Solo Sports for the Awkward Chick
July 11, 2012 9:34 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested (so far in a casual "maybe?" manner) possibly taking up: tennis, archery, or kayaking. Help me decide? Long post inside.

I'm interested in taking up a solo sport, possibly played against other people. What factors in for me includes, not necessarily in this order:
1.) Gear prices (best introductory equipment for a beginner?)
2.) Difficulty in toting gear cross country (how much gear overall on average? Weight?)
3.) Ease of access
4.) Attaining more ________ (esp. -upper body strength-, endurance, speedwork/footwork)

I've always been interested in martial arts, but never seem to be in a situation wherein I can take classes (money, time, car situation, distance). I'm also in the military and can have unexpected work hour changes. So my candidates therefore seem to at least allow some semblence of letting me practice and get better on my own, though I expect I'll probably still have to take a class or two for whichever I choose.

Ease of access factors in due to: not having a car, having tennis courts on just about any military base I get stationed on, likely having plenty of people willing to drive me to an archery range, having to check out/check in any weapons before entering/leaving base, having to go to a water source in order to kayak, etc.

So I'm curious mainly about 1, 2, and 4 for each sport (again: tennis, archery, and kayaking). What are your experiences with the sport over all? and please don't just answer "It's fun! go for it!" I guess I'm looking for almost blog like insider information: what it's like taking part in it, your mind set during, what other exercises you recommend I do to be able to do the sport, etc. I'm basically looking to develop a sport related skill that I'll continue to work on (and possibly enter competitions in?).

As background: I do a lot of ab exercises and run/elliptical/bike, supposedly mumble mumble do upper arm exercises (thus the sport interest), and generally go on 2 to 3 hour photography walks almost every weekday, 4 to 6 hour walks at least every Saturday if not on Sunday as well, walk everywhere anyway due to a lack of car, and super-fast-power-walk everywhere else when I don't have a camera in hand or friend at the mall (I regularly break a sweat running errands for work because I can't walk slow, whether said administrative pickups are outside OR inside).

Also, I'm looking at how to deal with general embarrasment if I take up archery and/or tennis. I'm "okay" with hand-eye coordination, but I've never put it to the test via sports. I'm "okay" with endurance, but not so much with strenuous endurance and due to this, at some point, usually when other people are involved, I'm tempted to just say "fuck it" and quit early on - see: ultimate frisbee, attempts at volleyball, attempts at playful soccer matches, etc. But stepping out on to any sort of court, field, or even the running track gives me a particular sort of anxiety and makes me feel self-conscious. Even though I know there's always the baby beginner stage to anything, I tend to feel ridiculous, ungainly, all limbs, ungraceful, etc. I wasn't, shall we say, a child inclined toward physical feats.
Embarrassment isn't a factor with kayaking since in the few times that I've done it I just go and go fast despite my so-so biceps.

Alternatively, what other non-yoga, non-martial arts, non-swimming solo sports would you recommend I consider?

I have, btw, already seen these two posts.

(And as an aside, if anyone knows how I could explore an interest in speed skating at some point down the road, that'd be awesome. I mean, I can barely even rollerblade, let alone ice skate, but yeah.)
posted by DisreputableDog to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: "(And as an aside, if anyone knows how I could explore an interest in speed skating at some point down the road, that'd be awesome. I mean, I can barely even rollerblade, let alone ice skate, but yeah.)"

1) Call local ice rink or parks department.
2) Say, "I am an adult interested in skating lessons. I'm a beginner but I'd eventually like to learn some speed skating."
3) Sign up for adult lessons (most places either have adult beginner lessons or will let you take some private lessons with an instructor to get the beginning stuff done).
4) Rent skates at rink. Take class.
5) Practice at open rink times.
6) Having accomplished beginner skills, ask rink about adult speed skating and about purchasing skates. Most rinks have a pretty robust used skates program. Ice hockey and figure skating will typically be larger programs with more skates rotating through the used program, but the rink should be able to help you figure it out. They will also be able to direct you to places to get new skates if that's your choice.

Archery is very trendy right now and there are a lot of beginners of all levels. In my experience, adult beginner classes (of any sort -- dance, sports, crafts) are generally pretty genial and encouraging because everyone's looking like a dork together.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:56 AM on July 11, 2012

Kayaking has got to be the worst in terms of both gear cost and gear mass.
A car is a must, unless you live at the water's edge.

