Mind and Body

With paddle boarding, 70 is the new 55

Finding new balance in life through the art of paddle boarding

Photo by Amy Carow

Toby Simon teaching her paddle board class.

By Toby Simon
Posted 8/21/17
When a 70-year-old teaches a class of 20- and 30-somethings how to paddle board, it creates a new kind of respect and relationship between generations.
What opportunities exist in Rhode Island to employ paddle-boarding instructors that are older and more mature? Is paddle boarding something that could become a new signature discipline to go with yoga instruction? What are the health benefits of learning how to keep your balance as you age, employing your core muscles? Is this an activity that the Y could offer as part of its pool activities?
Because growing old is not easy, as Toby Simon says, what kinds of social and mentoring activities can be encouraged to bring generations together? In our world, we tend to glorify youth and forget about seniors, keeping the generations separate, in learning, in play, and in conversation. What corporations will seek to enhance their ability to attract new talent by offering mentoring experiences with older scientists, researchers, engineers, toolmakers and physicians – and even journalists? Could Rhode Island become a place where in addition to advertising its beaches we also advertise our wealth of expertise as part of a learning continuum? Imagine if the state were willing to create a Center of Excellence for Mentoring? There is much wisdom in Toby Simon’s observations about teaching paddle boarding at 70.

PROVIDENCE – Growing old is not easy. No question that it beats the alternative but nonetheless, it is difficult. Our bodies begin to slow down. Our minds, too. New aches and pains abound. Adding insult to injury are attitudes towards the elderly. We are definitely discounted more.

In May I turned 70. A milestone. Lots of discussions took place with friends born the same year. Mostly we asked: how did this even happen? We were 40 just yesterday.

At any rate, I decided to embrace my 70th. Like, celebrate every month – not just a day – for a few months. While in full celebratory mode, my husband and I traveled quite a bit and were lucky enough to have all our children and grandchildren join us for a week at our Cape house.

In spite of a meniscus repair that was taking way too long to feel better and a brand new Achilles strain, I was determined to proceed physically as if I were a mere 55 year old.

So I love to paddle board. My interest in the sport started rather benignly. About five years ago, my kids gave me a birthday present – a private paddle board lesson. I had seen people paddle boarding and it looked like major fun.

One lesson and I was hooked. I loved the way it felt to be on the water, standing on the board and paddling around the bay in front of our house in Wellfleet. A week after the lesson I bought a board of my own. The following summer I took some classes on a local pond where we did a type of boot camp/yoga/pilates on the paddle board.

A new balance
As we get older, we have balance challenges so paddle boarding is actually quite good for how to address this aging issue. Being on a board, attempting to balance and paddle, all while holding tight your core muscles, is what this sport is about. Feeling comfortable to change your stance is essential for taking the board into the ocean. Concentrating on your core is mandatory wherever one chooses to paddle; if you forget to do so, you often lose your balance and end up in the water.

This summer I’ve added something new to my repertoire. I’m the instructor for a paddle-board class which meets on Friday mornings, offered through a local exercise studio in town. Those taking the class sign up online and show up at the pond where the paddle-board rental guy and I await their arrival.

It’s been interesting to observe the class participants’ reactions when they arrive at the pond and I introduce myself as the instructor. The majority are 20- and 30-somethings. Men and women. No one has yet to say anything when I tell them I’m teaching the class but their body language says a lot. There’s no question in my mind that they’re thinking: isn’t she kinda old to be teaching this course.

Without doubt, we live in a culture that celebrates youth and often renders older people invisible. I often experience this, as do many of my contemporaries. So the surprised looks on people’s faces when I introduce myself as the instructor, is something I've become accustomed to seeing each week.

It’s fine because hopefully after the class, the “students” have a slightly different view of a senior citizen.

The reviews of the class have been positive. Most people are very proud of their accomplishments and appreciative of the class. Lauren Kaufman of Brookline, Mass., had this to say:

“Before my first class, I was nervous about balancing on the board. But watching Toby eased my fear, and I followed her moves as I progressed from crouching and kneeling to standing and steering my board... I was hooked my first time out, and I have to credit Toby and her easy spirit for my newfound excitement for stand-up paddle boarding.”

Now, that can make a girl feel 55 again!

Toby Simon is a frequent contributor to ConvergenceRI.

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