Silver Surfers a.k.a. Advanced Kayaking Clinic

by Mary Frances Hansford

On Monday morning when our Advanced Kayaking clinic met at 8:30 am for the first time, we all noticed that most of the six women who had signed up were older than your average kayaker. During introductions, as everyone shared their experience on the water and goals for the 4-day clinic, we recognized this interesting coincidence. The average age of the women present was 60. Each woman wanted to step it up and push themselves to the next level of paddling. How cool is that, women who many might assume would want to slow it down, all wanting to take it to the next level.

Each woman expressed that before the clinic, they envisioned they would be the oldest student, romping around with a bunch of 20-somethings, but to each of their surprise, they were in company of women all close to their age and skill level. We all found this coincidence pretty cool, so I decided to share with all of you some of their thoughts on kayaking and being a female boater. And by the way, they rocked it on the river all four days!!

MEET THE CREW!
Joane Farrell, 69: 
”It was a joy to paddle with other women my age even though I always still seem to be the oldest. Sometimes that makes me the best!”

Wendy Kutz, 56: “Have courage to go beyond what your comfort zone is and surprises will be bountiful. Get out and attend to your inner being.”

Janice Fiore, 62: 
”The other day, one of my sons said to me, ‘Mom, I thought you said you were winding down on kayaking.’ I smiled and told him, ‘I changed my mind.’ I figured I have many years left to sit in my boat and paddle the rivers.”

Susan Wentz, 49: “Yes it hasn’t always been easy and I haven’t always be willing to try new things until I was ready (I am stubborn that way) but the rewards of what you can accomplish are great. So get out there and have fun!
”

Jo-Ann Durdock, 64: 
”Every time you get on the river it is a learning experience and a teaching experience. And sometimes s@#$ happens…..Next rapid.”

Ann Berry Somers, 60: “Being on a river you thought was above your skill level is not necessarily deliterious to your health.”

When did you start paddling?
Janice, 62:  I began paddling in 1995 at the age of 45. I started out sea kayaking here in New Jersey. I went about 5 times and couldn’t figure out what else there was to do after paddling back and forth across the quiet water of the inlet. Ah..ha..I discovered waves coming off the back of the boats and started to go after them and thought that was fun! I found an article in an outdoor magazine about NOC. I signed up for a weekend session in October (what was I thinking) after a hurricane came through the area. It was not a great experience with the rivers so high. I went home thinking…this sport can’t be as hard as it was that weekend. I discovered a local club doing rolling sessions and beginner classes. Signed up and have been paddling ever since.

Joane Farrell, 69:  I started paddling when I was 37. I was married with two children. I am now 69. I started paddling when I went back to school to get my Masters. I got involved in the Outdoor Recreation program at Georgia State University. I first learned to canoe in the Okefenokee swamp. Then I went thru the school’s whitewater canoe class. I was the only one who made it thru Bull Sluice. I was sure I had talent after that. I switched to a C-1 and many years later to a kayak. I got my first whitewater roll in a kayak on Daddy’s Creek. Don’t ask me what I was doing there without a roll!

Wendy Kutz, 56:  I started paddling when I was 50 years old. I had limited experience in recreational kayaking. I was looking for an activity for my kids and I to do together. What a surprise for my kids and myself- an activity that bonds, builds confidence and develops friendships.

What you have learned from kayaking?

Wendy Kutz, 56
:  Many life lessons are symbolic in kayaking. The way you approach a rapid/situation in life yields an outcome either positive or negative. After I have completed a rapid and look back, the rapid looks small or big in comparison to the magnificent gorge. A reminder to me that whatever the life situation is, the bigger picture is beautiful / majestic. Not allowing the water to take you where it may, instead being in control, focused on the goal and you will stand strong, avoiding holes and obstacles which hinder the end point. The end point is the same, the way you get there is choice you make. You can swim, get stuck in hole, roll or not roll, have a good line or a scary ferry, all ending at the same point down the river. We all have different issues to deal with, but the end is same- women navigating through life.

Janice, 62:  I learned to set goals; overcome fear; accept disappointment; persevere, relish accomplishments; experience unbelievable friendships; enjoy the beauty of nature; share my love of kayaking by teaching others, visit interesting places both on land and water and appreciate how important it is to smile!

Ann, 60:  I’ve learned that
 •being 60 years old is not too old to learn a kayak, 
•paddling with just women is really fun
, •being on a river you thought was above your skill level is not necessarily deliterious to your health
, •breaking down the rapids into manageable sections, while knowing the overall goal, is helpful
, •it is ok to be the least skilled (someone has to be that person), 
•what looks unmanageable at first, may not be
, •being with calm instructors like Anna and Mary Frances is the way to go when trying to up your game, 
•women 10 years older than I am are improving their game, 
•don’t worry about swimming —  it’s part of trying to improve, 
•getting professional instruction is a really, really good idea.

