BY KATHLEEN GEST
Special to the Record-Eagle
---- — As the sun tops the horizon, imagine paddling along the shoreline on the quiet waters of one of the many lakes in the area, morning mist rising off the water, with the inspiration of an eagle soaring overhead or a loon diving for its food.
To make this connection with nature a possibility — and to begin your kayaking venture — Grand Traverse Senior Center Network presents Beginners Senior Kayak Day at 9 a.m. Monday, June 17, at the Traverse City location. It's a fun-filled day on the water with Michael Gray of Uncommon Adventures.
“We will do a class in the morning, teaching people how to get out in kayaks on the bay — right in front of the senior center — paddling forward, backward and stopping, boat maneuvering skills,” Gray said. “Also, we will teach stability strokes, so they can avoid capsizing. After lunch we will move the kayaks up to Boardman Lake and come down the Boardman River, actually an easy portage around the dam, and then paddle from the river out into the bay and back to the senior center beach.”
Gray teaches paddle sports, but part of his job is guiding tours for those who want to use their new skills. Based in Beulah, he founded Uncommon Adventures in 1984, a couple of years after graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in environmental interpretation.
He has trips planned to Greenland and Iceland this year, plus tours on the Great Lakes. He feels the kayaking and fly fishing tours he guides is a way to share his enthusiasm for the outdoors with those who are too immersed in their everyday routine to enjoy the natural environment they are missing. From guided coastal sea kayaking excursions, to sea kayak instruction, to backcountry fly-fishing, he shares the natural beauty of Michigan, Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Greenland, New Zealand and just about anywhere you would want to go in the world.
If traveling farther afield is either out of your comfort zone or not in your budget, Gray offers outings to such local destinations as Beaver Island, the Sleeping Bear Dunes or the Grand Traverse Bay Peninsula, coupled with a wine tour.
“Kayaking encourages mobility for seniors,” Gray said. “When you are padding, if you do it right, it gives you arm exercises and core exercises. You can even get your legs involved. There are foot pedals in the kayaks, stabilizing the core of your body for forward stroke paddling. When you are paddling somewhere, you actually do push on your legs.
“For kayaking, seniors should have about 100 degrees mobility in their knees. However, most of us who work with people in kayaking supplement help where it is necessary. So many seniors can get a hand where they might need it.”
The kind of kayaks seniors use depends on the type of waterway participants are paddling on.
“If they are spending their time on gentle small lakes and rivers, then what we think of as our shorter, recreational kayak suits fine. But if they are paddling on places like Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan, then a longer coastal kayak is more appropriate,” Gray said.
On stroke mechanics, Gray recommends using the whole body, not just the arms. Think smart. Don’t work hard, work smart. Enjoy the ride.
“Kayaking is not an activity that is exclusive in any way, kayaking is a really nice sport that is available to a lot of people and suitable for a wide age range,” Gray said. “Kayaking promotes good health and good physical activity. It is a great way to be outdoors in a wide variety of weather conditions. Since Michigan has an awful lot of water in it, it is a great way to see our state.”
Registration is open to all current members of the Grand Traverse Senior Center Network and is due by Friday, June 14. It is $60 for the lessons and an additional $40 for the Boardman Lake tour.
For more information, call the Senior Center at 922-4911 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.