I recently saw a very cool photo on the Standup Journal Facebook page. It was “Mom Feet,” Fran – mother of Standup Journal Publisher Clay Feeter. Meet the team here and remember, “The rest of the team is US!” Cool as a cucumber and smiling broadly, Fran looked totally at home paddling at age 82 – and why not? As she says, “Attitude is everything! I still feel like a kid (except for the joints!). I have on my refrigerator a quote from Satchel Paige: ‘How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?’ ” Right on!
Fran dove into motherhood with a surprise bonus of twins. Twin Kurt learned to windsurf early in the day, and got the rest of the family involved, including twin Clay, now publisher of Stand Up Journal. The family became ‘groupies’ in the windsurfing world, going to events in northern California, some organized by Clay and daughter Christi. There we met world renowned windsurfers, and were treated with friendship by all the young people. We never were made to feel like “old codgers”. Daughter Kerry and husband Bob joined in on events and gave them their first grandchild soon joined by 6 more! I wondered what Fran attributes her young at heart approach to life. She says, “Our four children have been a major part in keeping us mentally young! ”
In the collection of photos (above) it’s hard to miss the smiles all around. No wonder. You’ve been to the beach where 90% of the crowd takes the beach towel/beach chair route for the day. After a spin on the sea it’s hard not to grin. During the pre-2011 Battle of the Paddle festivities on Molokai Fran enjoyed some time with the competitors – and with Chuck Patterson whose grin voltage is in the Fran range! Fran decided to test out a Naish race board. Really, it’s commonplace for “grandma” to return home from errands, like the grocery store, and ask for help carrying in those heavy groceries. With the confidence and strength from a lifetime of sailing, windsurfing and paddling, Fran easily carried her own board to and from the water, like the true waterwoman she is.
It’s no surprise that the ocean has been a tremendously significant influence on Fran’s lifestyle and life choices. “I actually got into making windsurfing sails in the very early days before they became so ‘high tech’. When my husband retired from teaching in northern California, I said, ‘Let’s go where the water’s warm’….so we explored the Caribbean (Belize and Virgin Islands), but decided to stay in the U.S. and move to Maui. We were there 3 years, then discovered that we could afford a house on the beach in Molokai.”
“When we moved here in 1991, we kept our sails rigged and hanging in the carport, so we could just grab them and go when the wind and tide was right (we have a fringing reef – the only one in the U.S. – just offshore, so need a foot of tide to clear it). We actually stopped windsurfing about 10 – 12 years ago. We both had knee problems (I had to drop out of hula). Knee replacement has solved that problem, but we had gotten out of the habit of windsurfing. ” True to “that’s the way Fran does it,” she stays active with the hula group helping with costumes these days.
When I asked Fran how she began standup paddling, Fran recalled her first experience five years ago. She had flown into Boston, then drove a rental car to New Hampshire to visit Clay, who lived with Joyce on a beautiful small lake. She recalls, “It was about 5 p.m. when I arrived, but Clay insisted I go out with them on a standup board right away. I put on my swim suit, sure I would immediately fall in. Well – it was an amazing experience! It was getting dusk, and we paddled around a small island in the middle of the lake, picked a few berries. Then continued on up to the end of the lake. On the way back we saw loons swimming along. I had never seen a loon, and it was ‘chicken skin’ to hear them. And amazingly, I didn’t fall in.”
By the way, check out the paddle Fran sports as she’s cruising the crystal clear waters of her favorite inner lagoon these days. The custom and personalized wood inlay paddle was a gift from son, Clay.
At Elder SUP we focus on stories in which people share their connection to the rituals and traditions around the sea and the environment, values and the impact those things have made for them personally. I asked Fran if there any stories she would like to share related to that topic?. “Being in Hawaii means the Ocean is part of your life. I’ve had the chance of sailing on the Hokule’a, the Hawaiian voyaging canoe replica (our neighbor is a regular member of the crew), and have made 3 ‘man overboard’ flags for the vessel. We are also volunteers with the Green Sea Turtle project here in Molokai. We go to Kawa’aloa beach once a week in the summer to see if any nests have been dug. The nest is marked, then when we see the hatching tracks we wait 3 – 5 days then dig the next and count the turtle shells, and rescue any babies that didn’t make it out. Results are sent to George Balazs in Oahu who is in charge of the state program. And of course, walks on the beach are a regular part of my ‘fitness’ program.”
Being outdoors, self-propelled across bodies of water is exhilarating! We have an entire section of our blog dedicated to that SUP Perspective. For anyone reading about the active connection Fran keeps with her local community’s traditions and environmental activities I hope it inspires a local look around. Wherever there is water, wildlife and people there are opportunities to connect and make a difference.
You know, thinking back on Fran’s story of her first day SUPing, I don’t think it would have dampened Fran’s enthusiasm one teeny bit if she had fallen in on that first day. She’s got a zesty sense of humor and easily laughs at herself, taking life with a light spirit. While the “elder” in Elder SUP refers to tradition and history around the sport we love, the fact that Fran is 82 does make her “elder” in the calendar sense of the word. Because she treasures and honors the sense of family and connection, she’s a true inspiration. Her paddling story has nothing to do with age and everything to do with attitude. I hope to head to Molokai one day soon and take an SUP cruise in her neck of the sea.