By nature, I'm an armchair adventurer. I watch the Travel Channel and House Hunters International and ogle exotic places from the comfort of my couch. I skim Facebook and sit in awe of friends' posts discussing their camping adventure, Yoga retreat, or week long canoeing river trip in Utah. But I rarely ever have these experiences myself. So it was with quite a flair of spontaneity that when a Living Social coupon for a Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) lesson entered my email inbox, I marinated only 24 hours before booking it.
The 60 minute lesson from Maui B's Stand Up Paddleboarding (Orlando, FL) included a primer on equipment, paddle technique, getting on/off the board without looking like a klutz, and obviously how to stand up and stay up. We paddled on a relatively calm lake in downtown Orlando, Florida. Luckily, a lack of wind and minimal people/boats/jetskis on the lake ensured calm waters. The instructor had us start on our knees, and then tuck our toes under our feet, pushing ourselves up - SLOWLY - into a squatting and then eventually a standing position. I was on an 11 ft board, which is one of the larger boards in the industry. Larger = more stable = good for beginners. It was fairly easy to paddle around on my knees but when 5 minutes passed and the instructor said "Ok, let's get up," a wave of panic hit me. I mean, it would still be just as much fun to do Kneeling Paddleboarding, right?
I centered myself on the board, tucked my toes, looked to the horizon, and tentatively rose into a low squat. My legs started to shake a little, but I fired my glutes and quads and stood up. The board swayed beneath me, but I didn't fall. Behind me I heard a splash and a smile spread across my face. Some other newbie had bit it before I did and I knew things would be ok.
We paddled around the lake for the next 40 minutes, practicing turns and different paddle strokes. Some other paddlers fell or dropped to their knees to rest. My legs were frozen in place and I felt I was more likely to stay dry if I just kept standing. I am proud to say that I didn't fall that first time SUP-ing.
Looking out into the horizon and seeing the downtown Orlando skyline was amazing. Paddling back into the dock alongside a gaggle of ducks about 5 feet to my left was an almost mystical experience. I truly felt one with nature. The experience was a paradoxical mix of calming and invigorating. Needless to say, I fell in love and have been immersing myself in the SUP world since, even purchasing my own board.
For anyone considering SUP, here are a few first-timer's tips to help you have a good experience.
1) Take a lesson. It is well worth the money to have an experienced professional guide you, plus they'll provide the equipment. If you're in the Central Florida area, Maui B's is a great company to help you get your feet wet paddleboarding. They offer a small instructor to paddler ratio and are very professional and friendly. Meetup.com or a simple web search can help you find an instructor as well. Some ski shops or sports shops also offer lessons. Companies often post deals on Groupon and Living Social, offering up to 50% discount.
2) Just fall and get it over with. I spent that whole first time so worried that I would fall, that it cost me a little bit of enjoyment and some very tense muscles. On a subsequent time out, I did fall and was able to relax afterward. I immediately thought to myself "wow, I wish I had done that sooner." I fell... big deal... it's easy to get back up! And as I read on a SUP website, "if you're not falling, you're not trying hard enough."
3) Keep your eyes on the horizon. Any good instructor will give you this hint right at the beginning. It helps you maintain your balance and stabilize yourself. Look at the water beneath you and that's where you'll end up. Keeping your paddle in the water will help with stability too.
4) Stay away from the weeds. This should be commonsense for Floridians, but anyone in the Southeast US should know that the weeds are where alligators and other wildlife tend to hangout. If you're worried about a wildlife encounter, steer clear of the weeds and lilypads. Choosing to paddle on a body of water that is a popular watersport recreation site is also a good idea if you're nervous about gators.
5) Relax your toes/feet, keep your knees soft, and engage your core. My feet and toes cramped quite a bit my first time out. I think it's because I was using them like vice grips to stay attached to the board. A little bit of toe wiggling and lifting one foot up and then the other helped it feel better. Keeping a slight bend in your knee (not locking them) will help with muscle tension and stability. Lastly, SUP is known as a great core workout. If your arms are hurting from paddling, it could be you're not engaging your core enough. This is another reason to invest in a lesson or two; you'll learn how to engage your core and paddle properly for an excellent full body workout.
So get out there and get your SUP on! If you enjoy the water, you'll have a great time. Stand Up Paddleboarding is amazing for the body, mind, and soul.