Written by Jamie Beckett
This past Friday I enjoyed the company of nearly a hundred close friends, most of whom I’d never met before.
The event that brought us together at Gilbert Field (KGIF) in Winter Haven, Florida, was the annual meeting of the Seaplane Pilots Association. Members gather for this once-a-year event, arriving by land, sea, and air. I have to admit, I made my way to the meeting on a motorcycle, but only because I live within spitting distance of the field. Given the opportunity, I’d have flown in, as so many did.
Every time I attend one of these events I see familiar faces. But I also meet people I’ve never crossed paths with before. It makes no difference, really. Regardless of whether we’re old buddies or total strangers, as soon as we sit down, or saunter over to a shady spot, or gather by the BBQ buffet, we become instant friends. Our common interest unites us. It’s an amazing thing to experience.
My seaplane flying pals and I are in a clique, you see. That’s not to say we exclude outsiders from our ranks. Quite the contrary. We’re happy to welcome others into our ever-growing tent. In fact, we encourage them to come. We enjoy meeting the new arrivals — so much so that we go out of our way to make events like the one I just attended easily accessible to the general public, and other aviation enthusiasts, whether they’re seaplane rated or not.
Cliques are a natural social development that seem to be programmed into our DNA. From early childhood we have a tendency to seek out people we perceive to be like us, or at least who seem to enjoy the same activities we do. In high school the cliques broke down into classifications like the greasers, the theater geeks, the jocks, the rich kids, the hot girls, the math team and, of course, band kids.
And while cliques get a bad name in the movies, one could make the argument that being accepted into a clique is of great social benefit to an adolescent who lacks the experience, self-confidence, or expertise in the vague life skills of social interaction that might allow them to develop more fully, more quickly. The downside of cliques is the tendency some have to be exclusive. That’s bad. It’s also unnecessary and generally counter to the best interests of the members of the clique. Social interaction is good. Networking is good. Education, mutual support, and mentoring is good. All are available in some form to members of a clique.
That being the case, the bigger the population of the group, the more opportunity available to each member of that group. Grow clique, grow. The Seaplane Pilots Association is, absolutely, a clique. A great one, too. Because, like most of us who engage in aeronautical activities, the members often find themselves in the minority when they’re away from their base of operations. Even within the aviation world, seaplane pilots and enthusiasts are a thin pie-slice of the overall pilot population. Yet when they band together they have increased power, greater influence, and something we in the seaplane community like to call fun.
On the advocacy side, organizations like the SPA get things done. They stand up for the little guy. And in case you’ve got any question as to who the little guy is it’s you. It’s me. It’s everyone you know. Individually, we can be ignored, yet collectively, we represent a voting block. We become an economic powerhouse. We can sway politicians and policy in ways the individual would find difficult, if not impossible. We can make a difference.
On the community side, we have the ability to grow our population and support the activities we love through collaborative efforts. For instance, the SPA currently provides as many as a dozen full scholarships for seaplane add-on ratings each year. It has plans to increase that number, eventually doubling its available scholarships. That matters because it provides incentive, support, and real opportunity to young pilots while removing a financial obstacle that, for some, is insurmountable.
Yeah, I’m in a clique. I’m cliquey. And I like it. But the Seaplane Pilots Association isn’t the only clique I belong to, nor is there any rule that requires me or you to be religiously loyal to a particular group to the exclusion of all others. Nope. I’ve got membership cards from multiple organizations in my wallet. I’m also a casual participant in a wide variety of groups, many of which have no formal name or organizational structure. I’ll bet you can say the same thing. So let’s say it. Let’s live the lifestyle openly, honestly, and with a big welcoming smile.
The more we participate, the more available participation is for others. As ironic as that may seem, it’s true. It’s as true for aviation as it is for a stadium full of football fans. So go to the airport and bring someone with you when you do it. You don’t have to fly, but you certainly are free to do so if you wish. Have breakfast or lunch. Grab a cup of coffee and watch the traffic buzz overhead while aircraft move about the ramp.
Show your enthusiasm. It’s contagious you know. “The more the merrier,” isn’t just an expression. It’s a description of the dynamics of human interaction. If you show yourself to be having fun, others will be more inclined to join you. As the crowd grows, the merriment increases. The activity becomes more acceptable.
So get cliquey. It works, and it’s kind of fun once you get the hang of it.