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The Fashionable Sea Kayaker

Helping Your Clothes Tell Better Stories

As a fanatical devotee of outdoor fashion trends, I recently posed two questions to the online chatbot ChatGPT to see what guidance it could provide to the paddling public. Here is its guide to avant-garde kayaker wear. Here too are the follow-up questions that you, dear reader, might wish to pose to BC Marine Trails’ resident fashion expert – me! – along with my answers, hard-won from decades of paddling experience.

Jerry: What is the stylish, fashion-forward sea kayaker wearing these days?

ChatGPT: Sea kayakers generally prioritize functional clothing and gear over fashion when choosing what to wear for a paddling adventure. However, there are many companies that offer stylish and fashionable options for water sports apparel and accessories. Some popular styles for sea kayakers include:

  1. Quick-drying, moisture-wicking tops and bottoms: These garments are made from synthetic materials that help to keep the skin dry and comfortable and are available in a range of colors and styles.
  2. Rash guards: Rash guards are lightweight tops that are designed to protect the skin from abrasion and sunburn. They are often made from stretchy, quick-drying materials and can be worn on their own or as a base layer.
  3. Drysuits: Drysuits are waterproof suits that are designed to keep the wearer completely dry in wet conditions. They are typically made from durable materials and come in a range of colors and styles.
  4. Water shoes: Water shoes are designed to provide good traction and protection for the feet while in and around water. They are available in a variety of styles and colors, including sandals and boots.
  5. Sunglasses: Sunglasses are an essential accessory for sea kayakers, as they help to protect the eyes from the sun’s rays and glare off the water. Look for sunglasses with polarized lenses, which can help to reduce glare and improve visibility.
  • In addition to these items, there are also practical considerations for the sea kayaker, such as the weather and sea state, and the length and location of their trip.

Although later versions of ChatGPT will undoubtedly improve, I felt this version neglected important aesthetic concerns – in particular with respect to hats and mid-layers. So I challenged it to produce something more creative.

Jerry: Can you write me a poem about sea kayak fashion, adventure, and waves?

Chat GPT:
The sea kayak beckons me to come
To embrace the waves and have some fun
I dress in layers, ready for the weather
Quick-drying clothes and a wetsuit together

With my waterproof rain gear, I’ll stay dry
Sunglasses on, catching rain from the sky
Warm layers for when the wind does blow
And water shoes for wherever I go

A rash guard to protect me from the sun
A drysuit for when the day is done
Fashion may not be my main concern
To look and feel my best, I yearn

So I bring along some stylish flair
To complement my love for the water’s care
As I paddle through the waves with glee
I’m a fashionable sea kayaker, wild and free

ChatGPT knocked it out of the park with the last couplet which, I think, should really resonate with my fellow floating fashionistas. But some of its other lines, frankly, seem a bit off. Does water ‘care’, for example? The last wave that almost capsized me didn’t seem to. And paddlers don their drysuits before heading out, not ‘when the day is done’.

To avoid a cascade of calamitous fashion faux pas along our scenic BC Marine Trails, I’ve tried to answer below the burning questions that readers like you might wish to pose to glamorous paddlers like me.

Reader: Is there a “wrong” look for kayakers?

Jerry: My advice would be to avoid brand-new, matchy-matchy, totally colour coordinated outfits. That look marks you as a newbie who just rushed out and bought everything all at once. Soaked-n-Freezing is also a look to be avoided.

Avoid the Soaked-n-Freezing Look
Real Kayakers Have Salt Stains

Reader: Is there a “right” fashion look for kayakers, and if so what is it?

Jerry: In the movie Zoolander, a male model heroically saves the day with a pouty-lipped ‘look’ he calls Blue-Steel. My advice for paddlers seeking to upgrade their fashion game is to experiment with different looks until you find the one that’s right for you. Call it Wetsuit-Chic, Off-Grid Grizzly, Adventure-Mom, Kayak-Warrior, Spark-burn, Beach-Queen. Call it whatever you like… and make it your own. High-status paddlers lean towards salt stains, a smattering of spark burns, patches of duct tape, and at least one article of clothing over a decade old. High-visibility oranges and yellows are a “classic” colour scheme popular with paddling A-listers. I’m personally hoping the new Barbie movie will herald a return to the neon colour palette I remember so fondly from the Miami Vice era. Whatever your favourite look, the most important thing is this: You do You!

Off-Grid Grizzly Look
Adventure-Mom Look
New Barbie Movie Giving a Boost to Neon
Classic High-Vis Colour Palette

Reader: Is the Gorpcore look still in vogue?

