Saturday, August 3, 2013

Day 83 - Paddle Boarding

I have been paddle boarding. In fact, I had absolutely no intention of trying this relatively new sport before starting my “I have never...” journey. From my perspective, the whole idea of standing on a modified surfboard and paddling around with a boat oar seemed more than a little ridiculous. I didn’t understand the draw of it, and I certainly didn’t believe it offered any sort of real exercise. Despite the consistently positive comments I heard from those that tried it, I just couldn’t buy into the paddle boarding idea. Stated simply, paddle boarding wasn’t on my short list of things to experience.

That stated, the idea of trying something new every day for a year has tended to shift my perspective on a lot things I had written off previously. As a result, when I learned of an opportunity to paddle board at the annual Paddle for the Polar Bears fundraiser in Madison, I decided it was time to forego my preconceptions and get on a paddle board for the first time. With my ticket purchased and my reservation made, I made my way back to Lake Wingra for the second time this week to embark on my first paddle board outing.

Wingra Park Boat Rentals

Rachael and I were greeted by beautiful weather and a bustling crowd of lake goers when we arrived at Wingra Park late this morning. All of the activity made it a slight challenge to locate the paddle boarding area at first, but a short walk down the shore provided obvious signs we were nearing our destination. Near the center of the park, a van with a complex rack system was positioned in front of a dock with a row of paddle boards stretching the length of its composite surface. As I came closer to the area, I took note of a small group of people sitting at a picnic table with stacks of papers in front of them. Figuring it was likely a check-in area for the paddle boarding event, I approached the table and introduced myself. A group of three men were quick to confirm I was in the correct location, collect my ticket, sign some preliminary paperwork, and direct me toward a woman standing near a pile of life vests and paddles. Following their direction, I walked over to the woman and collected my paddle boarding gear. As I put on my life vest the woman instructed me a brief class on paddle boarding would begin shortly, which would prepare me to take to the water on a paddle board immediately thereafter. Acknowledging her statement, I picked up my paddle, walked over to a small group awaiting the class, and readied myself for the approaching experience.

The dock
Little more than a minute after I joined my fellow paddle boarding students, a woman appeared before the group and began to speak. She quickly introduced herself and proceeded to lead us through some brief instruction on paddle form and movements. After a few minutes of practice, she asked us to step onto the dock for some board handling, balance, and steering. There a young woman explained the finer points of getting on a paddle board and climbing to your feet once in the water. She explained the easiest approach to move to a standing position once on the board was to place the oar horizontally across the top of the board and use it as a brace as we climbed to our feet. Watching carefully as she explained the process, I listened as the young woman explained foot position and the center of balance on the paddle board. With no intentions of falling in the water, I thought it would be best to absorb as much of the process while on dry land instead of trying to figure it out on the water. As a result, I listened carefully and did my best to tuck each part of her instructions away for late use.

With the young woman wrapping up her lesson on working with the paddle board, our group was divvied up to find a board and take to the water. Three assistants helped each member of the group locate a board and take to the water in a kneeling position on the board’s surface. In no hurry to get in the water, I waited as the more enthusiastic participants excitedly picked out boards and took to the lake. With the crowd around me diminishing quickly, I eventually stepped up and laid claim to one of the remaining boards. One of the assistants promptly grabbed the board and placed it in the water parallel to the dock. He waved me forward as he worked and instructed me to mount the board on my knees once it was in position. Following his advice, I crouched next to the board and cautiously placed my knees near the board’s center. In response, the board began to sway in the water, which left me feeling unstable as I hovered over the lake surface. I moved quickly to stabilize myself in an effort to reduce the rocking as the paddle board assist stood by. With the movement subsiding, the assistant gave me a gentle shove off of the dock. “Alright, put your oar in and you’re ready to go!” he called out as I drifted away from the dock. In turn, I shoved my oar into the water and started pushing my way toward the center of the lake.

