World Citizenship–a sea kayaker’s perspective

by Eric Soares on October 10, 2011

Be the change you want to see in the worldMahatma Gandhi

Earth in 2011 is not ready to join Star Trek's UFP, but someday we will be.

To join the UFP (United Federation of Planets), a world’s peoples must be civil with each other and be scientifically evolved enough to have warp power (faster than light) space vehicles.  The Federation’s Prime Directive forbids advanced worlds to interfere with less developed planets, such as Earth in 2011.  Though a science fictional utopia, Star Trek’s Federation provides a model that we on Earth today could strive toward.  There’s not much we as individuals can do to develop warp-powered space ships, but we can contribute to making our planet worthy of inclusion in the UFP.  Assuming we want to get along with our own species, steward our planet, and advance enough to join other sentient beings in the galaxy, one wonders how would we do it?  How can we get the diverse peoples on our little planet to work together to join the Federation—or just enjoy a better world?  Here’s a sea kayaker’s simple solution:

Tolerate each other.  At the most nominal level, we don’t have to like each other, we just have to let others be.  Once we can tolerate and not set out to kill each other (e.g., the Middle East would be a good place to practice), then perhaps we could take the next step and accept each other.  We may still have mistrust, but we could work together and sit together at the same table without fussing and fighting.

Helen Wilson in Qaqortoq, Greenland in 2008, with kayakers (left to right) Dubside, Maligiaq, and Ari.

With all the strife occurring within and between nations, a bit of acceptance would be good.  Right now would be a propitious time for nations to put into practice some version of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, cobbled together by an international committee chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt and passed by most countries in the UN at that time. The gist of the Declaration is that all people have the right to be free, to be world citizens, with all that entails.  It seems so straightforward and doable….

These little girls, who live on the banks of the Rio Dulce in Guatemala, paddled up to our panga to see if we were interested in adopting a turtle.

If we look ahead and figure that if we can tolerate and perhaps accept others and their beliefs, interests, activities, occupations, and stations in society, perhaps we could take a leap and try to truly appreciate our fellow humans near and far.  It starts with appreciation of ourselves, then our family and friends, neighbors, countrymen, and then citizens of the world. That’s not very hard, really.

It can happen.  And we sea kayakers are just the people to do it—without assistance from governments or big organizations.  Since the earth is 2/3 ocean, and most cities lie near the sea, a lake, and/or navigable river, it’s natural for traveling sea kayakers to serve as universal ambassadors who show appreciation to the people they meet in the sea kayaking world.  Most kayakers who have paddled for more than a couple of years have made a journey to another country.

Young paddlers in Papua New Guinea greet Michael Powers and his paddling companion with happy enthusiasm.

For instance, nine out of 10 experienced American paddlers have boated in Mexico or Canada.  Some of my friends go to other countries and paddle just about every year.  I’m not much of an international voyager, but I’ve managed to paddle for weeks on end in the countries contiguous to the U.S.  I’ve also paddled in faraway New Zealand, lived in the Philippines for a year, and have visited Guatemala, Taiwan, Okinawa, Guam, China, and England.  I have kayaked in national destinations thousands of miles from where I live in Oregon—namely Georgia, Ohio, Alaska, and Hawaii.

Eric Soares and Satoru Yahata on Motukawanui in 2010. Satoru, as part of his ongoing Great Seaman Project, had paddled from southern Japan to the Philippines, and around Indonesia. His last paddling segment had been in Irian Jaya, where he was a big hit with everyone, especially the kids.

In 2010, I paddled to an island in New Zealand with a pod of Kiwis, Aussies, and Japanese.  Not only did we all get along, but we bonded and established strong friendships.  A week later, while at the Coastbusters Sea Kayak Symposium in Auckland, I made friends with a Canadian couple, a German guy who leads paddling trips down the entire Danube, and a lot of cordial Kiwis and Aussies.  (For more details, click on https://tsunamirangers.com/2011/01/12/sea-kayaking-in-new-zealand-part-two/ ).

In my country, I’ve paddled with visitors from Japan, Denmark, Australia, South Africa, Austria, Tajikistan, Cuba, Ireland, China, Hungary, Chile, and Russia, among others. I bet many of you have paddled with travelers from other nations.   I have found that everyone I meet through sea kayaking wants to spread the joy of appreciating nature and learning from each other.  And kids around the globe are especially eager to try sea kayaking and make new friends, wouldn’t you agree?

Kids in Chile enjoy reading stories of faraway lands in Sea Kayaker Magazine.

