Saturday, June 13, 2015

13 Truths About Middle-aged Kayakers

A number of my paddling friends shared an article on Facebook the other day entitled 13 Truths About Whitewater Kayaking. It's a light-hearted article about the love for the sport and a lot of it 'rings true'. But when I really think about it, and as one of my friends pointed out, it doesn't actually hold true - not for me or most of the paddlers I know who aren't teenagers anymore. (The article is classified in '20 Somethings, Culture & Art).

So I thought I'd share my take on what I think is true about kayakers. And I'm including all kayakers, 'cause whitewater isn't the only place you'll find true paddlers who love their sport. Here are my truths and what I see on the water:

1. Kayaking is what you think about when you have a free moment.

Much of my day is spent thinking about my job. Sure, it's not as much fun as thinking about kayaking, but it's important and I derive some satisfaction when I figure out a problem or accomplish something important. I think about the future and how I'm going to pay for a mortgage. I worry about the state of our economy, the influx of money in politics, and what's on sale at the grocery store. I also spend a fair bit of time thinking about my family and friends, worrying about those going through hard times.

The truth is the most hard-core paddlers I know are very well-rounded fascinating people who lead interesting lives outside the paddling world. Talk to EJ about life and raising kids if you ever get the chance. Check out Diane Gaydos' highlight reel and consider the fact she did all that while in med school. Look at the beauty of Darin McQuoid's pictures and you'll see an artistic talent that reaches far beyond the river. If all someone ever thought about was kayaking I'd run out of interest in that conversation pretty quick.

2. You jump for joy when the next Moody's report comes out.

Let's face it, most of us are more concerned with how our 401k is doing than river flows. Even I, who writes about kayaking all the time, would generally rather read about important issues that affect my life than about kayaking. And I know from experience that most kayakers would rather go kayaking than read a magazine. My wife's an avid paddler and even she doesn't read this blog regularly (though bless your heart if you're one of those who does :). Whitewater kayakers in particular tend to be people who live in the moment and don't spend too much of their time worrying about other people having their moments.

3. When you meet another kayaker you instantly have something to talk about.

It is a great thing about kayaking that when you meet a stranger at the put-in you immediately have a topic of conversation. It does avoid the awkward party scene where you grope for any shared interest to start talking about. And you can indeed bond quite quickly on the river. But if all you know about me is my paddling you don't know me very well. I may end up trusting my life to a stranger I met an hour ago, but that doesn't make them my best friend. I do paddle with my best friends, but it's what they do for me off the water that's earned them that moniker.

4. You choose your vacation by how much time off you get and what you'll do with the kids.

I don't actually have any kids of my own, but somehow that's still the basis of how I choose my vacation: what does it mean for the family. My wife paddles so we often take kayaking vacations. But we do have to figure out what to do with the dog. We do have to work in time to visit friends, attend weddings, go see the family back home. It's a luxury to only worry about yourself and your desires, one that's good to take once in a while, but even us irresponsible adults have a lot more complexitites in life to manage.

5. You find little need to explain your passion to anyone.

Maybe when you first start kayaking you feel some need to justify your passion to those who don't understand the sport. After a while you realize that your kayaker friends already know what your passion is all about and those who don't kayak won't really understand. Much more importantly, who cares if they do? Don't get me wrong, if I think someone will appreciate learning about kayaking I'll share the stoke with them. But lots of people don't really care what I love about the sport. They have no interest in it. That's fine. They might love gardening or restoring muscle cars. Good on 'em. Let everyone have their passion and embrace the diversity in the world.

6. Kayaking is not your church.

Some kayakers go a real church on Sundays. Their religious faith is an important part of their life. I know that 'church' has become part of the kayaking vernacular, and it's appropriate for some folks, but it doesn't capture my thoughts towards the sport in any way. And it discounts the religious views of many that contains thoughts beyond a good boof or enjoyment of nature. Not every kayaker is a nature-before-all-else tree-hugger, and even those who are might not consider nature the same as religion. For some people kayaking is a sport and and hobby. That's enough.

