I can’t sit around the fire anymore… By Kevin Vowles

So I’ve been struggling.  I’ve participated in a surf culture for the last 4 years that has dominated my social life.  All of my ‘close friends’ in BC are kitesurfers.  Most of them I would classify as good people – friendly, outgoing, and easy to be around.  It’s been one of the most amazing experiences of my life to be part of a culture that is so unique and vibrant.  We kite in incredible places, nestled in nature, doing saunas, laughing and playing.  It’s fun.

My struggle is that I find all of the conversation centres around kitesurfing and the equipment associated with the sport.  While the conversation is interesting and relevant, I find myself stagnating and wanting something more. I know it is because of the amazing learning I have done through my job as a facilitator with SWOVA’s Respectful Relationships program. I find that a lot of the interactions focus on competition (who has the best move) and who has travelled where to kitesurf and what these experiences have been like.  Trouble is I need more.  I need more from my social interactions than just surface interactions, centering around kitesurfing.  What I believe many men and women are most longing for is connection — a departure from competition.

Last weekend I went to my favourite spot to kite, and bumped into one of my favourite kitesurfing friends.  He and I usually hang out (often just the two of us) and the conversations with us seem to steer into some different and highly interesting areas, though frequently they come back to kitesurfing — which is ok.  He is one of the few people I can spend an extensive amount of time with and feel as though I am connecting on a deep and meaningful level.  At the campfire that night was another fellow who has been known to say some hugely sexist things.  Now I’ve been coming to a place where I can openly admit that I’m uncomfortable with sexism, find it offensive and call someone out for their behavior.  But as I pulled up a chair that night to the campfire, and settled into the conversation about kiteboarding I realized that I just couldn’t pull off sitting around all night listening to the same old, same old.  I knew in that moment more than any other that I yearn for something more, and I’m not getting it.  Luckily I hadn’t spoken to anyone there about whether or not I was staying overnight or not, and so I decided that I would leave, excused myself and drove home.  I tried to process it on the drive that night, but didn’t have much luck, and as per usual find that now that I am putting it into writing, I understand the situation with a new lens.

Often I find that the sexist behavior I’ve seen in the surf culture is brought out by consumption of alcohol, which I haven’t consumed in four years now.  I will admit that it does make me somewhat uncomfortable to be in situations where there is a lot of alcohol being consumed, and this did slightly factor into my decision to leave, but it wasn’t all there was to my decision.  I knew though that the sexist behavior would likely rear its’ head that night, and although I’m ready to confront it, I realized what pushed me away that night to drive the logging roads in the dark to make the last ferry back home to the island.

I want to surround myself with people who nourish my soul in a peaceful way, and I’m not sure that there is always going to be room for that within my current social circles.  Kitesurfing nourishes my soul and of course I want the social aspect that comes with the soul journey that kitesurfing has been for me. I want my friends to still be my friends and I’m sure that on some level they will be, but I also know I feel a sadness because I’m moving on from them being the center of my social life, to growing into a member of the Salt Spring Island community, where I know instinctively that I will find more of what I need.  As with any departure from the familiar, or more specifically loss, there is a discomfort, and sadness which ensues.  It is a loss, but there is also something gained, and that is me surrounding myself with people who I know will inspire me to grow into the man I’m becoming.  There’s always an upside of a shift in a different direction.

To read more about kitesurfing: www.kevinvowles.wordpress.com

3 Responses to “I can’t sit around the fire anymore… By Kevin Vowles”

  1. Madrona on

    Hello Kevin,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and process with regard to this problem. I am glad you chose to leave that evening rather than sit and listen to some sexism and disrespect from this fellow, and others.. it can really spread like wildfire, can’t it? Especially when a few beers are involved.

    As a woman, I would like to ask you to consider saying something to him and to the group about your discomfort with the sexism, either the next time this happens or with this actual individual, if you can track him down. I think I could probably speak for at least a few other women, and let you know that we would really, really appreciate it. The kind of change you and other conscious men want, that any woman wants deep down, is possible, but it is going to take change from within male culture. You seem to be the kind of man that really does seem to “get it” about sexism, sensitive to how far off track and how damaging, and dangerous, it really is. I thank you for that from my heart, for being conscious and engaged, and for applying yourself to work for equality and health in male/female relationships!

    There is an inferred kind of pressure not to identify things like racism and sexism when one is spending time in a homogeneous group like that.. but I believe it makes a humongous difference when someone does speak up. Yes, it is a risk of being attacked yourself, and perhaps disrespected, and perhaps losing some (so called) “friends” along the way. But to stand in your own truth and share it in that context, and let the guy know it’s not okay for him to speak or behave in that way because it is in some ways violent (or promotes violence or otherwise dehumanizes women) would be to truly take a stand for your values, and for women everywhere. I think that would feel pretty good, even if you had to walk away with the fools mocking you behind your back or cursing you under their breath. I believe that in the more sober light of day, that there may have been some uneasy feelings and thoughts creeping in for him/them, and that you may actually have earned a deep respect.

