We are River Surfers. Part one: Jacob Kelly Quinlan

Hey BP, thanks for sharing this opportunity with me.  I have read your blog for a very long time.  The We Are River Surfers post definitely pulled me in.  I think you have done a great job at shaping the culture of our sport in a number of areas.  Keep up the great work!


Dear River Surfers!

BP and I, among others, have been having an ongoing discussion about leash systems since probably the first day we met so I guess it seemed natural when she asked if we could move some of our conversation online to her blog. The thing we found ourselves discussing most wasn’t what would be the safest option for the river. No, it was how we may be able to open people up when it seemed people were already set in their ways. It’s not that either of us think we know everything there is to know about river surfing safety but our concern was that people weren’t seeing the whole story.

I came across this video that may have the answer.

In the video the presenter describes two mindsets. The Soldier mindset and Scout mindset. In a Soldier mindset we defend our opinions in hopes that our team will win.  A Scout mindset tries to look at the bigger picture, even if it means they will have to admit to being wrong.

The presenter goes on to tell a story of a French soldier who was accused of sending secrets to the German army. The man was falsely accused and locked away in prison. The soldiers who falsely accused him were quick to find evidence that would support their theory but didn’t break their pride and seek out the truth. Finally, someone asked the question, what if we’re wrong?

This is the thing that stands out for me in river surfing. As the world forms opinions about leash use in rivers we may be motivated to make our decisions based on a cognitive bias. It can be as simple as, well I already had an ankle leash from surfing in the ocean and that’s what I’ve used and because I’ve never seen a problem, I’m going to stick to it. But the truth is, leash death is real issue in our sport. Even though there has been very few cases of death, the sport is new and the number of surfers in rivers is small.  As the population grows so will the number of deaths if static leashes without a quick release system continue to be used. If leash death continues it makes it increasingly more difficult to build more waves.

I won’t go into detail of which leash systems are out there as there is good information on Riverbreak and on the walls of River Surfing Association’s pages. What I want to point out is the video presenter talks about a solider mindset choosing a side.

There seems to be division in our sport regarding which side of the argument to be on. Sides may be formed because of where you surf or what companies you support. Or perhaps old habits are hard to break. Maybe the leash alternatives that exist now still need further development before they are fit for river surfing. What is certain is that this argument should only have one side when it comes to leash death. If ankle leash users ask the question, “what if we’re wrong” the same way the soldiers did in the story the fatal consequences are clear.  If we see the whole story it is easier to work together on solutions to the problem.

Rather than falling for old habits we can help the next generation of river surfers break them before they set in. Rather than complaining about clunky systems that don’t work well with a surfboard we can work to refine or create new ones. River surfers are an incredibly diverse and capable bunch. I know if we work together the future is bright.

The thinking behind Surf Anywhere starting the River Surfing Accident Database was once people know the severity of what can happen in the river, it's harder to claim ignorance. Good information leads to good decisions.

BP, I know you feel more passionately about the issue as safety is number one with you. Especially when it comes to the next generation of river surfers. I love all the work you are doing with RVR 2 RVR. You have challenged my personal beliefs on leashes and helped me seek out alternatives to using a static leash on bigger waves. I hope others follow your lead to take whitewater safety courses and have a “Scout mindset” when thinking about the truth behind river surfing safety.  After all, we’re all in this together. We are river surfers.

- Jacob Kelly Quinlan


 Big thanks to Jacob Quinlan and all he does for the river surfing community. If you're interested in other works by Jacob visit his website www.jacobkellysurfs.com