I don’t have faith in governments to unite the people of the world, and the UN doesn’t seem to promote its own Declaration of Human rights, but there’s no reason it can’t be done in a bottom-up fashion, one kayaker at a time. I may be pollyannish and simplistic, but I think we sea kayakers can make this water world’s people happier by sharing seas and souls.  All we have to do is what we’ve been doing—share what we know, learn from others, welcome visiting kayakers, travel to distant lands when we can, and appreciate the differences and similarities among us.  If we keep doing this at the rate we have, someday in the near future we will experience the 100th Monkey Principle; that is, we’ll reach a certain numerical threshold and suddenly everyone will learn and practice the positive behavior of reaching out and helping each other in this long journey through space.

In this photo by Galin Georgiev, Barbara Kossy and friends land on a beach on the Black Sea of Bulgaria. Barbara and Trip Kavarna contribute to Bulgaria with sustainable tourism.

In the future I hope to kayak in enchanting lands on this water planet, including the Azores, where my ancestors lie. I will keep in contact with my paddling friends around the world and in my own backyard.  Together, we can make Earth a bit more hospitable.  We can’t do it alone, but we can be a catalyst and model the way. Then someday, just maybe the United Federation of Planets will take notice of us Earthlings, and we will pass muster and be invited to join cosmic civilization.

Am I all wet?  Or is there some truth in what I’m saying, that sea kayakers can help the world be a better place by befriending one another and sharing the adventure and beauty of the sea?  Please let us know what you think by pushing the comment button below and posting your ideas.

If you have a good international sea kayaking friendship story to share, please do. I invite those who are embarking on an interesting paddle quest with people from other countries, staging an international paddling conference, or offering sea kayaking tours around the world to post a few words about what you do and leave a link so we can follow up. 

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

boyan October 10, 2011 at 9:07 am

Very nice story! Thanks for posting this.

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Joe O'Blenis October 10, 2011 at 9:21 am

Excellent bit of writing Eric. And so true!

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Padre jack October 10, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Right on, Eric!
I am with you 100%. Unfortunately lots of people show by their attitudes and actions they are not—including many (if not most) of my friends and relatives. And the “christian” churches—yes, even the “catholic” one—leave a lot to be desired in their policies and words. The answer is not, however, in changing religions. All religions have their exclusivity issues. Nor do I believe the answer lies in changing governments or citizenship. The answer has to be, as you suggested, rising above the present institutions in our attitudes and behavior.
The international corporations and the super-wealthy understand this. That is why they show allegiance to no one but themselves, while manipulating governments and exploiting citizens and resources.

I am working on a related theme, “Inculturation,” which refers to how cultures absorb religious and moral frameworks from other cultures.

Here are a couple of quotes from Jesuit theologians—one from India, the other from the Philippines—some may find interesting.

“But there is hope. [Asian] cultures have withstood the impact of European cultures during the colonial period and grown through creative interaction. They have also been able to integrate modern science and technology without any damage to their basic values. Asia has cultures that offer an alternative world view and value system to the dominant EuroAmerican culture that is consumer and competition oriented, detrimental to the body and to the earth. Asian cultures are positive to and integrative of the body and nature. While Euro-American cultures are individualistic, the Asian cultures are communitarian. They are sensitive to the ‘other’.” It is significant that many of the small groups that are trying out alternative life-styles often look to the Orient for inspiration.” —Amaladoss

“There is a fundamental “philosophy” of social change (and this includes change in the church as a human society) that most change agents, I would think, will subscribe to without much difficulty. And it is this, Broad change in people as societies will not take place effectively unless the people themselves participate freely and conscientiously in the process from beginning to end, setting ends, deciding on means, planning actions, assigning tasks, doing those tasks, evaluating them when done, trying new approaches, and so forth.” —Claver

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Chris Tomer October 10, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Thanks for the great read, I enjoyed the story and it is too bad that the world can’t get into this very simple concept. Thanks Eric . Keep up the great stories.
Keep using the gp. (redwood) it’s fun.
C.

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Nancy Soares October 10, 2011 at 3:36 pm

I remember the time we went to Molokai. Our jujitsu professor had told us to “go find the kahuna”. We kept it in mind, but didn’t really expect to run into a kahuna on sparsely populated Molokai, and we certainly weren’t about to “waste” our vacay running around trying to find one.

But the kahuna came to us. One morning we were down on the beach all by ourselves and a young man and a woman showed up ready to paddle across to Oahu in outrigger canoes. They were doing a paddle for some charity or other. With them was a kahuna ready to bless their trip. They asked us to join them, so the 5 of us got in a circle and held hands while the kahuna said a blessing in both Hawaiian and English. We felt a great energy, and sent our good wishes with the young couple. The kahuna said that the blessing was stronger for us contributing to the circle. We were happy to have helped. It was quite moving, and so easy, so serendipitous.

