By: Matt Ostrander
My usual approach in these blog posts is to describe my experiences in a typical, Hayward Lakes-type recreational activity. So far, I’ve covered fat biking and trail running. This week I decided to try my hand on a stand-up paddleboard.
My wife and I camped for three nights at an area campground on a lake. My boss, the brilliant and generous Sherry Beckman, lent us her two paddleboards. (If you’re a serious paddleboarder, you probably want to know that they were solid boards with plaining hulls, 11’4” long.) We were able to paddleboard twice during our mini-vacation: once for about an hour, and the second time for a good two hours.
Although my only previous experience was a brief stint on my niece’s paddleboard, I approached the adventure with confidence. I am reasonably athletic, I have fifty years of canoeing experience, and I had an inspirational role model. You see, I have had the honor of working with Roger Burger, World Champion in the River Pig event at the Lumberjack World Championships. (Roger won the title in 1958, or something like that, and they discontinued the event the following year, so he is All-Time World Champ.) “River pigging” is balancing on a log and propelling it across a lake or down a river with a pole, and at the LWC it was done in timed, head-to-head competition. It’s a hell of a lot harder than leisurely paddleboarding.
I knelt on my board, pushed well clear of the dock, and gingerly stood up. For the first few minutes, my knees trembled, and I was a little wobbly. I turned the board around, assumed more of a bent-knee ready position, and channeled my inner Roger Burger.
I was on a mission to paddle to the far end of the lake and back, while Buff was content to stop at a sandy beach and swim while I exerted myself.
I made good speed, even into a headwind–there’s not as much wind resistance on a paddleboard as in a canoe. When I got to the far end and executed a quick turnaround, a kind elderly woman in an Adirondack chair called out, “You’re looking pretty good on that thing!” Although I felt a little patronized (I’m sure no one hollers “You’re looking pretty good on that thing!” to Roger Burger), I also felt a little proud and thanked her for the compliment.
I had one minor fall from my board. In a narrow, shallow gap in the lake, the deepest part of the gap was occupied by three teenagers in inner tubes. Wanting to be courteous, I paddled at least six feet to the side of them–far enough to the side that I bumped my keel on a sand bar. The board stopped more suddenly than I did. The wonderful thing that happened isn’t that the board and I were unhurt: it was that the teenagers did not laugh loudly enough for me to hear.
As in my previous posts, I’ll offer a few simple tips for others who are new to the sport:
- Take a minute to make sure your paddle is the right length for you. If you stand with your arm up over your head and bend your wrist downward, the knob of the paddle should rest in your wrist.
- Take a life jacket (it is both the law and a good idea) and connect yourself to the board with a genuine springy leash designed for that purpose.
- Push away from the dock before you try to stand up. You may be hard-headed, but a dock is harder.
- Resign yourself to a lot of back-and-forth with that paddle. You’ll probably only get 3 or 4 strokes on a side before you have to switch. Your old reliable canoeing J-stroke doesn’t work on a paddleboard.
- Start off into the wind. You might end up being more tired than you think, especially if you’re not used to it.
- As in so many other pursuits, if you start to fall, just fall. After all, it’s only water! Trying to catch yourself is the best way to get hurt or look like you’re trying out for another remake of Freaky Friday.
- When you’re all done, reward yourself for trying a new thing.
Thanks for reading these posts; writing them is actually helping me. I’m not by nature a try-new-things kind of guy. I’ve always been more apt to stick to what I like and am good at. It really helps to think that maybe someone will read a post of mine and think, “Well, if Matt’s not afraid to look stupid, then neither am I!”