Scott Fairty never sought a microphone or a spotlight. Despite that fact, through his smooth as melted-butter paddling skills, his laconic wit, and his taciturn demeanor, he will go down as one of the greatest paddle sports coaches who has ever lived. Scott coached at the very highest level of the sport. He paddled across multiple disciplines (white water, sea kayaking, stand up paddling, and canoeing). The lessons learned from Scott transcend paddling. My involvement with Scott began in the rising tide of Sea Kayaking popularity in the late 90s to the early 2000’s. Scott taught me to roll in 1998 in the Schoolcraft College pool through Great River Outfitters. He had no memory of it. I find that fact strangely comforting. The person who was given the “thing” places so much more value on it than the person giving the “thing”. Scott lived to improve paddlers. In my time as a paddler and as a coach, it’s funny to think about how rare that is. I’m telling you, unicorn-level rare. During that aforementioned rising tide of celebrity, many paddlers rose to heights of fame and notoriety within the sport. Scott existed outside of that sphere.
As a coach and as a friend Scott’s genius snuck up on you. He gave you simple challenges to your ideas and pre-conceptions about why we did things the way we did them. Why do a task in 6 paddle strokes, if you could do it in 2? Why risk your body doing something the hard way? Is it easier another way? Everything was about reducing things to their smallest possible components. Even during the Covid lockdown he was making videos at home about skills. We shared comments back and forth about video content and concepts. Who does that unless you really love what you do? He loved putting ideas into the air and seeing if they worked. His experimentation and creativity often astounded me. His coaching would give you an idea simple and effective with minimal chit-chat. At the end you knew you had to go away, practice, and think on it. The whole community of paddlers who have interacted with Scott have their “a-ha” moment. cue “TAKE ON ME”
Scott had a few simple rules for paddling that I learned from him. These probably extend into life as well.
1. Try it, see if it works.
2. Risk Vs. Reward.
3. Bring everyone back alive.
Try it and see if it works was paramount to who Scott was. Evidence based coaching. He wasn’t interested in your opinion. Could you actually do the thing in the environment you wanted to do it in? If not, go kick rocks.
Risk vs. Reward Many, many of us have tried to cash checks our bodies didn’t have in the account. In my personal experience I have a little Scott Fairty voice about paddling. Is this thrill worth the risk? If the thrill of the ride is great, but the risk of dying is high, maybe you shouldn’t do it? We all have a story where Scott looked at us and said, “I wouldn’t have done that!” And you knew that came from experience.
Bring everyone back alive. Simply put, paddling is supposed to be fun. There is inherent risk in paddling big waves, or fast-moving water. But, Scott knew because he had a family at home, nothing is worth the ultimate price. We would often state course aims at the beginning of the day, and Scott would say, “Everyone should come back alive”. I now think he wasn’t kidding. It was his passion and his art. But to enjoy it you have to live to tell the tale.
We will do our best at the 10th Gales to pay tribute to someone that helped found, lead, organize and mentor all of us as best we can.