the sport grow so don’t feel like there is nothing you can do. One thing I was able to do is start a public (and free) fantasy league for kayak fishing, which follows all three major tours and all the anglers. This helps promote the anglers on our trails, the tours themselves and gets fans more engaged which equates to more “clicks,” which the sponsors of course love to see. It’s truly a win-win-win-win. If anyone is interested in playing by the way, the Paddle N Fin group has taken over running it for me (so I can be neutral), and you can join in this year at this this link.  

We’re all in this all together — tour, anglers and sponsors. So, are you an angler like me? Do you believe in the value these tours bring to communities, sponsors and anglers? Are you tired of what feels like kayak anglers trying so hard to promote one tour over the other, even to the point of negative campaigning against certain ones? If so, let’s try a collective, positive approach that can take us up this Kayak Elite Series mountain a whole lot quicker. 

So, I repeat, “Ask not what your tournament trail can do for you, but what you can do for your tournament trail.” You get the John F. Kennedy voice that time?

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