I think the root here is money. The professionals are trying to make a living kayaking in paddling gnar style races. And its is just as hard if not harder than ever. Even while athletes are producing great media, there is a trend of kayak companies in paying them less and less. At least according to the articles.
One point I find interesting was the data, "Outside" used suggesting kayaking peaked in 2002 with 3.9 million paddlers and then fell by half in two years. That does not seem logical. I do not recall a large exodus of the sport and subsequent boat sales during that time.
parent link to the outside article: Behind the Scenes at the Whitewater Grand Prix | Whitewater Kayaking | OutsideOnline.com
response to the article: News – Whitewater Grand Prix - #whitewaterismagic
The image contention: Today's Pro Kayaker Image - EXPLORING ELEMENTS
My take in three points:
1. Kayaking is scary most people that start do not make it past that fear and into the fun.
2. People who try a make a living off the sport do so by marketing products through media. There is so much content these days that its value has decreased. Supply and demand. No pro kayaker has made it on a Forbs wealthy list. Now more than ever they are trying to make it out of Moms basement.
3. I think the best kayaker is the one who has the most fun. If you can do this while being respectful to others around you the image problem is not a problem.