The Art of Giving Back

Flying with a kayak = Anywhere from $50-$250.
Flying with a paddle = Anywhere from $50-$150
Giving the gift of gear to an up and coming paddler = priceless.

Let’s be honest. Travelling with a kayak, paddle, and gear isn’t always easy. You are almost always guaranteed to pay excess baggage fees, even without a boat. But what is a kayaker to do? It can be hard to find the right gear in other countries, and losing valuable days on the river on a paddling trip almost always feels worth the cost of getting your gear there. But what about when you go home?

When travelling to other countries for paddling trips, many kayakers decide to give the gift of gear to up and coming local paddlers rather than pay the expensive baggage fees on the way home. On the surface, this kind of charity in action is RAD. But is this always the best option?

I think when done right, leaving or selling gear rather than paying to fly it home can be an excellent choice, but there are few key things to consider.

Photo by Kalob Grady

First, is your gear in usable condition that will be safe for whoever has it next?
Second, can you easily replace your gear back home? What do you have coming up? If you can easily replace (or even better, have pre-ordered replacement gear in anticipation of leaving yours behind) then it is a no-brainer. But how can you go about it in the right way? Personally, I think one of the hardest things to determine when giving the gift of gear is whether or not to charge for your equipment.

When I lived in Uganda, paddlers would routinely donate or leave their gear behind, which while well-intended, can create a culture of expectation that can be uncomfortable for others in the future. One inadvertent result of this generosity was that many kids or local paddlers would then befriend or approach visitors in hopes of being left a “gifty.” It is a phenomenon I have seen develop in many other paddling communities around the world.

Yes, the reality is that any paddler who can afford gear and afford to travel internationally to paddle is likely infinitely better off financially than many of the local paddlers of the area you are visiting, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we should feel obligated to give our gear away for nothing. Gear costs money, and if you are giving something away, you will need to replace it. I think there are several key factors to consider in determining the value of your gear in other countries.

First, what is it worth to you? How much of a “loss” are you willing to take to give the gift of whitewater to someone else? You don’t need to make money off a sale, but I think that by “selling” your gear, you add value to it and create value for it in the culture of your destination, rather than creating the expectation of getting something for free.

In setting a price, consider the cost of the gear, the cost of replacing the kit, and of course, the condition it is in. However, you should also consider what the reality of a daily wage is in the country you are visiting, and what is a realistic price. This will vary from place to place and item to item. Ask around, see what others have sold their gear for, and commit to whatever decision you make. If it doesn’t make sense for you, that’s okay too.

Second, how easy is it for paddlers where you are to buy and access quality gear?

Third, what do you want to get out of leaving your gear behind? Are you looking to help the local community, give a gift to a friend you have made, or just make your life easier by not having to tote wet, cumbersome luggage home?

On my recent trip to India, I had zero intentions of selling my gear, as most of it was still relatively new. However, when someone approached me asking to buy a full set of equipment for their daughter who was just learning to kayak, I had a hard time saying no. The reality is getting quality gear in a lot of places isn’t easy, and I have extraordinarily easy access to whatever I need. So, I set a price that felt fair to me, which would help me replace the essential items I hadn’t planned on leaving behind, and then asked for one additional thing: photos and videos of my gear’s new owner as she worked on her skills.

Gear is just gear, things are just things, and money is just money, but seeing the stoke on someone’s face when they nail their first roll is something special. I’m glad to see my helmet, lifejacket, skirt, and paddle take on new life and have meaning to someone else- someone that maybe I’ll be able to paddle with when I come back to India.

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