Getting older and paddling risks

So I took a little tumble hiking in the New River Gorge. I landed on my walking stick and my ribs still are a bit tender 12 days later. All of this has gotten me thinking about risk and age. My dexterity has gotten worse as I’ve aged so I’m now more likely to fall. I also seem to heal slower.

There is a fatality in the aw database that resulted from a fall while portaging. However, I’m more concerned with bouncing off of rocks while swimming in a rapid. I’ve been “dialing it back” for a good many years now. I agree with the adage “we are all just between swims” but that doesn’t mean I’m eager to take one. Stretching and regular practice seem to be requirements for paddling comfortably now. We often talk about dressing for immersion, wearing the pfd, but things become murkier when we talk about paddling within our skillset and physicality. I joke sometimes and tell others at the put-in, “I’m in the right place, I see old people and children, my kind of whitewater”. I still like some of the thrills but am not into the spills.


I have pulled back. But l still enjoy paddling. I am just more into picking and choosing the moments.


Sorry to hear that and hope you heal completely soon. I think balance training is extremely important as we age. Check out the importance of standing on one leg and its benefits.

It’s an exercise that’s easy to practice any time, even while waiting in line at the store, etc.

Be well!


I miss the stability. Its funny how I can climb steps better than I can walk on level ground. I do miss the stability. That what I like about my Tsunami. Some day soon I’ll be buying new knees. Hang in there boys and girls.


Age brings risk in just about everything in your life. If you feel especially exposed in any situation you probably should not do it. You won’t be happy doing it anyway.

1 Like

I have little balance on my legs and use a cane or walker most of the time.
But, get me in a kayak and I’m in my element. These days it’s a rec kayak . I used to think 20 miles in a day were no big deal.
10 is max now.


My first 14 foot boat was a Pungo. Fabulous boat. I’ll never sell it, but its a bit wide. The Tsunamis have the same stability and work better in open water. I put a foam bulhead in the front of my Pungo when the center deck stiffener/float fell out.

Eh! Keep going until you cant go. Then watch tv.


I’ll turn 71 this coming March. So far, my health is good aside from high cholesterol and my thyroid is putting out too much. I can still heft my boats, but not as nimble as I was getting in and out of the boats. So, I do it a bit slower these days. As you age, healing does take longer, sucks getting old.

1 Like

I’ve been dialing it back for a few years, since I mostly surf alone, sometimes with other people around but fairly often not. Most of my paddling friends are older than me and many of them are giving up on rough water play. Getting a beat down in 12 ft waves is no longer fun, so I try to judge when to surf when conditions are within my ability to take care of myself. A few years ago my son bought me an apple watch for Christmas and it was a bit of a shock. I use an app that records heart rates, and paddling out through heavy surf and getting thrashed and beat down, trying to hold onto boat and paddle, rolling, re-entry, really pushes my heart rate up above what I expected. Pushing your heart rate a few times a week is good for your cardiovascular health, but heart issues claim a lot of board surfers where I live every year. Also many fatal incidents of cold/rough water are caused by heart issues. Something to keep in mind for rough water paddlers.


I’d rather croak than watch most TV, preferably on the water or in the woods.
It seems like I was a kid when I found, but was probably middle age. I’m 74 and hoping to paddle another season or 2.


A timely topic today for me. The aches and pains of aging are getting to many of us.

Finally got in to see my go-to physical therapist today (she resolved a running related Achilles issue about 4 years ago) for a lower back issue that developed this summer. I thought it was strictly an isolated muscle, but I was not able to self treat it. It hasn’t kept me from paddling, biking, or walking/jogging…however it is very painful to get out of a chair or bed. My PT isolated the muscle and after a thorough strength and range of motion exam & based on my description of pain, she thinks it is simply a weak muscle that she recommended some exercises to strengthen the offending muscle. Hope that is all it is and the stretching and strengthening exercises (mostly variations of planks and bridges) work…she told me to keep paddling thankfully, but to go easy on rolling practice until we get this resolved.

With the onset of winter and water now in the 50s already, skipping roll practices will be easy to accomplish. It is again season to break out the dry suit when paddling anything besides narrow bayous/rivers.

As I age, 68 in a month, the worst part of cold weather paddling is having to clean equipment in the cold…it is an obligation following every paddle due to the salt water environment.


Better than not getting old! :joy:


I guess I am a youngster at 62, but I am starting to feel it. Tougher to keep the weight off, and I now have an arthritic knee that I know will eventually limit my ability to kneel in my canoes.

Having said that, this has been a pretty good year - in fact, I’ve stepped it up a bit. I’ve done 12 whitewater trips so far this year compared to 5 in 2021, 1 in 2020 – my whitewater paddling really dropped off with the pandemic. This included 4 new-to-me class III runs – the Ammonoosuc, the Contocook, the Lower Winni and the Wonalancet. I have always been a pretty conservative paddler (class II+/III-), so it doesn’t take much for me to step it up.

We’ll see how things go. I now have a sea kayak that I enjoy paddling. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up with a whitewater kayak at some point as well. There is a different set of expectations on developing a roll with those boats, so we’ll see.

I’ll be OK if I need to dial it back a bit – none of us are getting any younger, and the most important part of every trip is pulling back into the driveway safe and sound.