Getting there...
Progress was slow as I attempted to row while still kneeling on the paddle board. With the oar designed for a standing person, my efforts to manipulate it and steer the paddle board while kneeling proved clumsy and awkward. I felt my patience wearing thin as I continued crawling toward the rest of the group with each short stroke I took. Eventually, I stopped in the water and looked around me. While everyone in our group remained kneeling on their boards, I thought about my purpose for being there. I was there to paddle board, not scurry around a lake on my knees. As a result, I resolved to getting on my feet and gaining the paddle boarding experience. It was time to stand up and row, and I was going to make it happen even if it meant taking a swim.

The view from the board...
Getting ready to stand
With my renewed perspective, I recalled the earlier instruction on body position and balance when moving from a kneeling position to a standing position. I slowly moved my oar out of the water and placed it horizontally across the paddle board. My hands gripped the oar like a set of handlebars as I shifted my weight forward and looked down at my feet. “One at a time...” I said out loud as I prepared to set my legs into motion. With my left foot leaving the board, I felt instability begin to set in again. The board started rocking back and forth as I moved my left foot into place underneath my chest and prepared to move my right foot forward. I looked down at the water lapping at the side of the board as I continued, lifting my right foot up and forward as the board wobbled back and forth. My body now in a crouching position, I wiggled me feet forward around the center point of the board and looked forward. “Well, here goes nothing,” I said as I pushed my body off of the board and stood. The board jostled noticeably in response to my actions. It felt like I was standing in a canoe, but I didn’t have any side walls to brace me. My oar in hand, I stuck my arms out and shoved the paddle into the water. Immediately, I felt the paddle board stabilize and begin moving forward. In a split second I went from on the brink of capsizing to paddle boarding, and I had every intention of making the most of it.

I made it!
With my momentum continuing, I drove the paddle into the water and continued my path toward the center of the lake. Each paddle I took helped me feel more comfortable as I stood on the board. After a few minutes, my familiarity with the movements and my position on the board gave me a greater degree of confidence, which encouraged me to dig deeper with each paddle I took. Eventually, I was moving around the lake freely and taking time to explore parts of Lake Wingra I had never experienced before. Leaving the rest of the group behind, I travel toward the mostly empty east side of the lake and took in my surroundings. The sound of my paddle moving gently through the water was the only sound that accompanied me as I soaked in the midday sun and looked over the natural beauty around me. The whole experience was incredibly relaxing, and, much to my surprise, I found myself enjoying paddle boarding.

Time moved quickly as I remained out on the water. Although the scenery around me remained largely unchanged, the sense of freedom and stillness that came with paddle boarding provided an escape from the forward movement of the day. Eventually realizing the length of time that had passed while I was on the water, I began working my way back toward the park on the lake’s north end. With other obligations to tend to throughout the day, I knew I likely needed to bring my first paddle boarding experience to an end. A quick confirmation of the time confirmed that was the case, which prompted me to head back to the dock and ease my way off of the paddle board.

Once back on land, I found my way over to Rachael before placing my gear back near the vehicle by the dock. “How was it?” Rachael asked as I set the oar and the life vest on the ground. I paused briefly in response to her question. “You know, it wasn’t too bad. Honestly, it surprised me,” I stated as I collected my thoughts. With that, my first paddle board experience came to an end. While I went into today’s experience not expecting much, I walked away with something unexpected. I still stand by my opinion that paddle boarding doesn’t offer much in the way of exercise, but the peace of mind I gained from the experience was welcomed. I don’t know what it is, but there was something about standing alone on a quiet body of water that resonated with me. I guess the next time I hear someone tell me how amazing paddle boarding is I can tell them, “I get it” and that takeaway made every part of today’s experience worth it.


  1. i liked your posts on both logrolling and paddleboarding! it was neat to hear about your blog the challenges you have ahead throughout the upcoming year. also, it's cool to somewhat be a part of it! thanks again for taking pictures of us on our boards! is it possible for you to email those to me? i promise to mention you in my blog! :)

    1. Absolutely! I will email them to you in a little bit. Thanks for accompanying me on my logrolling and paddle boarding experiences! Both of them were amazing events! Enjoy the pictures and let me know if you have any "I have never..." ideas. :)