Jerry: You bet! Gorpcore is one of the hottest looks in streetwear fashion. ‘Gorp’ in this case refers to the hiking snack ‘good old raisins and peanuts’. The ‘look’ isn’t about snacks or a single product like a Gore-Tex jacket. It’s about a whole style aesthetic, an attitude, a lifestyle…an identity. The key to it is wearing hardcore technical outdoor gear in casual urban settings. Although the Gorpcore term was officially coined in 2017, the aesthetic didn’t go viral until the pandemic. People were locked inside, and they yearned to escape into the outdoors. No longer commuting to work, many realized the advantages of wearing comfy durable outdoor clothes all day long. Instagrammers, fashion influencers and fashion mags spread the look on social media. Technical outdoor brands like Arc’teryx, Patagonia, and Helly Hanson caught on and soon the look migrated from the mountain to main street. North Face and Gucci teamed up to go after the luxury market. Even the rapper Drake took up the Gorpcore look. In his 2022 music video ‘Sticky’ he’s shown initially wearing a technical jacket in a high-vis yellow popular with kayakers. Later he’s shown lounging in a camp chair beside a river wearing lux fishing gear – an Arc’teryx jacket, technical rain pants, a Baltic Flyfisher inflatable lifejacket, and Everest boots. Many fashion insiders consider Drake’s video the leading edge of a soon-to-be-viral ‘Gorpcore meets kayak-wear’ look. Soon Instagrammers and fashion influencers will jump in, and after them the big kayak-wear brands like Kokatat and Mustang are sure to follow. So go ahead. For your next night out at the club or office Christmas party, don’t be shy. Put on that kayaking drysuit. Accessorise with a contrasting lifejacket and some badass boots. Shake your booty on the dance floor. You’ll dance confidently, knowing you’re part of a bold new fashion trend. And as you shimmy past your many admirers, you’ll hear them oohing and aahing and saying to each other “that look is so hot!”

Reader: What’s the big deal with base layers?

Jerry: Base layers are the first building block of any adventure wardrobe. They keep you warm when wet and wick moisture away during high-output activity. But thinking of base layers in purely functional terms overlooks their fashion potential. A well-fitted base layer can add a ‘pop’ of unexpected colour to your outfit…and also double as “adventure lingerie”. The fibres used in base layers have changed over the years and there has recently been a shift toward made-by-nature merino wools that don’t itch, smell, or shed plastic fibres when washed. Base layer styles, however, are timeless in their simplicity. I’ve personally been wearing the same blue polypropylene quick-dry base layer on EVERY paddling trip for the last 30 years. And it’s still in style! I almost had a heart attack this year when my blue shirt acquired a nasty stain on the Salish Sea Marine Trail. After a few runs through the wash, the shirt looks sorta okay…from the front anyways. No one looks at my back, and if they do, I can’t tell. The shirt should be good for another 10 years at least.

Blue Shirt 30 Years Ago
Blue Shirt in 2022

Reader: If I invest in de rigueur base layers, won’t standard-issue safety accessories like wetsuits, drysuits, PFD’s and pepper spray drag my look down?

Jerry: No way! They can be downright sexy. There’s nothing more desirable than a capable partner with a ready can of pepper spray strapped to their waist when a bear saunters out of the woods towards you. Wetsuits and drysuits delay hypothermia and dramatically extend survival time during cold-water immersion. The Still-Breathing look is an enduring ‘classic’ for paddlers that never goes out of style. Drysuits come in brighter colours and offer better protection from the elements than wetsuits, but they’re more expensive and can turn into saunas on warm days. Wetsuits are a great budget option, but can also cause over-heating. They come mainly in black, which is slimming and pairs well with brightly coloured paddling jackets and PFD’s. The high-fashion paddler wraps themselves not in Coco Chanel or Versace but in quality safety gear. It marks you as a daring adventurer, prepared for any crisis. After a near disaster on Day 2 of our 600-km paddle from Bella Bella to Tofino, Julee and I made it a rule to wear wetsuits any time we were in remote areas far from a bail-out point or help. During the trip, Julee pioneered a new look I call Wetsuit-Chic™.

Julee's Initial Foray Into Wetsuit-Chic
Updated Wetsuit-Chic Look With Pepper Spray Accent Piece

Reader: Why do I keep hearing about mid-layers?

Jerry: Here in British Columbia, mid-layers and hats are where the fashion action happens. The right mid-layer is the key to rocking your coastal kayaker look. You can never have too many mid-layers in your closet. Devotees like me believe fashion-forward paddlers need mid-layers for every climate and social situation. Mid-layers for warmer and for colder. Mid-layers for stacking with base layers, outer-layers and other mid-layers. Mid-layers for paddling. Mid-layers for lazing around a campfire. Mid-layers for dining on a restaurant patio. Mid-layers in wool, fleece and puffy jackets, in plaids, solids and stripes. Julee was dismayed when I recently brought home a new yellow puffy jacket to join the orange one I already have. “Totally different niches,” I told her. “One is yellow and the other orange. One is new and dressy the other wrinkled and frayed. One has more fill inside and the other packs up smaller. Totally different niches. I need both.” Marie Kondo comes into play mainly when you’re packing for a specific trip. Starting from your closet full of mid-layers that all ‘spark joy’, cull down to a short-list that helps you paddle ‘wild and free’ – but comfortably – in your planned location and season. For the final cut, function trumps joy. I take two or three mid-layers on every trip, paired for optimal versatility per cubic centimeter in a stuff sack.

Fashion tip: always keep one mid-layer dry for apres-paddle, selfies and warmth.
Confession: if I kept only two or three mid-layers in my closet, I’d save myself a lot of fashion angst making that final cut.

