Summertime Discovery: How a Vacation Transformed My Outlook on Aging

Vacations, especially those lasting a week or more, are a window to the soul—a time for self-reflection and growth. You step out of your mundane routine, encountering new faces, landscapes, exquisite cuisines, and activities that ignite the spark of adventure. The world becomes a stage, and every journey infuses a sense of appreciation and wisdom.

Last month, as I was packing for my family’s summer vacation, I had no inkling of the revelation that awaited me.

A Destination That Calls to the Heart

We spent ten blissful, sun-drenched days in Hood River, Oregon, accompanied by our two Aussie Shepherds. Hood River is a symphony of water sports; a place where windsurfers, kiteboarders, wing foilers, outrigger canoes, and stand-up paddleboarders dance on the mighty waves of the Columbia River. A place I once called home during my windsurfing youth.

Meeting Woody: A Chance Encounter that Transformed My Perspective

I was arriving at the main launch site for a wing foil session at 10:00 am when we parked next to Woody. His eyes sparkled, his smile was carved with years of joy, and his body boasted strength. He was just getting off the water after two hours of kiteboarding.
Woody was oozing “stoke”—a term created in 1950s and 1960s surf culture, denoting a surfer’s intense excitement and passion for riding walls of water. I felt his energy as we chatted in the parking lot.

I asked Woody about his kitesurfing journey. His answer left me speechless.“I learned to kiteboard when I was 80,” he said. A revelation that shattered my own understanding of the human body’s potential.

He saw my astonishment and shared how he had windsurfed since his 40s, but at age 80, he needed something less cumbersome. Kiteboarding he said seemed like a good fit.

“How old are you now?” I asked, curiosity piqued.

“I’m 92,” Woody replied.

A superhero had emerged before me—not from a Marvel movie, but from real life.


Unraveling the Secret to Youthfulness and Vigor

What followed was a fact-finding mission into Woody’s world. How was such fitness, strength, and agility possible at his age?
He recounted that it wasn’t his genetics because all his siblings were either deceased or in retirement homes. He didn’t tout some magically pill or potion. He said it all had to do with one theme of his entire life: the miracle of continuous motion.

He told me that his secret was that he never stopped moving. In retirement he would spend 3 months in Hood River each summer and every day that it was windy he was playing on the river for 2-3 hours. If there was no wind he made sure to get to the gym and lift heavy things.

It is well documented that exercise has more benefits to a body than just increased VO2 max, stronger muscles, and elevated energy. It also helps pour BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) onto the neurons of your brain, acting like Miracle Grow for the connections that keep your wits and reflexes sharp. A great book detailing how great exercise is for our aging body and mind is Spark by John Ratey, MD.

And after age 40 we all begin a process of aging called sarcopenia, where, without intervention, we lose about 3% to 5% of our muscle mass per decade. This rate of muscle loss can accelerate in later life, especially after age 70. Sarcopenia is associated with an increased risk of falls, fractures and disability and can significantly impact the quality of life and mortality risks for individuals.

But sarcopenia is not your only destiny. Aging is very much in your control. I for one am dedicated to fighting against getting slower, weaker, fatter, and less keen. And meeting my new superhero, Woody, has helped me realize that at age 49 I still have 40+ years of extreme sports ahead of me.

To riff a bit on a favorite Robert Frost reflective poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

The ocean is lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And waves to ride before I sleep,
And waves to ride before I sleep.