Sea Kayaking Personalities: Are YOU a Herbert?

by Nancy Soares on December 4, 2017

“Herbert was a minor official notorious for his limited and rigid patterns of thought.” – First Officer Spock, from the original Star Trek episode “The Way to Eden”

We should tackle reality in a slightly jokey way, otherwise we miss its point. – Lawrence Durrell

Bah, humbug! – Ebenezer Scrooge

The Tsunami Rangers are known for extreme sea kayaking but we embrace the whole sea tribe. We like sea and river kayakers, touring kayakers, whitewater kayakers and kayak surfers. We like long boats, short boats, skirted boats and surf skis, boats of wood, plastic, fiberglass and kevlar, and we like inflatables. We like wing paddles, Greenland paddles and single bladed paddles. We also embrace SUPers, board surfers, outrigger canoeists and dragon boaters as part of our family of wave riders. If it’s a paddle sport we’re in. Share the waves!

Share the waves!

Share the waves!

We embrace everyone and we also mock everyone, including of course, ourselves. Light-hearted mockery (as opposed to mean-spirited mockery) has always been part of the Tsunami Ranger way. Eric was the king of mockery. He was also very generous and enthusiastic and he felt that people get a little too serious, almost grim, about our sport. Eric wrote a post about this phenomenon, and the comments on the piece are priceless

Star folk. They look just like Sea Gypsies!

Star folk. They look just like Sea Gypsies!

Take the Ladies of the Lake Symposium that’s held every August in Michigan. They have a costume party (Sea Gypsy/Reef Madness anyone?) on a Saturday night. Bill Thompson, the founder of the symposium said, “We thought we can’t do that! That’ll never fly.” But he also said that now the party is as important as the kayaking and they’ve been partying for over a decade. It’s all about bringing like-minded people together and having fun.

Capt. Kuk and Honorary Tsunami Ranger Kenny Howell en regalia

Capt. Kuk and Honorary Tsunami Ranger Kenny Howell en regalia

How about Audrey Sutherland and her inflatable kayak? No one disrespects Audrey for her sou’wester and rubber boots. Audrey achieved more in her rubber ducky than most kayakers will ever do in their state of the art sea kayaks. Without audacity and individuality where would kayaking be today? B-o-r-i-n-g, or worse, non-existent.

I remember inviting some newbie kayaker friends to the Sea Gypsy Race one year. They turned me down. They disdained our boisterous, devil-may-care approach. Costumes? You want me to dress up?? They missed a good race and a good party. HERBERTS!!! When Eric quoted Spock he always threw in the word “nay-saying”. Even though nay-saying wasn’t in the original quote, I can see how Eric made the connection. 

No Herberts here!

No Herberts here!

In the Tsunami lexicon the word Herbert refers to people (not just kayakers) who take themselves Very Seriously. People with no sense of humor. People with a herd mentality. The term comes from an original Star Trek episode in which it was chanted to mock the uptight.

In the spirit of letting our hair down for the holidays, here’s a question: are you a little uptight? Would you benefit from lightening up a bit? In short, Are YOU a Herbert? When Eric paraphrased the Star Trek quote above, he added a few adjectives. Based on those adjectives here are six questions to help you find out: 

  1. Are you rigid? Rigid means stiff, inflexible, firmly fixed, strict, not deviating. Do any of these words describe your approach to kayaking (or anything else)? Do you stretch your mind as well as your body? Have you tried something new lately with regard to kayaking (or anything else)? Things are always changing. Are your opinions firmly fixed, or can you change your mind about stuff? I have heard it said that those who can’t change their minds can’t change anything. Something to think about.
  2. Are you hidebound? When referring to humans hidebound means obstinate, bigoted, narrow-minded, and prejudiced. For example, when you paddle out to the line up and see SUPers and board surfers do you greet them with smiles…or frowns or a frozen stare? When we put others down, it gives us a bit of an ego boost because it momentarily puts us on top. But that’s an illusion and it’s temporary.
  3. Are you unimaginative? Can you tolerate negative capability? For example, even if you only paddle certain boats under certain conditions can you imagine what it would be like to do it differently? Can you appreciate what others do even if it’s not the way you do it?
  4. Are you limited and narrow-minded? Do you profess a narrow definition of what constitutes “true” sea kayaking or do you embrace alternative approaches? Do you have a limited opinion about how people are supposed to behave on the water? Like, if someone accidentally falls out of their kayak and cracks up laughing at themselves do you look down your nose? Or can you appreciate the slapstick quality of a harmless crash and burn?
  5. Is your ego wounded if you have to swim? Did you muff that roll? Did you get stuck on that rock and have to hump off? Not that that’s a problem but if you’re embarrassed or trying to act like it didn’t happen, Beware! You may be – gaspa Herbert! Always remember, a good beat-down makes a good campfire story.
  6. Last but not least, are you a nay-sayer? How often do say “no”? How often do you say “yes”? And why? Someone once told me that 75% of our thoughts are negative. When I started looking at my own thoughts I was dismayed to note how negative, judgmental, and critical many of my thoughts were. I’ve been working on that ever since, replacing “no” with “yes” and the negative with the positive whenever I can. 

