SLOVENIA, Europe - Stand Up Paddling is a fast growing sport and local authorities in Slovenia, a picturesque country in Middle Europe, spotted an easy way to collect some quick and easy cash. Being resourceful, they just skipped businesses as planned on the Californian coast and want to collect directly from paddlers to avoid the middleman.
Slovenia has gorgeous Alpine lakes and some of them, like Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj, are a worldwide known tourist destination. These lakes are also for paddlers, but unfortunately, things are planned to change for the worse but not so if paddlers of Slovenia have something to say about it. That's why over 100 Stand Up Paddlers, kayakers and canoeists protested against such limiting decisions of local authorities on Lake Bohinj in February. First, paddlers organized a nonstop pedestrian crossing with paddles and vessels and after that they paddled the lake to show their disapproval of the new fees being charged.
Water access being limited to local paddlers in Slovenia have caused protests. | Photos: Vanja Matjaž
Local municipalities of the above mentioned lakes are trying to limit water access with mandatory entry points and are starting to charge for paddling on both lakes. Lake Bled set their paddling value to 25 EUR per person per day and does not allow rental of SUP boards, whereas Lake Bohinj limited water access with mandatory entry points and set the paddling price to 2 EUR per person day. Not much, you would say. But as you get to those entry points, you will search for some sort of infrastructure, which is non existing at the time. You will show your naked behind in a parking lot while trying to change into your paddling clothes, that is, if you will be able to find a parking space at all. Parking your car near those entry points depends merely on your good luck, especially in peak season, and is a pricy thing in Bohinj. And after finding one, try to carry your 14 or 12ft carbon incher along the busy road with no pavement and full of pedestrians to the nearest entry point. And don't forget to jiggle the paddle on the way. The municipality of Lake Bohinj claims, that they plan to collect the paddling fee first and build the infrastructure later. It is a claim, that not many Slovenian paddlers believe, based on previous experiences.
For paddling families this regulation presents a huge logistic struggle. You'll have to drop your non paddling part of the family to the beach and drive to nearest entry point if you'll want to paddle, paddle back to the entry point, get out of the water, pack your gear and return to your family, trying to find parking space again. Logistics, logistics, logistics…, since it's not allowed to pull your vessel out of the water on any spot, just on the designated points.
Slovenian paddlers peacefully protested over their distaste for new fees being charged to access their local lakes. | Photo: Samo Laharnar
The point tourists are not aware of in this story, but is also important to local paddlers is, that lakes in Slovenia are considered a common good and limiting access to the lake and charging paddling on those water surfaces is putting paddlers into a discriminated position compared to some other water sports. Windsurfing and kiting on Lake Bohinj are not regulated and are free. Go figure.
Lake Bohinj is also a very popular practice spot for many national paddling teams and it is not clear yet, how these new limitations and fees will affect their already arranged training sessions. Considering that paddling is a quiet sport and is not harming the lake ecosystem and its surrounding nature in any way and that paddlers often have even higher environmental awareness as other visitors, the point of protecting the nature is also not a local authority winning argument. But to be honest, the law is on the municipality side in this case. We have a strange situation here in Slovenia. Speaking of SUP boards, kayaks and canoes there is a duality regarding to where you want to paddle. If you paddle on the sea, your equipment is considered as sports equipment, but when paddling on inland waters, same regulations apply as for boats, and navigation regime for individual inland water must be considered. This also means, that rental SUP boards (but not private ones) need to be registered same as other vessels, e.g. boats.
It's disturbing to see that it sort of becomes a trend in our country and that local authorities can't see beyond collecting a quick buck. They should be able to generate large income from paddlers and see local businesses thrive with offering additional services instead of limiting access and preventing people from enjoying the lakes.
Paddle protests in Slovenia. | Photos: Vanja Matjaž
What Stand Up Paddlers would like to achieve is a clear statement; that water access is free and unlimited good for everybody, so local and visiting paddlers could benefit from the great nature Slovenia has to offer and also generate income by using other infrastructures located on or near the water. We have to sleep, eat, drink and have fun after we stop paddling and this is the area for local authorities to promote and develop, if they want their areas to thrive.
We can not stress enough the importance of a coherent paddling community, since together we are better informed and have more impact on decision makers, as fragmented individuals. That this is very much a fact, clearly shows the follow up of this particular protest. The mayor of Lake Bled already announced in an interview, that Lake bled will abandon the intention of 25 EUR paddling fee.
What is your opinion on this matter? Do you think the fees being charged are justified or outrageous? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!
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