Muriel was tapping her toe. Ninety-two-year-old Phil knew most of the words. The accordion player, who wasn’t a whole lot younger, was doing a decent job with Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill.” The rest of the residents who’d hobbled out of their rooms seemed to enjoy the Monday night entertainment.

The night before I was to emcee the premiere of the Paddling Film Festival, I was in a retirement home visiting my mom’s best high school friend. I had time to wonder: Why do old people all dress the same? When will I begin wearing pants with ironed creases down the front, collared button-down shirts, cardigans and lace-up leather shoes?

During the encore of “Hound Dog,” it finally occurred to me. This is probably what they’ve worn most of their adult lives. Since their best years. A time when Elvis was making movies. And what if it’s not just our wardrobes we’ll settle into during the good ol’ days, what if it’s our gear, too?

Come as you are: How our old paddling gear tells the stories of our lives

In my early 20s, I upgraded whitewater boats every spring. As a C1 paddler, building foam saddles with bread knives, rasps and contact cement was a commitment to skill acquisition at a time when I was on the water 125 days a year.

The last playboat I outfitted—and still paddle—was a Wave Sport Project, the spring it was released, 18 years ago. The same year, I bought—and am still wearing—a mango Kokatat drysuit. I’ve only ever owned one tripping canoe. I’m still packing my original blue barrel and harness. Paddling Magazine digital editor’s daily driver is a Dagger RPM. Really? “It’s a great boat,” says Joe. Editor Kaydi is paddling a long-defunct Dagger Phantom OC1 in a purple Lotus Designs PFD.

black and white photo looking into a garage full of paddling gear at night with garage door open
“Buy less. Choose well. Make it last.” —Vivienne Westwood, British fashion designer | Feature photo: Scott MacGregor

People think being a gearhead is about always having the coolest new things. Sure, it begins that way, when we start with nothing.

For a while, we trade up in quality, learn our styles and hone our brand loyalties. Used gear is sold to pay for the new. But eventually, we find what works and stick with it—sometimes forever.

I have bins of river shoes, pogies and base layers, just in case I need them. Let’s be honest, when will I ever need a holey pair of Five Ten Water Tennies? I know I’m not alone in this.

Fear and familiarity

Fear is another reason we hold onto gear too long. We fear the new version will not be as good. They don’t make them like they used to, we tell ourselves. What we have and know serves as a form of protection or security against the unknown.

Whatever the reasons, the longer we keep a patched-up boat or faded life jacket, the more sentimentally attached we become. Our gear is more than just physical stuff gathering dust in garage rafters and on hooks. Our gear becomes a manifestation of our emotions, beliefs, behaviors and memories locked inside the lids of plastic storage bins. Getting rid of a paddle, no matter how worn, is saying goodbye to an old friend.

Above all these emotional and psychological factors, I think we hold onto things because they provide us with a sense of comfort or familiarity. It reminds us of good times. When I had nothing better to do than outfit new C1s every spring.

I now understand men and women don’t one day wake up and begin dressing like old people; they dress as they have done since living their best days. So I had to smile while looking out into the sea of flannel shirts, Blundstones and flat-brimmed hats at the Paddling Film Festival sold-out show.

I can see me now. In the retirement home wearing Patagonia double-knee canvas work pants, hoodie, visor and Chums on my glasses. In my pocket is a Swiss army knife. Leaning in the corner of my room is my first canoe tripping paddle. On Monday night, I’ll be singing along with a guy in a sleeveless denim jacket covering Pearl Jam’s “Alive.”

“I, oh, I’m still alive
Hey I, oh, I’m still alive
Hey I, but, I’m still alive
Yeah I, ooh, I’m still alive
Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.”

Scott MacGregor is the founder and publisher of Paddling Magazine.

Cover of the Spring 2024 issue of Paddling Magazine, Issue 71This article was first published in the Spring 2024 issue of Paddling Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

“Buy less. Choose well. Make it last.” —Vivienne Westwood, British fashion designer | Feature photo: Scott MacGregor



  1. Awesome, just awesome way to describe this undeniable, but surprisingly important aspect of life that we all face eventually.


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