Treasure that carlessness.
I'd suggest a bicycle (mountain or road or hybrid), because you can select your exertion level, everything from ultra-efficient tourist all the way up to your aerobic limit.
posted by the Real Dan at 9:58 AM on July 11, 2012

I have done all three of those things a little bit and the one I enjoy and continue to do is kayaking. There are low-end kayaks on Craigslist for a few hundred bucks and that and a paddle and a flotation vest and some water are all you need. I'd really suggest having a lesson or two on how to do it when you first start. It's not hard [paddling a kayak is much easier than a canoe, for me anyhow] but it's good to have good form and is better for you. A single person kayak is liftable by one person and not super tough to put on the top of a car with a rack. There are inflatable kayaks and I don't know much about them. I have a two-person kayak and it's about 70 lbs which is too heavy for me to comfortably maneuver on to a car. Depending where you are rentals can be really decent or really too expensive. If you have friends with kayaks they are things that people are often okay with lending because if you're just messing about in still water they are hard to break.

I like kayaking because it's a bit of a workout but mainly because I like the things I can see from the water. I like watching birds, I like the way the water ripples, I like getting away from traffic and, to be honest, other people. I like feeling, sort of like when I'm hiking, that I have a small space to explore OR a long distance that I can go. I like seeing houses and other things from the water. I like the fleeing of gliding around. My other gym-type stuff is usually running or cycling [and some swimming] so I feel good giving my upper body a workout. I like being outside. I like not having to wear special gear. I like being able to introduce it to other people and not have them feel like it requires specialized skills. And, since I'm a good swimmer, I feel safe doing it [though I still wear a flotation device and check maps]. Archery made me feel uncoordinated [I am right handed and left eyed] and I sliced my thumb up a lot. Tennis was too much stuff flying towards my head.

In conclusion: I like kayaking and I think you might also.
posted by jessamyn at 9:59 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'll just make a case for the only one I indulge in, and that's tennis.

-Equipment costs are minimal. Even a "expensive" racqet (for amatuer level play) is going to be around $100, and it will last for years. Balls wear out pretty quickly, but they are not expensive. Public courts are available everywhere, and private courts can often be rented for nominal fees.

-Portability. A raqcuet takes up minimal space and is very lightweight. You can buy balls anywhere, so no need to pack them in luggage.

-Scalability. It's pretty easy to learn the basics of tennis. Take some lessons from a pro or a patient advanced player. Most municipalities offer group lessons through their Parks and Rec department. Once you get the feel for hitting the ball, it starts to get fun. Yes, it's frustrating at first, when it seems every ball dumps into the net, or flies over the court, but after a little while, something will click and you'll be able to reliably hit the ball into the court. When starting out, don't worry about hitting winners, or being fast. Rather, find a partner who is better than you and doesn't mind "feeding" balls to you. This can also be fun for them, because it allows them to work on thier aim; it's just as challenging to try to aim their strokes to you as it is to aim them away from you. Play as much as you can.

-Fitness. Even when just learning, you will be getting a lot of excercise. Even running after missed balls is good cardio. Also, your fitness level will increase as you skills increase, since you will be covering more court area and playing with better opponents as you progress. Also, tennis can be a lot of fun, so even though you may end up exhausted, it doesn't feel like work. Tennis involves cardio, builds leg and arm muscles, and increases physical and mental agility.

-I understand the "court anxiety." You can feel very conspicuous when playing on a court that is only a few feet away from another court. I've run into a few (very few) players who get annoyed when you mis-hit a ball into their court, but over 35 years of playing, the vast, vast, vast majority of players are very accomodating of beginners. You aren't the only one out there just starting out. Anyone who plays has been in your exact position, and sees new players nearly every time they play. It's not uncommon for players on the neighboring courts to encourage you and cheer for you when you are doing well.

-Technique is more important than stregth. Getting to the ball, and hitting it on the right spot of the racquet, at the right time, is way more important than having muscular strength. If you go to your local public courts, you'll see people of all ages and shapes playing, and playing well. I've seen pudgy 8 year olds and gaunt 80 year olds hitting clean, precise shots.

Good luck with whatever you do!
posted by The Deej at 10:00 AM on July 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

Fencing? It's a varsity sport at the military Academies so I imagine you can find classes on or near base. I know my son's club has conducted classes at Quantico. It's a great workout, the initial investment in equipment is only a couple of hundred bucks. A beginner's class, which will run 4-8 weeks, is likely about a $100, and you won't need to buy any significant amount of equipment for the beginner's course. It's also a lifetime sport. I know 70+ year olds that are still fencing. It's a damn good workout, and you get to hit people with a sword.
posted by COD at 10:01 AM on July 11, 2012

I did archery way back when I was camp age. I enjoyed it, but never really noticed it requiring much in the way of strength. (It was kinda what I liked about it being my sport, since I was very much anti-effort.)

That said, I don't think it would be a problem taking gear around the country. The arrows aren't pointy if you're just shooting into haystacks, and it all folds flat. Of course, we had very basic equipment. It did the job for the summer, though of course you can always spend thousands on any hobby through sheer persistence.
posted by politikitty at 10:02 AM on July 11, 2012

I would go with tennis for the reasons Deej gives. People often go on playing tennis until they die, with the social and fitness benefits of being able to do physical activity at their comfort level, whatever it is at the time. Only caveat is, when you get where you are going next, check out the local scene. You will need to find people to play with; in a lot of places that is very easy, but in other places, not so much, and you're not going to keep it up if the logistics are going to drive you nuts.
posted by BibiRose at 10:07 AM on July 11, 2012

Best answer: I've taken up several hobbies in the last couple of years and something that I didn't really consider but think is significant is opportunity to engage in the hobby. As in, can you go do the thing when the urge strikes you. I guess that would be your #3 "ease of access". I picked up a couple of hobbies that are dependent on things beyond my control (ex: weather, access to a necessary resource) and it is super frustrating when I want to go do *thing* but just can't. So don't underestimate the importance of that, and that means I would suggest Tennis as the least potentially frustrating of those three options in that respect (unless you have your own place to practice archery). Yeah you need a tennis court and someone to play with, but there are a ton of those around, more than bodies of water and archery ranges.

As far as solo sports: road cycling or running.
posted by ghharr at 10:09 AM on July 11, 2012

Archery is pretty low-impact; it is not an exercise-sport like the others, and I don't think you'll really attain anything physically from it unless you shoot a ridiculous number of arrows a day at a high-pound draw and then you'd be getting some decent back muscles, but, enh. It does pack up nicely, though, especially if you use a take-down bow of some kind (three pieces, you can take the limbs off so your whole bow package is only ~3-4 feet long), and starting decent-quality gear, including arrows and a couple of other bits, shouldn't go more than $150. I enjoy archery, but I'm in it for contemplative/meditative aspects, not sport.

ghharr makes a good point about ease-of-doing-it-whenever-you-feel-like, though. I found a nice outdoor archery range near where I've been living, but if the weather's crap I don't want to go out there, and its maintenance is spotty at best (several occasions of lost/broken arrows due to the condition of the place), so I haven't been going nearly as much as I'd like to.
posted by curious nu at 10:15 AM on July 11, 2012

Archery (like most target sports) requires some investment in quality equipment, and doesn't really do a whole lot for your body, exercise-wise. It does promote fitness, through hand-eye co-ordination, relaxation techniques, and improved concentration. An inexpensive compound bow and a dozen or so target arrows fits in a carrying case roughly the size of a small suitcase.

Tennis is probably the sport where you'll see the most physical improvement - it's a total body aerobic workout. It also requires the least amount of equipment, and what equipment you need is the easiest to tote around - a gym bag is all it takes. You need some tennis sneakers, a tennis racket, and some tennis balls. There is in all likelihood a public tennis court, or an inexpensive tennis club, within walking or cycling distance.

Kayaking is great for the upper body, and even the lower body gets some benefit, but even crummy kayaks are expensive and bigger-than-a-human bulky, and require a paddle, lifejacket and if you're going river kayaking, a helmet.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:23 AM on July 11, 2012

Best answer: Have you ever considered taking up a strength sport like powerlifting? Being in the military I'd wager a guess that you have extremely easy, probably free, access to all of the equipment you would need. As far as gear prices, initial investment is zero. Over time you'll probably want to invest in special weightlifting shoes (~$100 or less) and maybe a weightlifting belt (~$50). Depending on how you eat now you might find that your food costs change (e.g. if you need to shift to a diet that's higher in protein).

what it's like taking part in it
I go to the gym and train between three and six times per week. Sometimes I train by myself, sometimes I train with friends and/or with my coach. Training with friends is my main social outlet on a regular basis. I also compete two to three times per year which is SUPER fun (more on that below).

your mind set during
I spend a lot of time thinking about technique and programming, but during the actual lift I'm usually in a state of concentration where my mind is pretty blank. Often I'll focus on one cue (like "sit back" or "bend the bar") and that's the main thing I'm thinking about while I do the lift. Sometimes for a particularly tough lift I'll get really psyched up/aggressive.

what other exercises you recommend I do to be able to do the sport, etc
The sport itself is pretty much all encompassing of the training you need to do it.