I generally kayak with people who laugh and yell and occasionally come out of their boats as they get smacked around by the ocean because they’re not afraid to push themselves and make mistakes and learn. I’ve also kayaked (much less) with people who never cracked a smile and stayed rigidly upright. I don’t get that. Tim Shuff in a past article in Adventure Kayak said he “embraces both the playful and serious sides of paddling”. That’s a healthy outlook.

Sea Gypsies and silliness -the Tsunami Ranger Extreme Sea Kayaking Race 2003Gy

Sea Gypsies and silliness -the Tsunami Ranger Extreme Sea Kayaking Race 2003

Safety comes first and we need to educate ourselves about equipment and skills. But you can’t learn to walk if you don’t fall down, or kayak without tipping over once in awhile. Embrace the fuckups like you embrace the air and the water and the view! Embrace your fellow paddle sport enthusiasts! Together we can do great things like push the boundaries of our respective sports, clean up the environment, and enjoy the beauty and the splendor and the wonder of the ocean. We can have FUN!   

Because it's FUN!!!

Because it’s FUN!!!

I’d like to leave you with a quote from Virginia Marshall, past editor of Adventure Kayak Magazine: “The only thing I truly fear as a kayaker is the day that no one paddles…because it’s too dangerous – or worse, too boring.” As Liquid Fusion’s Jeff Laxier once asked in an ocean whitewater class, “Why do we do this?” Then with a self-deprecating grin he answered himself: “Because it’s FUN!”  In that class I got stuck on a rock and had to hump off AND later fell over on my face for no reason. And it was FUN. Bingo!

What do you think about Herberts? Or Star Trek? Or hell, any old thing! Talk to us by sharing below. 

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim Kakuk December 4, 2017 at 10:50 am

Hubristic herberts go to hell in a handbasket.


Nancy Soares December 4, 2017 at 12:06 pm

Hahaha! Indeed they do.


tOM December 4, 2017 at 9:38 pm

I say embrace your inner Herbert, walk him to the door and kick his ass out. Then, laugh your ass off at what a dillweed you can be and don’t forget it.


Nancy Soares December 5, 2017 at 11:39 am

Amen, brother!


Steve King December 5, 2017 at 10:25 am

The good news is that herbertism is not necessarily a permanent condition, it can be a “state of mind” and any Herbert can indeed evolve and resolve to be as goofy as any us Rangers and all of our water loving sisters and brothers!


Nancy Soares December 5, 2017 at 11:46 am

Absolutely, Steve! Swami Vivekananda says: “Everything that we are is the result of habit. That gives us consolation, because if it is only habit we can make and unmake it at any time…The only remedy for bad habits is counter habits; all the bad habits that have left their impressions are to be controlled by good habits…Never say any man is hopeless, because he only represents a character, a bundle of habits, which can be checked by new and better ones. Character is repeated habits, and repeated habits alone can reform character.”

Nothing is fixed and everything changes, so there is hope for every Herbert on the planet 🙂


Carl White December 7, 2017 at 12:24 pm

A fun article, one that certainly applies to the group-paddling experience. It is less relevant to the (mostly) solo paddler or to those who paddle only with one or two companions of long-shared habits of mind. Most of my kayaking is done solo, as solo allows me the most intense, least distracted interaction with my surroundings. That intense involvement with my boat, the sea-state, the weather, the shoreline, the wildlife, clouds, cats-paws on the water moving toward me, the surge and gurgle of the tiderace around me–all this is set within another space than is addressed by a discussion of Herbertism. Or it may represent a plus side to Herbertism if some aspects of Herbertlike behavior permit a more intense–egocentric, if you will–focus on the immediate euphoric joys of being out on the water, just you (me) and the world surrounding. If I know anything about the variety of human behavior, Virginia Marshall’s biggest fear that no one will be paddling because it’s too dangerous or too boring has no chance of ever being realized.


Nancy Soares December 9, 2017 at 1:55 pm

Hi Carl. Glad you enjoyed this post. I agree that solo paddlers are likely not to be Herberts. Herberts may or may not be loners but one thing for sure, they take the fun out of everything by insisting on adherence to rule for rule’s sake, by being unable to think outside the box, and by choking off innovation. A solo paddler by definition is not following a herd. It takes guts and a willingness to embrace the experience of being in the wilderness alone to paddle solo, because the minute you’re on the ocean you are experiencing wilderness, no matter how close to “civilization” you may be. I also think you’re right that Marshall’s fear has no chance of being realized. There are too many kayakers out there who are pushing boundaries and refusing to be dictated to by the masses. Let’s just say the kayakers in my life are some of the most interesting, active, and thoughtful people I’ve ever met. And they’re not afraid to buck trends and push alternative view points. Thanks for your comment!


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