    A bully like that might be making the assumption that no one is going to be brave enough to disagree with them, OR they might just be so tragically out of touch and out of tune that they really do think all men “think” like they do. To speak up against such behaviour could be a really valuable wake up call for the guy, and it could also ignite the feelings and deeper values of other men who might witness you taking such a strong stance on behalf of not only women, but the ability for men and women to have respectful relationships and true intimacy, which we all really, really want deep down, whether we’re conscious of it or not. This is why I believe it would resonate with others too. That would be beautiful and amazing, I gotta say. Men like him could really benefit to learn a lot from a guy like you, and I can just imagine the kind of impact you standing up in that way might also have on other men witnessing.

    I was once at a party, a white person among other white people sitting around and socializing. I didn’t know many people, and a man I didn’t know made a blatantly racist comment about First Nations people. I can’t remember specifically what it was, but it was just nothing but pure, ugly racism, and complete dehumanization of FN people. I paused for a moment, in part because it is always shocking to me to hear stuff like this come out of people’s mouths, I think part of me can hardly believe what I just heard. But I took a heartbeat or two, and then just called it. I let him know that was a really racist thing to say, and it just completely stunned him into silence for a moment or two, because it was just so obviously the truth. The others that were present also sat in stunned silence. It was a pretty awkward moment.. mostly for him. It was clear he had not expected that at all. He made a couple lame attempts to defend what he’d said, but it was just too obvious he’d stepped in his own sh**. He had made the assumption that because we were all white, we all felt the same, of course. I was happy to be able to correct him so succinctly. It was an empowering moment for me too, because in the past, I had let other racist remarks slide because I didn’t have enough confidence in myself to say something. I’d feared judgement and rejection, but I did not realize that to be judged and rejected by such a person would be the same thing as being judged and rejected by the sexist goofball who accuses a woman of being a lesbian if she does not respond favourably to his come-ons. Who cares if a guy being like that judges and rejects you, really?? So while it was still a bit of an ugly moment, it was only ugly because of what he’d said. And because I’d piped up, I felt WAY better then than the uneasiness left in my guts after the previous occasions when I hadn’t said anything. As a woman who was raised to be a “nice girl” and not rock the boat, it feels really good to speak authentically in times like this. And my heart does not hammer in my chest nearly as hard as it used to when I stand up like that publicly.

    The way I see racism and sexism now, which takes a little of the sting and paralysis out of it, is I see people broadcasting their “isms” as tragically misled and naiive individuals, essentially with their heads up their own butts. In other words, un/conscious, immature, and undeveloped emotionally and intellectually. It’s a bit like they are stuck in a bad dream, and need help to “wake up.” This helps me to take it much less personally when I encounter it, and enables me to see that I may even play a role in assisting them in coming to terms with reality. Regardless of whether or not I am “successful” in that, all I have to do is be authentic and speak my truth, and the rest takes care of itself. If it resonates with something in them that may have an inkling they’re missing something, maybe that’s a seed I’ve just planted. If it threatens them, then there will be a big reaction, and conflict is necessary for constructive change. Either way, it’s good, and I’m clean, having acted in accordance with my deepest values.

    Thanks again for posting this.. I’d love to hear more thoughts on this topic.

    Respect and appreciation, Madrona

  2. Karen McLaughlin on

    Thanks for such an enlightened blog. It was so moving, and authentic. I am so happy to learn you are working as a facilliator for Respectful Relationships. You give me a profound sense of hope and the drive to continue working in violence a prevention. After reading your thoughtful words I am mindful that men can truly inspire great change in the status quo. I am forwarding your blog to my daughter because I know she will greatly appreciate your quote: “The best feeling comes when you realize you are perfectly happy without the people you thought you needed the most.” The quote I loved the most is: “there is always something gained, and that is me surrounding myself with people who I know will inspire me to grow into the man I’m becoming.” That means so much to me. Those are words to live by.
    We are indebted to you for sharing such an intimate story. Thank you.

    Karen McLaughlin
    Policy Advisor
    Working for a philanthropy- US program to prevent Human Trafficking and
    Policy Advisor
    Harvard University
    Program on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery

    • Kevin Vowles on

      Hello Karen and Madrona,

      I’ve just now read your comments in full. Life has been busy getting myself up to speed on challenging all of the isms—sexism, racism and homophobia. I really appreciate and feel gratitude for the way you have laid out your thoughts and insights for not only me, but other men and women who may be reading this.

      There are no by-standers, and we all must stand up against violence. When I wrote that blog entry at the beginning of the year, I clearly felt that withdrawal was the answer, and yet as I’ve learned throughout the year, saying something; anything, is so much better than saying nothing.

      My go to now, if I’m totally a deer in the headlights, is “I’m really uncomfortable with what you just said…” From there, I can have time to gather my thoughts and move forward with something more intelligent. Another go to position seems to be, “we all have mothers, and some of us sisters, wives, daughters and friends. How would ________ make you feel if it were applied to them, or they found themselves a victim of what you’re talking about.”

      While it can leaving us feeling awkward to confront isms, the feeling of making that change, or being that change is pretty powerful. I’ve had the opportunity to practice it over the last few months, and I’m ready to head back to the campfire now…

      Best wishes to both of you.

      In peace,


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