One Foot in the Grave? No Way!
Paddling on After 50
The SOT-Need Factor
By Tamia Nelson
July 8, 2008
You’ve seen the ads, I’m sure. A pod of athletic-looking fifty-something kayakers are paddling across an ocean bay ringed by snow-capped peaks, apparently in hot pursuit of a humpback whale who breaches just ahead of them. (There’s obviously no Marine Mammal Protection Act in AdLand, nor is there much concern over the consequences of an unplanned swim in what is probably mighty cold water.) Or how about the mini-peloton of gray-haired cyclists, spread out across the full width of a lane, spinning along at an effortless 100 rpm on a twisting coastal highway, with nary a car in sight? (In your dreams!) You get the picture. It’s cool to be fit, fifty, and financially secure. And so it is.
OK. These ads are more than a little over the top. Still, the market researchers have done their homework. The latest incarnation of the Over the Hill Gang isn’t content to slump into the La-Z-Boy® and doze fitfully through thirty years of daytime television. We like to travel under our own power and do things, not watch other folks doing them. We’ve worked hard to get fit, and we plan to stay that way. In short, while we may have one foot in the grave, we don’t intend to jump in. We are NOT going to go gentle into that good night.
But there’s a catch. (Isn’t there always?) And it’s pretty obvious:
Nothing Lasts Forever
That includes all the bits and pieces that make up the human frame. No matter how strong our determination to hold the line, age inevitably takes its toll. Our knees creak and pop when we descend steep slopes. Our necks and shoulders ache after a long day swinging a paddle (or straddling a saddle). Our gear mysteriously gains weight from one season to the next. The canoe that we once carried effortlessly for mile after mile now gets unbearably heavy after only a hundred yards. We bounce back more slowly after illness or injury, too, and we have to work harder to regain lost ground. Our maximal heart rate—an important measure of our potential horsepower—declines with every passing year. And that’s only the beginning. Aging isn’t for sissies.
Is this good news? Of course not. But it doesn’t mean we’re condemned to spend the rest of our days sprawled out in front of the Unblinking Eye, either. Modern medicine can help us cope with our aches and pains, and regular, moderate exercise can do wonders to preserve—or even improve—our fitness. It isn’t easy, and it isn’t for everyone (ask your doc if it’s for you), but it works. And modern boats are a plus, too. They’re often lighter, more comfortable, and easier to get into (and out of) than their traditional counterparts.
So how about it? Were you thinking about getting back into paddling—or even taking it up for the first time—only to abandon the idea when you saw a video of young athletes running waterfalls in kayaks no bigger than a coffee table, with decks so low they needed bumps in them to make room for the paddlers’ feet? Well, if that’s the case, you might want to rethink your decision. What’s your excuse, exactly? Gimpy knees? Bad back? Not as strong as you used to be? Or have you eaten much too well for far too long? If so, you’re not alone. And while you could be right in concluding that a canoe or hard-shell kayak isn’t the boat for you, there’s now a Third Way to get out on the water. You might find that you’re…
Sitting Pretty in a SOT
Sit-on-Tops (aka SOTs) break the mold. Most of them are beamy, with a high degree of what the paddling press calls “primary stability.” This means they don’t feel tippy. (The narrow SOTs known as surf skis are the exception here, but they’re specialist craft. “Tippy” can be good.) Even nervous newbies with capsize anxiety quickly feel at home in one. And SOTs are SOTs. You sit on them, not in them. No matter how many beers have found their way to your belly and settled down, you won’t feel the squeeze in a SOT. You could say SOTs have no barriers to entry. And, yes, the name doesn’t lie: you SIT on a SOT. No kneeling required. Your knees will thank you. Drawbacks? There are a few. Some SOTs can be heavy, but that’s what carts, trailers, or partners are for. And very few SOTs are fast on their feet. The broad beam that makes them stable also makes them slow. But who’s in a hurry to go someplace when he (or she) is having fun? Not me.
Anything else? Well, I suppose you could say that SOTs are fair-weather friends. That may be overstating the case a bit, but it is true that they lack the womb-like security of decked boats. Conclusion? If you’re aiming to circumnavigate Greenland, a SOT probably wouldn’t be your first choice. For many less ambitious trips, however, they’ll do just fine.
Not prepared to take my word for it? Good. A healthy skepticism is the independent paddler’s best friend. But if you do a little digging, you’ll find I’m not alone in praising these versatile boats. Read the write-ups in Paddling.net’s own Reviews. The plaudits of so many happy owners are hard to discount. Or listen to Barney Ward. Barney almost gave up on paddling. Almost. But he found he couldn’t let go. After all, he liked to spend time on the water and he liked to fish. Still, his old hard-shell kayak just wasn’t comfortable anymore. So he got himself a SOT, instead. And he couldn’t be happier with his decision.
But why should I put words in Barney’s mouth? It’s his story, and nobody can tell it as well as he can:
The SOT kayak is a boat I should have gone to years ago. It is so easy to get in and out that it feels ridiculous that I spent so many years fighting the sit-inside kayaks. The only drawback is you pretty well have to get your feet wet to board or exit the boat. However, all you do is act like you are about to sit in a low chair, and sit. To get out, just swing your legs over the side just like you are in a chair and stand up. It is so easy that even the old fat man can do it without groans. After some getting-acquainted time, I took the boat out toward the larger part of the lake. The peninsula sticking into the lake across from the boat ramp was my first beaching attempt. WOW, tooooo easy to believe. In fact I backed off a couple of times to be certain it was really that easy.
And that’s just a sample. You can get the rest of the story on Barney’s blog. It’s a good read, a real celebration of “people-powered fun.”
Power to the people! Who could argue with that? Now here’s a picture of Barney’s new SOT, just to whet your appetite: