Paddleboarding

Indian Rocks Beach, Florida, U.S.A. – February 13th, 2011

Free Watersports West paddleboard demos are held weekly in summer, monthly in winter.

The sign said: ‘Free Paddleboard Demo’, and a half dozen people were braving the fifty degree weather (frigid by Floridian standards) to give it a try. The beginners were standing up slowly and carefully – a February morning swim was not on anyone’s agenda. That was just fine. Paddleboarding isn’t that kind of sport.

“This is the yoga of surfing,” said Steve LeVine. “You don’t put in where there are a ton of boats going back and forth, or where there are huge waves.” He advised us not to paddleboard where we wouldn’t feel safe putting a canoe, and gave a few good and bad examples in the area. Steve owns Watersports West, and runs frequent demos so people can take a turn paddleboarding, or ‘standup paddle surfing’.

I cuffed my jeans and took off my shoes to try it for myself. I was a little nervous about standing up, dreading a cold swim, but the board was broad and didn’t tip easily. Before I knew it, I was up and moving. When I went with the wind, I didn’t have to do a thing – my body acted like a sail, and the board glided over the water. The paddling came in when I headed back towards the beach. It takes some practice to put deep strokes into the water without shifting your center of gravity too much. I wobbled almost as much doing this as I had getting to my feet!

I look like a cross between a Gondolier in Venice and Huck Finn rafting down the Mississippi. I can live with that.

The paddles are a little different than the ones used when canoeing or kayaking. They’re much longer, so you don’t have to bend down, and the blades are more sharply curved and a little counter-intuitive. “It’s like you put it in backwards!” another participant agreed with me. But for the most part, the basics are easy to pick up. By the second time I went out, I had a handle on the mechanics and could concentrate on the experience.

I understood why Steve compared it to yoga. It was more peaceful than thrilling, but in the best way. Like a kayak, the board moved silently, without disturbing the water underneath. Pelicans seated on dock pilings seemed completely undisturbed as I slid past them. Another bird came within a few feet of me as it flew just over the surface of the water. Standing upright meant I could look down as easily as up, and it was dizzying to watch fish, sea plants, and submerged mangrove go by. It just might be the closest I ever come to walking on water.

/Even Where You Are

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