When John Judy really caught our attention was the day he happened to be chatting about two of his favorite birthdays: His 70th birthday–which he celebrated paddling the OcoeeRiver and then his 80th birthday—which he celebrated paddling the Nantahala River. Most recently we have been fortunate to share time with John here at ERA as he has recruited his grandson into the sport. And he confided in us that in his 84th year, he wants to spend time kayaking with his grandson Zachary. Having reached “ERA Hero Status” we wanted to hear a little more about the kayaker John Judy.

Wow-84 years old and not missing a beat on the river. When did you first find kayaking John?
My introduction to kayaking happened about 35 years ago when my family and I were vacationing in the area and happened to drive along the Nantahala River. I was 49 years old, I loved rivers, and was ready for a new challenge. Within the next year I had met some otherFlorida boaters and we were making regular trips to the mountains. We learned in 13′ glass boats and carried patching kits for on the river repair jobs. I taught myself to roll using the extended paddle rollas was taught in Europe. We took several courses from NOC where I meant a young instructor named Kastorff who guided us down Section IV of the Chattooga. Later I bought my first kayak from him for $50 and used it for many years. It was a homemade boat that must have weighed a ton.

You have seen a lot of days on the river. Do you have a favorite after all this time?
The Ocoee became my favorite river after opening up in the early 1970’s. Tablesaw had THIS HUGE FAN extending upward and outward. There was no question about what to avoid. I would figure myself in mid-season form on the Ocoee when I only had to roll 4-6 times!Running that river was a delight over the years. I felt so bad when I had to stop running it that I have never been back over there to even look at it–It still hurts too much.

Where else in the world has your kayak taken you?
Other than the Southeast I have kayaked in Colorado, Alaska, France,and Costa Rica. This doesn’t include several canoe trips in the N.W. Territories of Canada.

We think people like throwing you birthday parties! And your favorites?
I have had two great river birthdays- one on the Ocoee and the other more recently on the Nantahala. They were fun tines and I appreciated all the folks who showed up for those events. However, birthdays can be bittersweet and time has a bad habit of marching on.

There seems to be no slowing you down sir! Do you see yourself ever not paddling?
I have some health problems now but I hope to keep on paddling Class II-III for the forseable future. I have had to switch more to tandem canoeing which requires a partner and can be a problem. Nantahala Falls is now my favorite run whether canoe or kayak. After all these years I still turn over there!

Would you mind sharing some thoughts with us about the sport?
I have found WW boating to be great fun. I also have to mention all the great people that one meets while running rivers. Thank you Ken Kastorff and Bob Beasley- I could not have done it without you guys and gals! I have had the pleasure of getting many people interested in kayaking. The most recent convert has been my grandson– Zachary. Beginning an extreme sport at a later age can be challenging but the rewards can be worth it. I meet many people out there in their forties-fifties who are getting a new lease on life.

And finally, after a day running the Ocoee I used to say that it sure beat a day at the office! -John