I'm basically looking to develop a sport related skill that I'll continue to work on (and possibly enter competitions in?).
Yes! Competing at powerlifting is awesome! Meets are usually held at hotels or convention centers, so it's like a weekend long festival celebrating the sport -- you get to meet loads of people, compete and set some personal records, and watch seriously impressive athletes at the top of their game.

Starting Strength is more or less the canonical guide to getting started at training strength/the powerlifting lifts. If this strikes you as something you'd be interested in trying, I'd start there.
posted by telegraph at 10:36 AM on July 11, 2012

Tennis here. Picked it partially because it's really easy to be ready to go at the drop of a hat. Four years in now and pretty into it, my skills aren't great but I am having an awesome time.
posted by Cosine at 12:09 PM on July 11, 2012

Best answer: Tennis: if you have access to people to play with/against, and someone to give you basic instruction and get you started, then Tennis is great. Solo you can... practice. And if you try to just pick up a racket and go, it's only going to be an exercise in frustration. On the other hand, you have the option to play doubles while you're learning, and thereby not feel quite as embarrassed and exposed. It's not as popular as it used to be, so as much as I love it I find it hard to recommend anymore, but if you're somewhere there are players this is a great combination of workout, fun and social activity.

Archery: trendy, but I just can't see you getting into this because of the lack of physicality. If you needed a relaxation/meditative kind of activity, then maybe.

Kayaking: if you have access to water, this is what I suspect you'd enjoy most. It's more expensive than the other two if you get really into it, but it's a good workout that seems to jibe with the style of other activities you already enjoy -- and you can just as easily go out solo or with others.

Small-print bonus: presumably these military bases will all have paved areas, so have you considered picking up some in-line skates to try "speed skating" with?
posted by Pufferish at 12:10 PM on July 11, 2012

Best answer: Tennis is probably the best fit given your constraints. You can practice by yourself against a wall (and at least some public tennis courts have a practice wall); equipment is inexpensive and easy to move with; and it's a total body workout. You'll see better footwork, endurance, cardio, and even upper body strength from it.

I wouldn't discount the idea of minimizing "friction" from your workouts either: this is the idea that you should have as few obstacles as possible between you and something like working out. Say you have to borrow a car and load a kayak and drive to a river and unload a kayak before you can even get started with your workout: realistically that might mean you're not going to kayak very often because it's going to be (let's say) a half hour of work before you can even get started. Lacing up some tennis shoes and running or biking the mile or so to the court that's already where you work / live(?) is much, much easier, so you'll do it more often, and you can do it if you only have (say) an hour to spare in the morning or whenever you want to exercise.

Like some others have said above, not sure archery is physical enough to be a workout on its own, and you've got some expensive equipment to start up, and the difficulty of finding / getting to a range.

I should think that there are people on any given base who practice a martial art and wouldn't mind showing a beginner some workouts / techniques and practicing with them. You won't necessarily get involved in a school with belts and uniforms that way, but you'll learn a lot and it'll be a hell of a workout at the same time. I know some very dangerous martial artists who got that way by fighting other people who were formally trained, rather than being formally trained themselves.
posted by gauche at 12:53 PM on July 11, 2012

The thing about tennis is that you have to play it with someone. Do you have a regular tennis buddy or easy ability to pick up a game with someone?

I speak as someone who used to do rock climbing, then my rock climbing buddies moved and I haven't been able to do it since. Picking a hobby that you can't do alone when you don't travel in a pack sucks.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:46 PM on July 11, 2012

1.) Gear prices (best introductory equipment for a beginner?) cheapest: tennis. Then probably archery. Last kayaking

2.) Difficulty in toting gear cross country (how much gear overall on average? Weight?) Tennis- max, 5 pound racquet. Archery, maybe 10 lb bow + 5 pound case? Kayak: 20 lbs? 50? bigger than you and not likely to be check able on civilian planes, unlike racquets and properly secured bows.

