Old Man Paddling

Continuing the discussion from What personal incident convinced you to always wear your PFD?:

Advancing age and often rolling a canoe in whitewater made me realize the value of wearing my pfd. Now I am 79 and still paddling weekly but no longer doing whitewater, but I always wear a pfd even in hot weather when I shift to my inflatable pfd. It is lightweight and cool to wear but it inflates automatically when one hits the water.

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I was just thinking about hot weather PFD options yesterday while paddling in 90 degree weather.

I love my Astral V8 for hot weather. Lower back is mesh and all the foam panels are perforated with large areas that are mesh backed. I have many times not realized I still had it on when I climbed into the driver’s seat after loading the boat(s) at the takeout (with my other vests I usually can’t wait to strip them off as soon as I get off the water on a hot day).

Some of the Floridian paddlers on p.com have also expressed their fondness for that model.

Just checked and Appomattox River Company in VA has the best price at the moment ($105 vs $140 list at most sites). One thing about Astral is that they often slightly tweak the models each year and then sell off the “old models” at a decent discount which may be the case here.)


I use an inflatable PFD when kayak fishing inland waters, as well as wading BIG white water trout rivers. However, If I am out kayakfishing out in the ocean, I am using a type III PFD.

For waveskiing on smaller days (4’ and under) in the summer, I’ll wear an impact (padded) neoprene vest which offers some floation (about a 1/4 of a PFD) to help in a swim. I am ok with that since my waveski is also a big float. When it is a bigger day, I am back my full impact/floatation vest because a breaking wave can take the waveski from me (has happened).


I also use an inflatable (an MTI, which has since disappeared) on calm lakes and lazy rivers.

I was searching my images for this 85 year old
lady I met in Gig Harbor. She had loaded this extremely narrow ski width kayak that she races on to her Mini Cooper by herself. I was checking out the “boat” and asked her about the pool noodle
stuffed inside. she said “oh that’s in case I end up in the water, I’m not a good swimmer.”

I had never seen such a fit 85 year old (well my mom still skis) and I took her picture.

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My usual paddling crew is about 10-years older than me. I’m early 60’s. They are early 70’s. We may be young around here, but to the rest of the word we are “old men paddling” We still do easy whitewater. Much more likely to paddle tandem on longer trips. You adapt and still have fun.

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“Oldest” man on the mat. I am generally 30-40 years older than my sparring partners.

Not mandated, but strongly suggest wearing a mouthguard! The roots of my two front incisors died from impact trauma, necessitating crown work. :grimacing:

Seriously, take care of your body and never stop moving, with whatever sport/activity that gives you challenge, motivation and joy.



Here is the 85 year old racer who has the pool noodle

I don’t think the racers wear PFD do they?

The Olympic gold medal winner is from “our town” Gig Harbor but I forget the name of the event. It’s up on one knee.

To not publish any images without a visible PFD eliminates entire classes of paddlers.



yeah the lack of pfd use is one thing I don’t like about some racing cultures. In my warped perspective there are no experts, just potential fatalities. If you’ve lurked on this message board for a while you know the racers aren’t immune from drowning.

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To your point:



It’s also disorienting to me that some racers might skip PFD’s when they sell inflatable PFD bracelets that could be worn around your ankle…probably less than one pound.

If you’re referring to the incident last Fall with the downwind racer on Lake Michigan, the part that blew my mind was that the water temperature on race day (low 40s) had dropped about 15 degrees F from the day before (57F)!

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Amazing how quickly an offshore wind can cause upwelling that brings water from the always-cold Lake Michigan depths to the surface.


To the OP’s point, I’m not even sure there’s any such thing as old man paddling. Or maybe it means different things to different people. Older folks may have a refined paddling stroke and more time to train. Age may be a disadvantage when all other things are equal but all other things are rarely equal.

Also, adrenaline prodution and the “rush” it produces declines with age. If rolling in whitewater doesn’t bring the same “high” as it once did, then maybe we are less driven to continue seeking it out.

Im not kidding myself. I dont bounce off of rocks as well swimming. I can’t hold my breath as long, don’t have the same flexiblity, strength or endurance. I’m getting older but NOT bolder. When I was younger my physicality got me through a lot of stuff. The margins for error are thinner now. I had some fun, wore some parts out but i aint complaining, I’m still tryin’ to make class 1 and 2 look good. Just enjoy the ride as long as you can.


As far as racing, some of you might also remember the crew training fatality a few years ago that got shared on this board.

I’ ve seen a number of individuals assume that because they are athletic that they can paddle and race in ww with little experience- in wv events like captain thurmond’s challenge and the webster wildwater weekend are where ive seen this. Be safe out there. Ok to push your limits, athletic ability counts for a whole lot but it aint everything. Your most important piece of equipment is the one under the hat. In the past it was pretty normal for slalom ww paddlers to practice alone without pfds on. Hopefully that’s changing a bit now.

Hyperthermia is the great equalizer - you can be in the best shape, you can be a great swimmer, but it doesn’t matter if your muscles don’t work.


At age 72 I don’t paddle or race whitewater, neve have, but certainly the Yukon River that I have raced five times (including twice on the 1000 mile), being cold glacial meltwater and with a 6mph+ average current it can get exceptionallly dangerous in chokepoint places if you don’t know what you are doing. I paddled my first Yukon race at age 58 and have raced in 26 Adirondack 90 milers to date. Almost always there is a capsize by someone in the deep standing waves at the Yukon Five Finger Rapids. Of course wearing of a PFD is mandatory. When paddling on 35 mile long several mile wide Yukon River Lake Laberge, we are requred by race rules to stay withing 200 meters of shore, but I question if that is close enough if a capsize should happen that far out in the sometimes high wind often very choppy cold water.

and then there was and is the ww work environment. I videoed commercial rafting trips for 8 seasons on the new and the gauley. I doubt that environment has changed much. Although videos are far less popular than they once were. Everybody has their own video camera now (cell phones). There is a certain structure to raft trips and they certainly use each other for support but video boating left you pretty exposed. Often I would run class 4 and 5 rapids with no one else around by racing ahead of the trip I was shooting. I don’t know what was sketchier- dodging between rafts in the entrance of rapids like double z or pillow rock so I could get ahead and set up for a shot or being the first trip out and boating rapids like initiation and insignificant in the fog without a soul around. It really made me independent though. I always tried to run lines where self rescue would be possible. The scariest times were on the New at high water (above 8 feet). While the river wasn’t as difficult as the gauley, self rescue was bad. If you made a mistake hitting an eddy fence or landed in a huge hole the swim was absolutely awful- very difficult to get to shore with your boat. Usually it was at the start of the season so the water was still cold and because I laid off in the winter the skills and abilities weren’t as sharp. High water videos didn’t sell well, those early season trips were marketed to college kids and the quality of the shots wasn’t very good since you were further away from the action. Mostly I just tried to survive…a young persons pursuit for sure. Even then I new it was sketchy… well there is one old video boater, p-love mentoring the younglings Upper Gauley Low Water 7-18-21 - YouTube