I’m not very athletic. The main reason I run at the gym isn’t because I love it. I run because it doesn’t take much coordination. I pump my arms and move forward. Plus, I don’t have great balance. I learned this when I was in middle school and couldn’t stay upright at The Bus Stop, the local roller-skating rink.
So, when I added “Learn to paddleboard” to my List of 50 Things Before I Turn 50, I knew it would be a stretch. That’s okay. Goals are meant to stretch you.
In December, I went to Maui with a close friend. Before we left, I had considered the possibility of paddleboarding. But then I dismissed the idea because I didn’t think a beginner could paddleboard in waves. Not just a beginner—an uncoordinated beginner with no sense of balance.
Renting a paddleboard
Fortunately for me, my friend is the most encouraging person I know. On the fourth day of our trip, we found ourselves checking out a paddleboard at a local surf shop and strapping it to our rental car. At the advice of a shop employee, we headed over to nearby Pohaku Park for me to give paddleboarding a try.
One blogger describes Pohaku Park: “Known as S-Turns because of the curvaceous old highway that used to meander by, this beach is most popular for surfers during the winter months when the north swells is in, though you’ll find stand-up paddleboarders paddling around regardless of season.”
Another blog reads “(Pohaku Park) is great for surfing during the winter and stand-up paddle boarding the rest of the year.” Now, if I had known in advance that the winter swells would make paddleboarding a lot more challenging, I wouldn’t have tried it at Pohaku Park. However, we didn’t find this out until we returned the board. The shop owner was surprised we had been directed to this beach because it is a 6 out of 10 in difficulty for paddleboarding because of the swells. He said that surfers love Pohaku but not paddleboarders.
Fortunately, my friend happens to be an expert paddleboarder (he lives on a lake) and also a great teacher, so I knew I was in good hands.
Trying out the paddleboard
After arriving at the Park, we unstrapped the board and made our way to the beach. Looking out across the ocean, I could see paddleboarders in the distance paddling with ease across the surf. Seeing them paddleboard so easily, I felt encouraged. Maybe paddleboarding wasn’t as difficult as I initially thought.
As I started walking into the water, I was surprised at how cold it felt. Eventually, I got used to it, and we swam out to find a channel of water that was smoother. There was a narrow channel of water ahead with rocks to our right and left. “Avoid the rocks,” I thought to myself.
We swam out a little further and found a “calmer” place to start the lesson. My friend instructed me to climb on top of the board and then helped me attach the ankle leash to my foot. As I looked down at the board, I was surprised by how large it was.
In learning about paddleboarding, I discovered that the most popular SUP (Stand Up Paddle) boards are 10-11 feet in length and between 32 and 34 inches wide. If stability is important, you want a board that is 33-34 inches wide. Fortunately, my board was the widest possible. However, I don’t think this really helped me that much.
The key to paddleboarding is balance
The key to paddleboarding is balance—the stance of your feet and efficiency of your paddle stroke help you maintain this balance. Each person has to decide what stance is most comfortable to them for stability. Some like a foot higher than the other, and some like an even stance. I liked a wide stance with my left foot forward.
At first, my friend helped me get comfortable with the board but without the paddle. After I got used to the board and was able to balance, my friend handed me the paddle and it helped stabilize me. I eventually learned that when I wasn’t paddling, I could rest it in the middle and use it like a third leg.
As I started to stroke it in and out of the water, I began to gain confidence. However, I still wasn’t enjoying myself because I was certain I would fall into the water at any moment. I really didn’t want to fall into the cold water.
Falling into the water
Just as I was gaining more confidence, I felt a tug at my ankle, and I immediately fell over the side of the board. Water went up my nose and into my ears. The water was salty. The water was cold. I felt “rug burns” forming on my arms, and my right shoulder hurt.
After I got the water out of my nose, I stood back on top of the board to try again. I can’t recall how many times I fell back into the water, but I can tell you that overall, I didn’t enjoy myself. Eventually, I coasted back into the shore, hit the sand of the beach, and then totally biffed it.
Recovering my pride, we made our way back up to the parking lot to shower off. Showering the sand off the board, I felt a little disappointed. Even though I knew I would struggle with balance issues, I had really hoped paddleboarding would become my new favorite thing. My friend must have sensed my disappointment because he assured me that I would do better next time on the calmer waters of a lake.
Although I didn’t have a great time, I’m glad I tried paddleboarding. It stretched me, and that’s what goals are supposed to do–stretch you. And, who knows? Maybe I’ll give it another try this summer.
So, if you see someone on Utah Lake this summer struggling on a paddleboard, there’s a good chance it’s me–giving it another try.