Future Perfect - A Glimpse at Our Sport, 50 Years Hence

First Published in Canoeist magazine to celebrate their 50th Anniversary

Last Friday night I became temporarily unstuck in time and space. This doesn't happen to me much so I hope you won't mind if I elaborate.

Straight from work to my local break. A vision of perfection; smooth liquid gold where the sea used to be. Slow, peeling shoulders peaking at three metres plus. The sun melted below the horizon just as I launched for the long paddle out. Three boardies were huddled together in the line-up, gazing in rapture at the astonishing waves. One spelled out what were all thinking.

"You could come here for the next fifty years and never see this again."

I watched as each of the other three paddled out into the takeout zone, selected a wave and faded towards the shore. The air was frigid, and I gripped my paddles hard with numb fingers. The only light came from the full moon.

My turn now. I picked a tall shadow at random and took off. It reared up far higher than I'd expected and I inclined the boat to go right, hard right. I accelerated across and down the face. It was a long drop through silence and then I bounced off the base hard. I was still ahead of the shoulder and braced myself for the second bounce. It never came, as at this precise moment I became unstuck in time and space.

Pay attention, this is the science bit. The incredibly rare combination of factors (clean waves, big swell, light offshore winds, tickets for the upper Dart that weekend) had initiated a dimensional cascade scenario. Although unheard of in 2003, I was soon to learn that these are quite common in the year 2053; which is where I was instantaneously fast-forwarded to. Here in the early twenty-first century we still perceive things in (a rather limiting) three dimensions. The best way I can explain the experience of my timequake is to ask the reader to imagine paddling the entire UK canal network in a fraction of a nanosecond. Slowly.

My skip forward fifty years in time caught me out. The wave beneath me had vanished and I crunched onto the seabed, still in my playboat. My head reeled with time-sickness. I noticed other paddlers dotted across the reef. The nearest paddler hailed me.

"Check it out, another Trad-boater!"

The ribbed buoyancy aid and wooden paddle he wore didn't fool me; the gill implants and genetically extended neck were the first clues that I wasn't in Kansas any more. Being unaccustomed to catastrophic chronological shift, I was finding this all a bit much.

"Brace yourselves, the wave is coming!"

I looked over my shoulder and there was indeed a wave surging towards us. But not as we know it. This wave was semi-transparent and a bit out of focus; as holograms tend to be. It surged right through us and carried on towards the cliffs, where it vanished into thin air. Did I mention cliffs? They were obscured by a humongous advertising screen;


Numerous decks were popped and I followed the other 'Trad-boaters' as they lugged their boats ashore. My longnecked friend joined me carrying his original clear plastic 'Dancer' - now a priceless artefact.

"Wow, that was the most realistic wave in ages. Do you have enough energy for a run down the Grand Canyon this afternoon? My ten yearly ticket has just come through."

He offered me a lift in his hoverpod; imagine a flying saucer complete with tatty roofrack. As we hummed along high above Hurleyopolis (the Nottingham-London-Thames valley conurbation was renamed by President Cheez in 2041), he filled in a few of the gaps in my knowledge of 2053 boating.

Apparently 'Trad-boaters' are those who try to relive the 'golden age' of paddling by re-enacting the sport in period costume. They are seen as a somewhat beardy bunch by 'digi-boaters'. The best I could gather about Digi-boaters was that they aren't a very sociable bunch; probably because they are permanently semi-vegetative, wired into their Pyranha Playstations. Their brains are fed a continual stream of virtual reality pant-wetting paddling. The resulting brain energy from the UK's four trillion digi-boaters is channelled to power a lightbulb at the River Dee Experience Simulation; although this only opens for two weekends a year.

"There's no hope for Digi-boaters. We tried to unhitch a few from the Matrix, but they all died the first time they paddled whitewater for real. Couldn't get their head around not having bonus lives."

I was still reeling from the wave that wasn't.

"I couldn't help but notice that the sea has um, gone. What about the rivers? Please tell me you still have rivers in 2053."

"Well, only just. Most rivers were nuked when the Angling-Environment Agency Axis of Evil instigated its scorched earth policy. The BCU superseded the United Nations and paddling was universally acclaimed as the international language of love and understanding. The Axis weren't good losers. But cheer up, we still have the Grand Canyon."

I rested and watched the in-flight holo-vid. A very old man with a beard sat beneath a synthi-tree and talked at length about nearly drowning once. I had a distinct sense of dj vu as I dozed off

"Wake up, our slot has come up for the Grand Canyon! We're landing now."

We hopped into our boats and were beamed as pure energy down to water level. This experience was just as you see in 'Star Trek', only with more vomit. Gathering my senses, I took in my new surroundings. Dj vu once more.

"Check the Grand Canyon out - our last river! It's all strictly preserved for posterity as a National Park. The rules state that there must be no fewer than three hundred paddlers on the water at a time, and all human waste carried in must be left in the river."

The entrance rapid led between slimy concrete walls topped by a bridge. A very familiar vista opened before me. Manmade eddies, sculpted hills and scum-topped stoppers. I held my nose and kept my mouth shut as I jostled in an eddy queue of shouting coaches and bickering paddlers from different disciplines.

"So what do you think of 2053? Has much changed?"

I was about to answer in the negativebut just at that moment I became unstuck in space and time again.

Oof! Instantly back in my 2003 evening, I finally landed from my bounce, backed by a sudden explosion of noise and spray. This wave was real and it was still coming.

By Mark Rainsley.