From the Shop: I’m just here for the tacos.
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these “From the Shop” posts. Everything has been humming along here at Blackfly World headquarters, all the boats are in stock and ready to go out the door. It’s been a long, and very busy winter here in New Hampshire; it’s certainly not over yet, but it’s given me a lot of time to wax philosophical. I sometimes find myself asking, “Why am I here?” (Not New Hampshire, though sometimes I wonder about that). Why do I do this, making canoes? I could certainly go on about the less glamorous aspects of my work: the contact cement fumes, the dust, the long hours on the road and fast food, loading and unloading boats, the seasonal nature of the cashflow involved, the general struggles of running a small business. But for all that, the good days greatly outnumber the bad days. I really enjoy what I do. But I’ve decided there’s thing that really makes this worth it for me. I’m just here for the tacos.
I’m certainly not here for the money. Don’t get me wrong, I’m making a modest living, and that IS important to me, but I’ve done the math, and there are plenty of other things I would be better off doing if money was my ultimate motivation. So why do it?
I put in my fair share of monotonous hours, and sometimes my thoughts drift to things like the connection between what I’m doing and the past. The canoe is one of the oldest forms of boats, dating back thousands of years. What I’m doing is directly traceable back to the long-forgotten people hollowing out logs. I find that interesting and somewhat satisfying, but on it’s own, it’s certainly not enough to be my motivation.
I love to paddle, that’s why I started this whole crazy project. I especially love the feeling of paddling a boat I designed and built myself. I don’t think the feeling of putting a new hull in the water for the first time will ever wear off, especially when it performs the way I want it to. The flip side is sometimes prototyping new ideas can be frustrating and disappointing, but that’s why we prototype. It’s also nice to ditch work when the creeks are running (I’ll make it up later). However, I sometimes wonder if I’d get more river time if I paddling was only a hobby and not a job for me, and if I wouldn’t be thinking about chine and rocker designs as much while I’m paddling.
I have a belief and a desire that Blackfly Canoes can be a force for good in the world. It might be as simple as getting people outside, connecting with nature, and connecting with each other. I love seeing pictures of parents paddling tandem boats with their children (and I love paddling with mine). I’m driven by a belief in support the community around me, not just the river community, but also my neighbors near and far. Part of that is a commitment to American manufacturing and buying as much of what I need from close to home. If you want to see American manufacturing flourish, by something made here. I also have a deeply held belief that the preservation of our rivers is extremely important, I like to use Blackfly to support organizations that work toward that goal. Sometimes it’s a stretch though, and I never feel like I’m doing enough though. And how do I balance that with the carbon footprint of what I’m doing and what you’re doing every time you drive to the river? What about the impact of microplastics left in the river when your boat slides over a rock? These are things that conflict me.
The paddling community, especially my customers, are very encouraging. I love getting to meet you on the river and paddle with you and hearing the positive feedback about what I do. Seeing people enjoying the fruit of my labor is hugely rewarding for me. But I’m my own toughest critic. I know I can always do thing better, I notice all the flaws, and when people aren’t satisfied, it’s a massive disappointment for me.
I can’t say that without also saying one of the things I truly love most about what I do is the challenge. “Tell me I won’t, and I will.” All those flaws and mistakes and shortcomings are room for improvement, and I love striving to make them better. The boats I’m making today are better than the ones I made six months ago. Those are better than the ones I made a year ago. I’ve come along way, and I don’t intend to stop improving. Some of the improvements you can see, some are changes in process that make things easier, more consistent, or more efficient. I absolutely love the problem solving, creativity, and learning that goes into what I do. One of the driving factors that keeps me going into the shop is the question, “How can I do this better?” Because there’s always a better way to do something.
So having said all that, I’ve decided that what really, truly, honestly makes doing all this worth it for me is the tacos. If you’ve stopped by the Blackfly tent at a river festival, you may have been handed a taco, or at least you smelled them. Alex started it one year at Gaulyfest, and it’s become somewhat of a tradition for us to grill them up at just about every festival we go to. They’ve even gotten some press. We make them fresh, they’re delicious, and I can’t think of a downside to them. So really, I’ve decided I’m just here for the tacos.