Gear or Your Body: What’s the Better Investment?

I had this thought last year at Canoecopia 2011 as I was giving my presentation on paddling fitness: Here were all these people, some 24,000 or so over the weekend, there to look at (and buy) new paddling gear for the season. Some were seasoned paddlers looking for a new boat to add to their collection and some were there new to the sport, excited to purchase their first canoe. There was probably millions worth of boats and gear that were sold. People spend a lot of money on gear and countless hours researching it online, but how much do they invest in their bodies?

I totally get the gear thing – I love my gear and I am one of those that will research something to death before I buy it to make sure I am getting exactly what I want. I still remember how excited I was to purchase my first canoe: a Mad River Explorer. There’s a passion that comes with outdoor sports equipment. Look at biking…there’s a passion there to get the best performing bike. Thousands are spent to shave a few pounds or ounces off a bike. Or take a look at backpacking where ultralight (and ultra high prices) is the craze. You name it…we love our gear. And there seems to be, in my opinion, no more passionate outdoor adventure sport than paddling when it comes to equipment. Come on….is there anything more beautiful than a wooden canoe? Paddling of course is probably the most gear intensive sport so this passion goes hand in hand. Just look at what it takes to get on the water: the car racks, the boats, the paddles, the safety equipment, the right clothes, heck…even the right vehicle. I know for a fact people have decided what car to buy based on their love of paddling - I did this last year. One of the factors in my decision was the rack mounting options, specifically how far front to back, I could get the cross bars. I have a 21 ft race kayak and ideally, to minimize cross wind stress to the boat, you want the bars as far apart as possible.

This passion is evident on all the online forums. From discussions on equipment like what’s the best paddle or what’s the best boat to discussions on technique. But the thing missing from the sport is the passion for getting in shape for it. I’ve looked…. there is little to no discussion. Even talking to fellow paddlers reveals often strong opinions on equipment, but get on the topic of getting in shape for paddling and you guessed it...nothing. My issue with this is the fact that it all starts with the body. So people spend all this time researching products, spend thousands on boats, gear, and instruction and then practicing on the water, but how much time do they spend on their bodies? I guarantee there have been countless people that have gone to pool sessions this winter working on their roll, but haven’t spent the same time working out. What’s the point of all this if the body can’t handle it? Its like spending time and money on an epic cross country road trip, but not making sure the car is in tip top shape. Not smart…is it?

In previous posts I talk about taking ownership in your body. Most people don’t think they will get hurt…actually most people don’t even think about or know about their physical capacities. As a physical therapist treating these injuries, I see this all the time. One of the main reasons people get hurt is that they subject their bodies to a stress above and beyond what it can handle. So ask yourself this: what CAN you handle? What can you handle at this exact point in time? Are you going to be ready for that spring opener? You may be have been fine in years past but are you physcially ready this year? Just some things to think about.

I feel that in paddlesports, we have some misplaced priorities. Don't think I am knocking gear because I am not. We need it to do what we do and I love the innovation that occurs making the sport more enjoyable and safer, but it really should be body first and then gear second. For me staying in shape buys me freedom and time. Freedom to go as hard as I want and time to do what I do for as many years as I can. Gear can't do that. I want to be that dad that’s still paddling down the river with his kids and not the one that is out of shape and sitting on the couch. But its not just about getting in shape for paddling as it really should be about getting in shape for life and everything that the body has to do. You could sustain an injury (from being out of shape) that keeps you away from paddling maybe even forever. I know many reading this post are probably thinking of purchasing a new boat, but have you done anything lately to stay in shape so you can safely handle that boat? So some things to think about as the 2012 paddling season approaches. What are your priorities? What’s the better investment…your body or that boat?