I've never been physically graceful.
For instance, whenever I played team sports as a kid (which I generally hated), I usually played defense. Usually on the back line if it was football, or as a safety in American football, or a catcher in baseball. When I told a football coach friend of mine this, he said "Oh, so you were a thug with no skills."
Which pretty much sums up my past approaches to athletic pursuits. A bit clumsy, and not that well-disciplined, either.
First Time I See Someone on a SUP Board
The first time I saw stand up paddling in the flesh was about two years ago. I was walking along the promenade in Worthing. It was high tide and the water was uncommonly flat and it was late afternoon/early evening, where the sun and the sky conspire to create that special summer light that is particular to Sussex.
I looked down at the water and saw this guy standing on what looked like a longboard, making his way gently towards the shore, standing upright, effortlessly sticking a rather long paddle in the water. His board gently slows to a halt just as it is about to hit the shingle on the beach, he hops off lightly, cool as Fonzie, grabs his board and gets out of the water. Two thoughts went through my head...an awe-struck "That looks cool." and an envious "Bastard!"
And that planted a seed. Not a big one, but a seed nonetheless. I wanted to try that thing out. It looked cool. And I wanted to be graceful.
First Time Surfing
Fast forward a bit, and my daughter is really wanting to get into surfing. So on a week-long break in Devon, she and I take a surf lesson at Bigbury-on-Sea. She takes to it like a duck to water, I'm a little less...ahem...graceful. Still had fun and managed to actually catch a couple of waves.
First Time on a SUP Board
Later that week we find ourselves on another Devon beach. It's overcast, windy, and there's a little bit of chop in the cove. There's a hut renting out stand-up paddle boards. The daughter really wants to try it. I think, "Why the hell not."
I ask the kid working there about renting a board, and in his brilliant teenage wisdom, he concluded that as we had just had surfing lessons and knew how to pop up, it should be no problem getting on a stand-up paddle board. Just get to a kneeling position and once you're ready, pop up like you would on a surfboard and begin paddling. Should be no problem. Lesson over. Yeah, right.
Over the next hour, hilarity ensued. I don't think I or my daughter lasted more than two seconds on top of the board. Obviously we were doing it all wrong...But we laughed a lot...
Not very graceful.
The Real First Time
Fast forward to a little bit later in the year and we notice a new business has opened up on the beach in Worthing. They offer SUP lessons. Cool. Perfect opportunity to get some time together with the daughter. So I attempt to book a lesson for us for a Saturday in early September.
Unfortunately, things conspired to keep us from having a lesson: too much wind, illness, too much wind, work commitments, too much wind. After 6 abortive attempts, we gave up for the winter, vowing to come back in spring.
Spring rolls around and I'm having major shoulder problems. Rotator cuff, apparently.
So the daughter gets to have a go with one of her friends who is visiting from out of town. She's bitten by the bug. I end up spending quite a bit of time on the beach watching her paddle around, wishing I could do the same, afraid I'd make my shoulder worse.
Getting tired of taking time off work to go to the NHS physio with no improvements, I decide to go private. He diagnoses me with something completely different. I go to see him every week for a few weeks where he pops my neck and gives me some stretches to do. I improve quickly. Tell him I'm thinking of taking SUP lessons. He tells me to go for it, highly recommends it for my shoulder and neck.
So after a couple of months of wistfully watching my daughter, I decide to take a Friday off of work and get a lesson.
A lesson consists of an hour of instruction followed by an hour of fartin' about on your own. I wasn't really that confident that I would be able to fart about on my own after just an hour.
I was lucky, though. The tide was in, the water was relatively flat and the wind was a gentle breeze. It was a one-on-one lesson, and as such, I got a lot of good beginner instruction. And when I was encouraged to stand up, I tried, and fell in, more than 30 times over the space of an hour and a half. Every time I fell, I did the only thing one can do: laugh and climb back onto the board. The dunkings certainly cleared my nose.
I finished off knackered after an hour and a half, unable to go on any longer, and realising just how out of shape I had become over the past few years. But loved every minute of it.
I ended up renting a board with my daughter every weekend, and even bought my own shorty wetsuit, which would look really cool on someone skinnier than me, but makes me look like a kook (according to my dear daughter).
Bit by the Bug - Confirmation
I think the event that really confirmed that I had been bitten by the SUP bug occurred a few weeks into my SUP journey. I was stressed out at work, and was not feeling well due to some really bad stuff going down there. I felt physically ill. I stayed home from work that day.
When it became apparent that my illness was most likely linked to the situation at work, I decided to get out of bed and go to the beach. I hopped on a board, and got out on the water for about an hour and paddled about.
When I came in, I no longer felt the stress. It was gone. All the bullsh** at work melted into the background after an hour on the water. I regained an appreciation for what really counts, and was ready to confront the situation at work and accept the outcome no matter what.
Because in that hour on the water, I had learned the Meaning of Life, and it was SUP.
Not really, but it did clear the head, and a SUP session has a way of clearing out all the BS taking up space in one's mind.
And whenever I am out there, nothing else matters. Just the water, the board, and the paddle. And me, finding a bit of grace.