Seniors on Water
It's apparently never too late, and we're not too old or infirm
by Marna Powell
Women on Water paddle at Stone Lagoon in late September. From left are Mattie Culver, 67, Donna-Lee Phillips, 63, Linda Arnold, 55, and Joan Watanabe, 57. The women are part of the special paddling events organized by Marna Powell. Photo by Marna Powell
If I can kayak, anyone can kayak. I didn't become an athlete until I turned 40 because I wrecked my knee in 1972, and the system removed me from physical education forever. Today I live in a high-tech leg brace, have an arthritic hip, a degenerated disc in my back and permanent loss in one wrist. I've also had to rehab both shoulders and my "good" wrist and knee.
Some of you know me because I fill in shifts driving the Dial-A-Ride buses. I also teach kayaking. Officially I am an American Canoe Association Open Water-Coastal Instructor with the Adaptive Paddling Endorsement. My friend John Gahn started kayaking at age 51, and he also has these credentials. We have the skills, training and experience to take anyone kayaking pretty much anywhere there is water.
There are few restrictions on who can get in a kayak and go for a paddle - but it is a water sport with danger of capsize. You must be able to close your mouth and hold your breath (seal your airway) for about five seconds, and you must be able to turn your face up to breathe while floating in a life jacket. There are also weight limits as to what capacity each kayak can handle.
Kayaking is a wonderful sport because it allows people to dance on water even if they aren't able to walk on land. You can use all your muscle groups without the threat of high-impact activity. You can experience nature and wildlife closer than you can on land.
In Humboldt County we have quiet lagoons, Humboldt Bay, Trinidad Harbor, surf, open ocean, rock gardens, whitewater, calm river mouths and sloughs. We don't have warm water so you have to dress for the cold water conditions. You can take it as easy or as aerobic and adrenaline-filled as you choose. Adaptive paddling is all about adapting kayaks, paddles, gear and techniques for people with disabilities, sports injuries, pre-existing conditions and joint pain.
Many of my students these days are in their mid-50s to early 70s. My mother, Mary Solotoff, first got in a kayak at age 72. At 78 she got in the front of a two-person kayak, donned a helmet, and we paddled through and around many of the sea caves in Mendocino. At 71, Dr. Jerome Lengyel is still practicing medicine, but you can't get an appointment on Tuesdays because he's running an experts-only river run. Donna-Lee Phillips, 63, says that she has joy and freedom on the water that cannot be experienced on land. Don and Rinda McClure, 71 and 65, have been paddling together for 15 years. With two early heart attacks, a triple bypass and only one lung, Don is "in the greatest of health today" and says kayaking is a huge reason why. He plans to enter the "Kokatat Kardboard Kayak Kup" at this year's HSU Humboldt Bay Paddlefest.
If you are interested in learning more about kayaking, go to Paddlefest in October at Halvorsen Park, Eureka. Admission is free, and it is geared towards beginning kayakers. There is plenty to do on land, but bring a change of clothes and try some kayaks.
My greatest joy in life is getting other people on the water who never thought they could do it. I know what it's like to watch from the bench, and every time I get on water, I can't believe that I can actually do this. Kayaking feeds our minds, bodies and souls.
HSU Humboldt Bay Paddlefest Oct. 8 & 9 Halvorsen Park, Eureka, www.humboldtbaypaddlefest.com or call 826-3132
Explore North Coast (ACA Paddle America Club), www.explorenorthcoast.net, 825-9221
Hum-Boats (rentals on Humboldt Bay), 443-5157