Mid-layers are Where The Real Fashion Action Happens

Reader: What’s trending in outer layers these days?

Jerry: Outer-layer fashion has a been a bit of a dead zone for decades. Material quality keeps improving and everything these days has a prominent label that makes you feel like a walking billboard, but an outer layer from 30 years ago still works today both functionally and for kayaking cred. My paddling jacket and rain pants from 30 years ago are living proof – I still use both. Colour palettes haven’t changed much either. Cold-weather paddlers still prefer yellow, orange, and red paddling jackets that contrast nicely with black wetsuits and the ocean’s blue-grey tones. However, my own paddling jacket is light blue – originally chosen to be twinsies with Julee and make us feel like a team on our 600-km paddling odyssey from Bella Bella to Tofino. One day, a mouse gnawed holes in the jacket to get at sunflower seeds I’d mistakenly left in the pocket. Now, every time I see the holes in the jacket, it triggers happy memories of that amazing paddle with Julee. The jacket is delaminating a bit on the inside, but I only paddle in warm weather so it should be good for another 10 years.

High-vis Paddling Jackets as Part of the Still-Breathing Look

Reader: Is that personal backstory connecting you to an article of clothing a common element in kayak fashion?

Jerry: Any article of clothing with a good story attached is priceless. My favourite paddling jacket is the one with the mouse holes. I might never get rid of it. My favourite cycling shirt is the one with stains from a nasty bike crash permanently imbedded in the left shoulder. Bad crash. Great story. Now that was a memory. I once met a paddler who’d been bitten by a polar bear on the leg and dragged part way out of his tent before a shotgun blast through the tent roof scared the bear away. If he still has those pants, he should keep patching them up with duct tape and wear them forever! They’d be a great conversation opener around any campfire. Most kayakers agree: it ain’t about the stuff you’re wearing, it’s about where your stuff has been. Your mission as a kayaker isn’t to fill your closet with clothes, it’s to help the clothes you already have tell better stories.

Reader: What about hats?

Jerry: Hats are where paddlers can make their biggest statement about attitude, values and personal style. One of our BCMT Board member prefers wide-brimmed hats with one side folded jauntily up, Aussie-style, to show off his chiseled jawline and adventurous personality. With her fair skin, Julee prefers hats with wide-brims folded down to function as a sunblock. On the West Coast of Vancouver Island, my middle son improvised a Laurence-of-Arabia look with a towel to avoid getting blasted with beach sand blown up by gale force winds. I prefer a minimalist baseball cap, especially when travelling in Europe where a hat with the BC Marine Trails logo makes a great conversation starter.

BC Marine Trails Hat: Always a Good Conversation Starter
Brim-up or Brim-down?
The Right Hat Can Pull Together Any Look - You Do You!

Reader: Teen fashion?

Jerry: Teen fashion would be a good thing. For my own teen boys, avoiding foul smells was my main goal.

Reader: What should someone wear to a BC Marine Trails beach clean-up event?

Jerry: Whatever they want! All comers welcome. You get instant cred by flashing a BC Marine Trails branded baseball cap or toque at the clean-up. Rugged work gloves make a good accent piece.

Teen kayaking
The Basic-Black Look Popular With Teens
Beach Clean-up Look

Reader: What about the “distressed” look that’s so popular these days – acid washed jeans with holes in the knees for example?

Jerry: Totally rocks! And not just for clothing. Duct tape repairs can be a pièce de résistance for tents, spray skirts, Thermarest pads, paddling jackets…you name it. Julee and I recently started a business burning spark holes and smearing coffee stains onto kayak gear to give it an haute couture distressed look we call Kayak-Warrior™. For the right price, we’d consider selling you some from the back of our garage. For orders of $500 or more, we throw in a complimentary 3-litre boxed wine called Chateau de Duct Tape™.

Working on Our Spark Burns

Reader: BC Marine Trails claims to be about “linking and protecting the BC coast”. But are marine trails really just long fashion runways for paddlers to show off their latest outdoor gear?

Jerry: Yes, you can think of it that way…once you realize that for the paddling community, “fashion” includes bright orange paddling jackets, wetsuits, salt stains and duct tape. It’s a pretty exclusive, but booming, market. Last year BC Marine Trails sold nearly $200 of branded merchandise and the growth curve is pretty steep. Watch for the latest looks to make their way from the back of our garage onto the fashion runways in Paris and Milan. Fashionistas everywhere will be talking about British Columbia’s Kayak-Warrior™ and Wetsuit Chic™ avant garde looks.

Reader: If you had to pick one thing the fashion-conscious paddler should pack on every trip, what would it be?

Jerry: A smile. It costs nothing, weighs nothing, fits any size, looks good salt-stained and is easy to pack in a kayak. On every trip, plan to bring one!

THE Most Important Fashion Piece - A Smile!
Always smile when kayaking
Bring a Smile on Every Trip

Jerry & Julee Kaye

Jerry and Julee have been exploring the coast of British Columbia by kayak and sailboat for over 35 years. They live in Vancouver.

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