Stand up paddle boarding must be for surfers.
So I thought each time I eyed a paddle boarder gliding down the ICW and underneath the swing bridge as I, hot and envious, drove over the bridge in my truck.
I’m athletic, strong and, in my heyday, could do back handsprings on a balance beam. I’ve got the balance for this, I thought to myself; all I need now is a partner in crime.
Intrigued, I not so patiently waited for my 13-year-old niece Hannah to arrive for her annual summer visit to North Carolina before calling my friend and “Surf’s Up” columnist George Howard. He owns On Shore Surf Shop in Surf City and offers two-hour, all-inclusive SUP (stand up paddle boarding) lessons for $65 a head.
George was out paddle boarding the morning I called to inquire about scheduling a time to try our hands (and cores) at the sport, so I picked the brain of Chris who answered the phone. He helped me with all my preliminary questions, but advised me to wait and talk to the “paddle boarding guru” — a call sign, if you will, that I had heard many others use to refer to George these days. Clearly, I had called the right dude. (And considered, still am, changing his byline!)
Later that day Hannah and I were booked for a lesson on Friday afternoon. Check.
We met George at the shop for a ground lesson — basically, a hop on a freestanding hammock-like contraption, only with a paddle board instead of a hammock — to acquaint us with mounting, stance and stroke.
George stressed the importance of hand positioning on the paddle shaft, which is the most common error made by beginners. He explained that when paddling on the right side of the board, your right hand is lower and on the shaft, while your left hand holds the grip on top of the paddle shaft, and vice versa.
The one ground lesson that befuddled my natural instincts was which way the paddle’s elbow (the bent angle of the paddle) should enter the water. It’s angled like a shovel, so you’d think it would enter the water upside-down, or like a swimmer’s cupped hand would enter the water. Not the case. The elbow enters the water first, as if you were dragging the shovel backwards. This allows for more reach and, in turn, more driving force.
We took it all in and headed to Soundside Park to launch the boards.
George floated two NSP boards halfway under the dock where we sat and attached the leashes to our ankles. While seated on the edge of the dock, we eased the boards forward with our toes, got our balance, stood up and without a hitch we were paddle boarding! Giggling madly, but paddle boarding nonetheless.
Earlier, Hannah had feared falling off the board despite her well-balanced repertoire as a competitive hip-hop dancer, ballerina and straight-A student (the latter is irrelevant, I know, but allow an aunt her opportunity). She stayed dry just as I suspected. I, on the other hand, feared the Ginsu knife-like oyster beds lurking beneath the surface. But the thrill of zipping this thing through the water quickly overcame my fear of face planting into an oyster bed. A fear that the guru himself admitted to having, too, especially after hearing that some instructor had suffered 17 stitches after bailing off her board in the face of an approaching boat’s wake.
Being a worst-case-scenario kind of gal, I devised a plan. If an oyster bed landing presented itself I would first attempt to land on my board, but only if it were going to be a graceful landing; otherwise, I’d fall into the water as horizontal to the surface as possible to avoid my body entering the water like a nail into wood (or Louganis into an oyster bed).
Emergency plan: check. Fortunately in the end, balance trumped blunder.
By this time we had crossed the ICW and were making our way under the swing bridge toward the channel behind Sears Landing — also known as Goat Island run. (I may have smirked at the hot and envious landlocked passersby driving overhead.) It was then that I realized that our lesson had become an odyssey — the three of us were quietly meandering the backwaters and taking in, well, everything.
I asked George how he got started in SUP and he said, “Jason Colclough over at Carolina Paddle Company… about eight years ago Jason had padddled in Kauai and when he came back to the mainland he was all about it.” The two of them got equipped and “the rest is history.” George has been giving lessons ever since. And in 2008, On Shore, in conjunction with Keep Onslow Beautiful, co-sponsored the first annual and first of its kind for our area SUP race event in Surf City.
Inevitably, just as I got the hang of the process, we reached our turn around point and backpaddled to aim toward base. Now our peaceful odyssey would likely turn into a full-on cardio workout since we’d be paddling against the current. Eh, piece of cake. No seriously, perhaps that’s one reason why this sport is so popular — it’s easy to master in a short period of time. And perhaps that’s why George challenged me to a race when we got back to the sound! I’ll let him tell you who won.
If you haven’t tried paddle boarding, take a lesson; you won’t be disappointed. This marriage of surfing and kayaking is suitable for all ages. And, tourists, you don’t need to live near the coast to enjoy a SUP — navigate through ocean surf, inlets and canals to lakes, rivers and rapids. If you get tired, take a seat and dip your feet. You can even take your dog along.
As I learned Saturday (the following day), paddleboarding is a full body workout. Your feet even get a workout! It’s estimated that one hour on the water can burn up to 1,000 calories for males and up to 700 for females; but it’s much more fun to nearly walk on water than it is to merely walk on a treadmill.
Check it out.
Paddle For Troops
Having served in the Marine Corps for more than 22 years, local resident Dwight Torres aims to rally the community around our soldiers for a Paddle For Troops event on Sunday, August 19. Many area surf shops and businesses have already signed up to co-sponsor the 3.5 mile SUP, kayak or canoe race. Sign up with a $20 donation the morning of the event at 9 a.m. or call (910) 340-7310 to register in advance or to become a sponsor. All proceeds benefit Wounded Warriors Camp Lejeune. The event will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., beginning and ending at Sears Landing boat docks.