Sea kayak sales are doomed :joy: with the demographics.

Right now, I haven’t paddled since Labor Day weekend, I’ve developed a problem with my left shoulder and I simply can’t paddle. It’s terribly frustrating and made more so by not being able to get a doctor’s appointment until December. Hopefully, it can be addressed by some PT, and not require surgery, although I have tried some targeted exercises and stretches and it hasn’t improved.

Thankfully, I can still spend some time outdoors by hiking and biking.

1 Like

I’ve had to scale back because of disability. I have a brain tumor that caused epilepsy, blindness on one side, memory problems, and intermittent minor balance problems. A bunch of little things, too.

My neurologist has wanted me to give up paddling completely for 10 years now, and we finally agreed to settle on “No more than 10 feet from shore”. I lied, and I paddle where I want, but only in conditions that I know I can safely do when I’m alone, and a little more liberal when I have people I can count on (And know what’s going on) with me. Just no more long crossings, bouncy water, or playing in tidal rips in a kayak. Definitely not telling him that I bought a new canoe this summer…

But yes, eventually we all have to ease up a little if we’re lucky enough to still be around when that time comes. I’m happy that I can still paddle at all.


These discussions are useful, seeing how others scale back their activities while finding potentially helpful solutions. In my own case, I still participate in alpine and Nordic skiing, but no longer do backcountry skiing. I don’t have the endurance to cope with problems of my own or of companions when that isolated.

With bone-on-bone shoulder arthritis I continue to kayak. Having an exercise program plus medical massage (twice per month) allows me to kayak without pain, although the pain haunts me later in the evening. Distances over ~10 miles are now too far and I go less swiftly. Similar issues affect my Nordic skiing.

Nevertheless, I turn 82 in a month and can see a time not that far away when even my more limited activities will stop. Then I’ll sell my kayaks, walk a lot, and read. Maybe I should get a wooden kayak for some sort of Viking funeral.


All people have a certain amount of life granted to them and that time varies a lot from person to person. What is known absolutely is that every morning you wake up is one day closer to the last one you will have.

“Risks” in paddling are probably no greater then risks going to the store or to work, or even working in the yard, unless you press your luck too much. Even that is something that I, as an older man, now think about quite often but I have a tendency to see it in opposition to how most of my contemporaneous see it.

As I draw ever closer to my last day in this body, I understand I have less and less to hold onto and less life duration to risk.

Injury is what I concern myself with far more then death itself. I don’t like the pain, so I try to be safe in that way, but I don’t fear death. As our bodies get older and work less and less well, the less we want to stick around for another 20 or 30 years. I am holding onto what level of health I have as much as I can and I wish to delay the effects of old age as long as I can, but I know it’s a loosing fight and I am OK with that as an overview.
For a man past the usual “retirement age” I am doing a lot better then most of the men and women I know in their late 60s or 70s and I credit that to God Himself and His blessings, but also because I was told by an old Marine (WW2, Korea and Vietnam vet) when I was in my 20s “Zihn, remember this: It’s easier to keep it then it is to get it back”. I believed him and have tried to live with that foundational principal in mind.
All my life I have done “young man’s things” and I still do. Not as well or as powerfully as I did in the days when I was a young man, but I am still doing many of them.
I have had 33 bone breaks and 4 wounds in my life and so I do know a bit about facing pain and having to push through it, but pushing through and not accepting fear as the ruler of my life is something I also understand. I still have pain from some of those injuries but I play and have fun in spite of that pain.

So I am out doing things that most of my acquaintance in my age group say I “can’t do” and many of my friends from an age group 20-40 years younger say I shouldn’t do,----- but yet I am doing them and doing them pretty well.

So A.----- Will such a thing kill me someday? Maybe.

If not, B…old age will.

So why be afraid? Life is for living. A seems better to me then the B.

I’ll go on until I can’t but not until I won’t.


But a life well lived involves some risk.
I don’t really like Class III rapids these days.
Mostly I run rivers in drift boats now.

Agree, Steve.

One thing I keep hearing from the long time paddlers is adaptation. The older we get, the more experience we acquire, the more resourceful we become, the more options we come up with. Even in disagreement, we each gain independent growth. We tend to get into a rut with form and technique. There’s no problem accepting limitations. Sometimes it comes down to enduring pain, but often its more helpful to find out how to avoid it.

Back in my Army days, I learned the power of “force of will”. Upon failing at a simple physical task, we were forced to perform further physical punishment. After repeating several rounds of failure, there emerged a will to succeed and push through to accomplish the original goal. Some conditions are ultimately insurmountable, yet many members somehow adapt.

I had essentially accepted that my previous paddling adventures and accomplishments were a thing of the past. Regardless of my point of view on topics, membership has given me the opportunity to gain knowledge and refine my skill to nearly erase any handicaps. When the time comes that I’m not able to acheive my goals, I join the members who continue to enjoy paddlimg by exploring the shoreline. After all, speed isn’t everything. In the meantime, I’ll continue to adapt and overcome with all y’alls encouragement.

As my boss always said: Keep up the marginal work. Strives for mediocrity and consistently fails to meet objectives.

1 Like