7. You can't keep up with the slang of those darn young-uns.

I've run the gnar. I've thrown a brown-claw (though ironically). I do occasionally lapse into jargon talking with my paddling buddies. But I'm not into the 'scene'. I don't worry about keeping up with the cool kids. I kinda like talking like an adult and using words, sometimes lengthy onomatopoetic ones to convey my deep love of kayaking.

8. You don't judge others by how much kayaking they do.

OK, I married a kayaker. But I certainly didn't marry her because she's a kayaker. I married her for her outlook on the world, the kindness she shows others, the passion she brings to her job (which involves helping disadvantaged kids), and the beautiful person she is on the inside. I know a number of awesome couples who paddle together. I also see some of the strongest marriages with a partner who doesn't kayak at all.  If you limit your dating pool to paddlers you're shortchanging yourself.

9. You'd rather meet a social activist than a famous kayaker.

I've met a number of famous kayakers. Pretty much to a person they have been some of the nicest and most interesting people I've met. And pretty easy to meet - just do some kayaking and you're bound to run into them. But when I think about the famous people I'd like to meet it's the people in my field - famous writers who I'd love to learn from. Or possibly cool folks who do things like organize charity programs for mosquito nets in Africa or events to help disabled vets get back into experiencing life. Go ahead and fantasize about meeting a famous kayaker. But if you do, make sure to ask them about something other than kayaking. You'll learn a lot that way.

10. Female Kayakers.

Yes, female kayakers are pretty awesome. Females are pretty awesome. Kayakers are pretty awesome. Male kayakers are pretty awesome too. The traits that make someone a kayaker are often the traits that make an attractive human being. For me, these traits include determination and a spirit of adventure, but they also include concern for others, willingness to face self-doubt, respect for those on a different path, and an appreciation of peace and beauty. You don't have to be a bad-ass kayaker to be an amazing person.

11. Your ideal lazy day consists of sleeping in, reading the paper, doing yardwork, and watching a Pixar movie.

I make kayak movies. Lots of them. And I really enjoy some well-done kayak porn now and then. But I don't have time to watch another GoPro video of the Green. I'd rather go kayaking than watch it, but if that's not possible there are a million other things I need to get done. I would love to spend an entire day in bed doing nothing, but if I somehow found the time to do that I would read a book or watch a PBS documentary. Maybe see what this Avengers thing is all about. I'm happy to take a break from kayaking and have many other hobbies with which to fill my time.

12. You like a nice Pinot and wouldn't dare drink it out of a booty.

I kayak because I enjoy it. I enjoy many aspects of the sport, including the conversation, the setting, the camaraderie. I definitely enjoy sipping a beer around the fire while cooking dinner and reminiscing about the day's run. But don't need to be punished for swimming. I don't need to torture those who do something that we all admit is a part of the sport. I don't enjoy the thought of drinking a beer out of my wet booty and don't feel the need to do things I don't enjoy to satisfy some silly social convention. If you enjoy that tradition, carry on. If not, no worries.

13. Much Love.

There truly is much love in this sport. Kayaking brings together some great people and it's easy to get along with folks who you might not enjoy in other situations. I've bonded over a kayak trips, met my wife through kayaking, and count numerous kayaking stories as highlights in my life. But I like to think that most people have found something to be passionate about. Whether it's raising their kids, building model trains, or collecting Taylor Swift paraphernalia. Kayakers don't have a monopoly on love and I like to see the stoke in whatever form it takes 

There may have been a time where I let one thing dominate my life. Where I could commit myself to something completely and without reservation. Over time, my life has grown more complex and I keep adding new things all the time. To me, that's made it much richer and more fulfilling, and as glad as I am that kayaking is a part of my life, I'm thankful that my life is much more than kayaking.


  1. Great post and lovely photos.

    1. Thanks - I always try to throw in a little eye candy in case the words get too boring :)

  2. I am a father of a newborn boy, and my wife and I got married about a year ago. I use to live the ski bum lifestyle (drinking, skiing, drinking, skiing, etc) and now find life so much more full filling. Granted its hard to let go of some of those fun days without a care and hardly any responsibilities but waking up fresh, ready for the day is even better. Love your article and definitely relate a lot to it now in my life.

    1. Yeah, I think this post applies to a number of different sports. I don't think it's about growing up as much as making sure you live a life that's fulfilling to you. Glad to hear you're doing that!