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John Soares October 10, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Eric, person-to-person interaction is a crucial way for citizens of different countries to build links with each other. Such bonds increase international cooperation and decrease the likelihood of war.

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Eric Soares October 10, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Thank you all for your comments and stories. Please, keep them coming.

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Wayne Hanley October 10, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Hi Eric,
September just past was an exercise in Sea Kayak international relations for my wife Mel and myself. It started as a simple invitation for us to attend the Ontario Greenland Camp in Canada, which seemed like a great idea, but a long way to go for just one event from Australia. As luck would have it the week before the OGC the Superior Kayak & Canoe Symposium was to be held, hosted by Joe O’Blenis, and he had also invited us to attend. So it was off to Canada (two different sides of Ontario). The epic did not stop there, the problem with Australia is, we are a long way from everywhere else, so when the invitation to attend GUTS2011 (Greenland Users Trial Stages 2011) in Japan the week after OGC came along, and as we were going to be out of the country anyway (that’s my justification) we decided to add it to the itinerary.
I regale this story to point out the very attitudes of which you have written. For the SKCS Joe was kind enough to put us up at his home, we trained with Helen Wilson (an American as you know), and a local paddler renowned for her hospitality Chris Johnston became our tour guide. For OGC when we mention some logistical problems to one of the organizers Dympna Hayes (Learn to Kayak Canada), she simply said “what problem, get on a plane, get off a plane, we will take care of the rest”, and they did. We trained with Cheri Perry and Turner Wilson of Kayak Ways (Americans), Maligiaq Padilla (Greenlander) and many good “Mentors” from Canada and the States. The infamous “Fat Paddler” Sean Smith another Aussie even dropped by for an afternoon on his way back from a Canadian wilderness Canoe trip.
GUTS in Japan started by us meeting up with Helen Wilson again (on her first visit to Japan) at the airport and helping her navigate the airport to airport train to bullet train connections. once at the area of the training/competition we were taken under the wing of a number of locals. We were housed at a local school, fed by the Japanese, taken to Onsens (hot springs) and entertained, all in all a great cultural experience. Even with the competition that was held, it was a team event with Mel and myself each being paired with a Japanese paddler. With the team of Mel and Eiichi Ito (Qajaq JPN) winning the event.
I’m fairly sure this qualifies as “a good international sea kayaking friendship story” if not, we once let a Tsunami Ranger roaming Australia sleep at our place. 🙂
Regards,
Wayne

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Eric Soares October 11, 2011 at 8:12 am

Wayne, your tale definitely counts as a good int’l friendship story! Thank you. It’s amazing how hospitality can smooth out travelers’ cares and keep them energized. I heard that Captain Kuk, the Tsunami Ranger you hosted, may be going Down Under again next February or March. Not sure what his destination is (I doubt he is either), but he is one who appreciates kindness such as yours. And he indirectly reciprocates, as he is showing the beautiful northern California coast to a Kiwi kayaker as I write.

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Patricia Soares October 11, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Loved the joyous photos and writing, Eric! Will be doing some paddling of sorts with a good friend next week – back to Maui.

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Eric Soares October 12, 2011 at 8:48 am

Maui is one of my favorite places on earth. In fact, I am in love with all the islands of Hawaii, each with its unique charms. I know you’ll have a good time paddling there and meeting new people who will assist you.

Bon voyage!

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Moulton Avery October 13, 2011 at 10:08 am

If you want proof of the theoretical possibility of humankind living in relative harmony as One World, you need look no further than our own United States.  Within our borders, a very diverse group of some 300,000,000 people live together peacefully.  It’s pretty remarkable, really.  

The fly in the ointment in replicating our model on a planetary scale is “resource allocation”: who gets what & how much of it.  More precisely, who takes what at whose expense.  That’s why we have first vs second vs third worlds; rich vs poor; have’s vs have not’s; our gang vs the “others”.  

The uber-rich who run the show aren’t exactly looking for opportunities to share their wealth and power, and are particularly skilled at pitting one hapless group or, on a larger scale, one hapless nation against another in a world where there’s simply not enough of the “good stuff” to go around.  

Limited resources + insatiable demand = an easy recipe for conflict, and history isn’t exactly wanting for examples in which the demonizing of “others” served as a pretext for robbing or killing them.

