A couple years ago, after back surgery, I found that I could comfortably be either in a horizontal position or an upright position, but that going from one state of being to the other was a rather elaborate and complicated sequence of bodily movements. This pretty much precluded surfing, wherein one needs to rise to one’s feet with a modicum of alacrity.
It seemed that if I wanted to keep surfing, I’d have to join the Community of the Untouchables and buy a stand-up paddle board. If that was the only way, then so be it. I mean seriously, it was either a SUP or a boogie board—what would you choose?
But my back came good enough to start surfing again on a longboard. Still, I kept thinking about a SUP as a way of exercise on small or flat days. There’s a perfect lagoon close to home. A way to be on the ocean and getting fit, keeping my back in line.
The other day I saw my friend Chris in the water paddling his SUP. We used to surf Nusa Dua together back before Laird (who must be blamed ) even thought of stand up paddling. I took this encounter as a sign, and after a brief talk, was at his shop the next day buying my first SUP, a 9’5″ and 31 inches wide and 4 something inches thick. After Chris found out I’d never so much as stood on one before, he insisted on giving me an abbreviated dry-land lesson on how to paddle and ride one. “You might want to try starting on your knees and getting the feel of it,” he said.
Right. How hard could it be? The thing looked as stable as a blimp.
The next day, at high tide, I decided on my first ever SUP session. I heaved the beast on top of the car, itself an effort, and tied it down with the straps. As I drove out the gate, the back of my mind started itching. I was forgetting something. Ah, right. The paddle. (I’m your stereotypical absent-minded writer—once I pounded through three miles of rough ocean in a dinghy to a surf spot and once there realized I’d forgotten my board on the boat).
The second lesson I learned was to park as close to the beach as possible. Not only is the beast heavy, it has significant windage factor. A steady 8 to 10 knot north wind was blowing, enough to put torque on the board. The lagoon, though, was high and smooth, a little side shore ripple crossing the lazy swell bumps, spillovers from the one to two foot waves on the outer reef. As I put the board in the water, ready for my first ever Stand Up Paddle session, I recalled Chris’s advice to start out kneeling, but forget that. I was going to stand up like a man.
This was when my natural athleticism and decades of surfing experience kicked in. Because you see, over the many years, I have learned how to safely fall away from a surfboard.
I fell, and fell, and fell again. I was getting my damned exercise just clambering back on the beast, over and over again. This wasn’t like swinging back on a surfboard, but an exercise akin to mountaineering, involving an unstable ledge at that.
Chris had forgotten to tell me that it’s best to learn how to paddle a SUP with smooth-as-a-lake, glassy conditions. That north wind ripple, side-crossing on the minor swell bump, while nothing I would register with a normal board, was enough to rock the board and throw me off. I have a high superstructure, high center of gravity, which didn’t help either. I sourly thought that Little People would be a perfect market for SUPS, them being lower to the deck, so to speak. And why, I wondered, hadn’t anyone thought of little removable outriggers, kind of like those kids’ training wheels for bikes? Make the outriggers flexible so neither bone nor board is hurt when one falls off.
I knelt, dear friends. I knelt.
And having knelt, and getting up a head of steam, for momentum provides stability, I finally after repeated efforts did manage to stand and get five strokes in before the plunge. Triumph!
But the wind was picking up. (This happened to be the start of Cyclone Iggy’s big blow). By the time I hauled the beast out of the water, there were twenty-five knot gusts. When a gust caught the board’s nose and nearly spun me around like a drill bit into the sand, realized I was going to have an ordeal getting the beast back to the car.
I finally figured out a solution. I tucked the paddle under my right arm, hooked its handle to the board’s big fin, and wrapped the leash around board and paddle, with me in the middle. This allowed me to use the paddle and leash to haul in the board against the pressure of the wind’s gusts. I guess I looked kind of weird staggering along the boardwalk. People scuttled out of my way.
The next challenge was to get the board back on top of the car, the wind now really rattling the trees. I won’t bother you with the details, but it did require some finessing lest I become airborne with the board, which in a past life probably was a blimp.
To celebrate, I stopped in for some of Ibu Haji’s barbecued chicken satay and gado-gado. After the repast, as I stood to pay, my thighs suddenly seized up. I’d certainly gotten my exercise, just not in the part of my anatomy I was expecting.
Update: next two days swell got big enough for crowd control, so it was back to the surfboard. Third day, swell dropping with the pack back in the water and every wave and closeout ridden, I returned to the lagoon with the SUP. Wind very light onshore. This time I managed to stand up paddle to the channel and back again before my lower back started growling. Quite pleased with myself, I racked the board with no drama and started to drive away when out of the corner of my eye I spotted something under the sidewalk tree.