3.) Ease of access tennis, then archery or kayaking, depending. You probably don't want to hike five miles carrying the kayak, THEN paddling it around. Most decent sized cities have at least one archery range, I think.

4.) Attaining more ________ (esp. -upper body strength-, endurance, speedwork/footwork)

tennis is great for hand eye, footwork, stamina.... all around good. Kayak is for arms. Archery is for fun.

Take a beginner tennis lesson and dont worry about serving! (serving professionally is HARD)
posted by Jacen at 3:12 PM on July 11, 2012

I play racquetball and can echo Deej's statements. If you like fast paced competition, any racquet sport will do. I enjoy the competitiveness and social aspect very much. The only thing I can think of as a downside is tennis elbow. Oh man, it hurts. For weeks. Be sure to get in plenty of warm up in.
posted by Calzephyr at 4:07 PM on July 11, 2012

Response by poster: Okay so, tennis and (!!!!!) in-line skates look like my kind of awesome. And I just happened to meet a random tennis player today when walking back from otter/beaver watching, so I :shifts eyes slyly: know they're around.

I'll look in the archives for general tennis stuff, but if anyone has, er, tennis sites? Is there an online magazine like with Runner's World, where in you can get as pretentious as you like but a lot of it can be read and picked up and understood by beginners? I like reading general things about sports (and hunting, music, and tattooing) that I'm not even involved in to get a sort of....feeling about the whole thing.

Also, yeah. Tennis elbow? o.O *Googles*
posted by DisreputableDog at 5:41 PM on July 11, 2012

Best answer: FWI: I have tiny little arms and I just can't play tennis. My wrists aren't strong enough to keep the racket straight while I'm trying to use enough power to hit the ball. I just can't get it to go where I want it to. Invest in one of those hand squeezy workout things.

Archery I can do, even with limited upper body strength.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:02 PM on July 11, 2012

Best answer: Came in too late to suggest tennis, but I seen that you (OP) have gotten that advice and are looking for tennis sites. I would suggest that you find the nearest tennis center (maybe there is one on base? Or in the community?) and see if they offer a beginner class. The initial learning curve can be steep and there are a couple of things you'll need to learn with tennis to get started. The rules, which can be a little arcane; etiquette and jargon, which compounds the arcaneness of the rules; stroke mechanics (forehand, backhand, serve, volley, lob); and basic tactics for singles and doubles. A once or twice a week beginner clinic for a couple of weeks is a great way to pick all of this stuff up. The next step would be to find some people to play doubles with; a strong doubles partner can both carry you in a game and teach/instruct as you go. Good luck and have fun!
posted by kovacs at 8:21 PM on July 11, 2012

2nding cycling. Cycling for transport cuts your travel time to about a third of the time it takes to walk, which sounds like it could be a huge time saver for you. Not too expensive if you can find a second hand bike.

Cycling totally has the "whee, this is fun" element that you seem to be wanting.
posted by kjs4 at 9:32 PM on July 11, 2012

Best answer: Also, yeah. Tennis elbow? o.O *Googles*

Don't worry too much about it. It's possible to happen, but not a certaintly. I never had it until I been playing 30 years. It was terribly painful, of course, but I just took a break, and when I went back to playing, I wore an elbow brace and modifed my form, pulling my elbow in toward my body on forehands, and that alleviated it tremendously. I haven't had a problem since. But, yeah, don't let fear of what might happen scare you off.
posted by The Deej at 6:08 AM on July 12, 2012

Best answer: I just started playing tennis myself! It is so much fun and an awesome workout. Being a huge tennis-watching fan as well, I find that actually watching the pros play is useful in just understanding "ideal" swing motions and so on. I also took a beginner class and it helped me immensely with technique to prevent developing bad habits, so if you have any opportunity to do that I would definitely recommend it! They shouldn't be terribly expensive - I paid about $100 for 8 hours of lessons (but YMMV, of course).

As for websites, I find that the tennis-warehouse forums are really useful.

Have fun and good luck!!
posted by thebots at 12:43 AM on July 13, 2012

Best answer: OH and there is also a great YouTube channel of tennis lessons called "Fuzzy Yellow Balls" (check out the 'Fundamentals' playlists).
posted by thebots at 12:46 AM on July 13, 2012

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