Jo-Anne, 64: I learn in every instructional I take. This time the rivers were a step up for me. I learned I have a lot more to learn. I learned more about river reading skills, maneuvering in bigger harder water, tweaking my surfing, attaining, running more difficult drops. It was quite an experience being with a group of women only who were closer to my age. I was a late starter, but it’s nice to see that there are older women out there who not only paddle, but still want to improve their skills. We are not Cl 5, running remote gnarly steep creeks, but we are good. We can do some hard stuff — and do it well. We aren’t backing down, but are still trying to move forward.

What motivates you to continue getting out on the water and pushing yourself?
Janice, 62
:  I am motivated because I love the camaraderie of my fellow paddlers. Kayaking is not a sport to do alone so finding people who can match your paddling style, emotional stamina and fun level is important whether it is just paddling on a calm class I flatwater river or an adrenaline charged Class III-IV river. This year I decided to do the Advanced Whitewater course because I hadn’t done Class III-IV in a few years. I wanted to see if I was getting too “old’ to handle it. What I found was my years of paddling experience is what helped me navigate the river and I had an incredible, challenging time. I found I still had split second reflexes to maneuver the rapids.

One of the days I had a little meltdown because nothing was going right and after having a difficult time getting out of my boat in very shallow water, I wanted to get off the river. The group of women I was with did not say much but patiently waited and allowed me to sort out my frustration and fears and talk to myself. As I sat there, debating what to do, I said to one, “I have never walked off the river and I am not going to start now.” The rest of the day turned out awesome and showed me how great this sport can be even in the face of adversity.

The other day, one of my sons said to me, “Mom, I thought you said you were winding down on kayaking.” I smiled and told him, “I changed my mind.” I figured I have many years left to sit in my boat and paddle the rivers.

Jo-Ann, 64:  My motivation to paddle is many fold. I paddle because I love the feeling, love the outdoors, enjoy the water and thoroughly enjoy the challenge. I also paddle because of the correlation it has to how one approaches life. Life is like a river — full of ups and downs. Sometimes life sticks you in a hole — you have a choice as to how you choose to get out of that hole. Life is full of rocks and obstacles which you need to maneuver. You have to learn in life how to “read the river.” Reading life’s river is not easy. It’s all about choice and how you choose to run life.

Joanne, 69: My children loved to do overnight river trips when other kids were along. Those were some good days. My son turned out to be an avid paddler. Paddling with him is my greatest joy even though we sometimes fight over surfing waves. I cut back on my paddling due to a bad knee but now I’m back. I hopped on the Ocoee thinking I could take up where I left off and found that I had lost skills and mostly confidence. I became a very timid paddler which I have about worked thru. Paddling with other women is a great confidence builder. Sometimes I don’t realize the skills I have and take the easy way out, I’m working on this still. I am grateful that I am a paddler. I am grateful that I can get on rivers and creeks, see them change through the seasons and go places others never get to see. I have put my time in. Learning wasn’t easy but I’ve learned a lot about myself and grown in every way because I am a paddler. It was a joy to paddle with other women my age even though I always still seem to be the oldest. Sometimes that makes me the best!

Do you have advice for other women in the sport? 

Wendy, 56
:  I spent a large portion of my life taking care of everyone else. There is a time to do something for yourself which awakens the inner needs that was unattended. Have courage to go beyond what your comfort zone is and surprises will be bountiful. Get out and attend to your inner being.

Sue, 49: Learn the basic skills first. Find a group of people that will encourage you and make sure you are okay while on the river. Learn to get out front, find your own path by learning to read the river.

Ann, 60:  Being in an all female class has its advantages. I’ve been working and paddling with men all my life and never really found it lacking.  eing with women was new for me and I enjoyed it immensely.

Janice, 62: My suggestion is to paddle with other women. I do a Ladies on the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania every year just so the women can get together and experience each others company. We have a great time! If you don’t do it where you live, give it a try and see what happens. I love to paddle with mixed company but paddling with a group of women is something special!

Jo-Ann, 64:  In paddling we are all between swims. It’s not about IF you will swim, but WHEN. I hate to swim. And I really hate getting stuck in holes. But it’s about being able to rescue yourself if need be and having faith that someone will be there to assist if you really need it. Paddlers are very supportive of each other. Every time you get on the river it is a learning experience and a teaching experience. And sometimes s@#$ happens…..Next rapid.

If you’re ready to step it up to the next level, sign up for a day of Private Instruction. Or if you’d like to try paddling with all women, join us for one our Costa Rica getaways, or Main Salmon adventures!