That rapacious “bait & switch” is a lot harder to pull off when people recognize each other’s common humanity.  After all, we all want the same basic things in life: nourishment, shelter, health, love, respect, happiness etc etc. 

For that reason alone, anything that builds common ground between any of us is a step forward.  Our Tribe of Sea Kayaking, as Eric points out, is a good example:  It’s hard to buy into scapegoating and demonizing Aussies once you get to know Fat Paddler, and the same holds true for any other group on earth.

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Eric Soares October 13, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Excellent, Moulton! You definitely should have your own blog; I mean it.

You said that we all want the same things in life–nourishment, shelter, etc. I agree. Just about every squared-away person I’ve met from any country (and as a retired university professor from an urban setting I’ve met people from all over the world) just wants those basic things in life, and that is why it’s so important for everyday people such as ourselves to empower each other so we can do what we want & exercise our freedoms, given the context of our governments.

As for the rich mega-industries and the people behind them, which Padre Jack alluded to earlier, they have their own agendas. But I think at the root, the uber-executives, just like the small fry people, also want nourishment, shelter, etc., but they operate from a fear-based mindset that makes them crave ever more power and riches to buffer them from what they perceive as a harsh world.

It amazes me that a poor family will share all that they have with a visitor, because they operate on a “make do with what you’ve got” worldview. They also know the world can be harsh, but they get by through sharing, not hoarding.

As Jimi Hendrix said, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” So it’s time to increase the power of love and see what happens.

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Kate Saalfeld October 13, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Love the article, pictures and the concept. Not sure it will work……but, it’s a good beginning.

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Doug Lloyd October 13, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Until we find meaningful peace within each of ourselves and an affective respect for all that is living and all that supports all that lives we will never find peace with our neighbours nor will the world find a manageable peace. Everything else is just talk…merely words — though words can be good if they spark imagination and positive change and corrective action. Our ocean is the life of this planet; until we treat the ocean with respect too, we have failed. At the very least, the relative health of our ocean is a reflection and metaphor for our success as a species.

Stop blaming dogmatic religionists, hemp or other substances, terrorists, politicians, Neptune, God and the devil, evolution, the media, corporations, Wall Street, or everybody and everything and anything else. Our problems are simply symptoms of collective society pursuing an agenda of anti-rational reality where we can’t seem to live and let live.

I know I achieve moments of true inner peace, simply a starting place, paddling upon the sea. There’s an up-vibe in the Flow, a connectedness with all that is — where even the very molecules of water I ply bear an literal international connectedness to the whole planet. On-water notions of profound mystery and a feeling of fundamental interconnectedness behoves an awareness that I must adapt and change for bettermen; these are some of the realities not lightly discounted even after the hull sits back atop the roof racks or cradled back on my kayak bike trailer.

Perceptions as above first came to a conscious level during my second year or so of kayaking (early 80’s) while attending a sea kayak symposium. Kayaking had hitherto been all about activity, adolescent-like adrenaline seeking, perhaps an unbeknownst attraction to a gentle hedonism, and a more simplified movement through the water without any particular spiritual assimilation. I attended a presentation by a group of media-savvy kayakers that weekend called the Tsunami Rangers, funnily enough as I thought their gonzo wave-mastery fit my criteria of why I took up kayaking. An upstart waterman-priest of the New Age, an inspiring if oddly regimented spokesman called Commander Eric Soares, narrated a series of clips featuring paddlers in tune with their seascape, drifting in and out of sea caves, exploring wash-overs, while “grocking” the ebb and flow of an existential, sea-born freedom that was suddenly, it seemd to me, so fully contemplative, comprehending and profoundly appreciative of their water planet and the activity they pursued. Simply put, at that moment, I knew I’d never sit in a sea kayak and be the same person again or see the world or the universe the same way.

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Eric Soares October 14, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Doug, I agree with you 100% that we must have “meaningful peace within” before we find a “manageable peace” with the world. And yes, it’s just not right to blame the the Other for all the ills in society. I would add to your thoughtful prose that though some (okay, many) people mess things up, we as individuals can make things better through example–even though we’re not perfectly at peace with ourselves (as that can take a lifetime or longer).

We can always strive to improve as human beings, to become more compassionate, more giving, more open to a variety of ideas.

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Roselle October 16, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Hey Eric, just loved the post. Couldnt get my eyes off the pictures, specially the 2 girls who on a boat came all the way to see your interest on that turtle. Really nice read. Great stuff. I am too having a keen interest in paddling. This surely boosts it. Looking forward to it now. Great one.

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Eric Soares October 16, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Paddling is fun, Roselle, as those 2 little girls attest. And yes, you meet great people!

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