Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Why I pan down on the Hoofer Outing Club

Wisconsin Hoofers was a big thing. It's a group of clubs started in the 1920s with might adventures in mind. Today there are six clubs,
In the past, there were other interesting Clubs like the Hoofer Hang Gliding Club etc as well. Risk management shut it down.

The history of the Hoofers is rife with mighty enterprise - things like the giant ski jump, multi day trips to Canadian back country which involved lugging canoes on trains to places that roads didn't go to, and going down waterfalls in canoes and kayaks.

Today, the clubs are only a diminished shadow of what they used to be - with the exception of the Sailing Club. The hoofer Sailing Club is a wonderful club to learn to sail with and meet and make new friends with. However, my focus for this article will be the Hoofer Outing Club which to me embodies what went wrong with the Hoofers.

Basically, the big problem is "old geezers". I don't mean any disrespect to old people by using that term - in fact, if you know me personally, you'd realize I have a lot of respect for the wisdom of the elderly.

If you take the Hoofer Sailing club, you'll see there's a lot of older sailors who are still part of the club. They work hard for the club, maintaining keel-boat fleets, supporting and encouraging student leaders etc. And in that sense, they become what is akin to wisdom-keepers of the club - they are that invaluable resource that members can reach out to when in need, to learn from and gain guidance from. And this one hoofer club is actually growing.

On the other hand, the Hoofer Outing club has a lot of "old geezers" like I mentioned. They don't become the wisdom-keepers of the club; rather they shove their way in to usurp leadership of the club, to the point where the club really no longer has student leaders - I crashed a "water safety board" meeting and asked how many of them were UW students - not one! Any "student leader" left in the club is literally a puppetry - followers of the old geezers. The club no longer really promotes creativity or outlandish ideas nor self improvement and engendering of responsibility in students, but is governed by the pedantic and over cautious safety policies of the old geezers. The obnoxious influence of said old geezers, I felt, has become a barrier to younger undergraduate students even coming to events with the club. Not to mention, the attitude of some of these older folks and graduate students about the undergraduate membership - that 'their only purpose is to finance fun for us' - put otherwise, 'they pay and we enjoy'.

The other manifestation of the "old geezer" problem in the club is the decline in quantity and quality of trips held. Basically, the club's safety policies have fallen to abysmally restrictive levels - they push bicycle helmets on people (where as the state of Wisconsin leaves it to personal choice, and there is statistics to back that helmets actually increase the chance of an accident), and need a swim test to canoe on streams that are not deep enough to come to one's waist (really, how are you going to swim in that?). They talk of class-I rapids like it's a life-threatening undertaking - it makes one remember the anecdote of the "Toad in the pond who thought the pond was the world" - really, your class I rapid is a risk free undertaking compared to something like hang gliding, or even long distance bicycling. A class I rapid is basically a couple of pebbles causing the stream to flow around it. Gone is the spirit of adventure and the enterprise to undertake challenging feats. Each year's calendar is a repeat of the previous years, with some fewer trips - and the club has literally lost the ability to envision altogether new trips. There's hardly any bicycling or hiking leaders. Really, when your competition is websites like http://www.meetup.com which is free, why would you pay the $55 to be part of such an inactive club? Like I said at the beginning, what used to be a phenomenon on campus - that which built the ski jump, and helped actively in dumping the "statue of liberty" in Lake Mendota, is now a club that many UW students graduate without even knowing about - all thanks to these old geezers.

And finally, some of the "old geezers" are strong political supporters, and don't have the decency to realize that it is inappropriate to use the club as a means to spread political opinions - they can't keep the club politically neutral. I would imagine, this would be rather discomfiting for many students whose political opinion does not necessarily align with that of the old geezer club.

To revive hoofers, and restore it to the glory of bygone days, the "old geezers" and the policies they have put in place MUST be given the boot from club leadership (and maybe even from the club altogether). One would assume age would give them the wisdom to step aside and allow students to take the reins to mold the leaders of tomorrow; but looks like it didn't quite work that way.

1. Please note, the term "old geezer" used above does not blanket include every old person - like I have mentioned above, there are many wise, responsible and prudent older folks in the club.
2. I have been part of Hoofer Sailing, Hoofer Outing, Hoofer Riding, and Hoofer SnS, have interacted with Hoofer Mountaineering because they have some cross-over with hoofer outing in membership, and have closely watched the Hoofer Scuba club calendar. I'd rate the Hoofer Sailing club as the best club in the lot, and the Hoofer Outing as the worst in the lot. Hoofer Riding is fairly good - they at least teach you to ride. Hoofer SnS is a lot of frat boys and frat girls, but they do have a lot of events. Hoofer Mountaineering is a niche club which seems to have similar problems as Hoofer Outing, and Hoofer Scuba teaches the Open Water Certification, but otherwise, almost doesn't do any events.


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