Gold, Silver, Bronze, Brown

What was that hand signal Vavra Hradilek threw in the kayak slalom? It was a pretend bag of excrement.


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If you were watching Olympic kayaking over the weekend, you may have seen Czech kayaker Vávra Hradilek flash a claw-like hand signal—imagine palming a basketball—just after recording the day’s second-fastest time. To most people, it was meaningless. But to the world of freestyle and extreme kayakers, it was a signal that they’d had arrived on the world stage. You see, surfers have the shaka, the Obamas have the fist bump, Texans have the hookem’ horns, and kayakers have, sigh, the brown claw.


Unlike those other respected signs of kinship and belonging, the brown claw dates back no more than six years. That’s when a crew of kayakers in their twenties who call themselves the Demshitz—most notably Evan Garcia,  Jared Seiler, and Dave Fusilli—came up with the gesture. In kayaking, running difficult whitewater is known as running “the sh*t” or, more recently, “the brown.” The missing link between the two originated in the Sacha Baron Cohen mockumentary Borat. Specifically, it comes from the scene where Borat gets some manners coaching ahead of a dinner party and asks his hostess: “What if I should say that I need to … to go to the place where you make the brown.” As he does this, he makes the gesture to signify holding a bag of feces.

The kayakers—let’s call them irreverent—began offering up the brown claw during freestyle rodeos, while cascading over waterfalls, and just about any time a camera was pointed their way. And since they’re the best kayakers at the moment, other people began to imitate them—mostly in jest, but still. The brown claw caught on among people who like to scare themselves by running really hard whitewater. The brown claw got a Facebook page. And over the weekend, the brown claw was in the Olympics.

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