We had a great time, paddling until sunset. I was so nervous, I paddled from my knees until we were almost all the way back, and then I stood up, gingerly reaching forward to cut a slice of the water. I was hooked. That was Wednesday.
She signed me up for a race to take place that Saturday. I thought: 3 miles, no problem.
I borrowed a nice, wide and welcoming table-top-like board and headed north of West Palm Beach. My first indication I was in over my head were the svelte, tanned bodies taking to the boards. A quick “Oh No” feeling passed over me as I walked down the ramp into the water and got on top, floating out among the pack, guiding myself ever further back behind everyone.
The beautiful thing about getting in over your head is that you are 1) going to experience something your normal, rational self would talk you out of, and 2) you will prove something new to yourself.
The race began. I soon realized it was an open-ocean race. We headed out of the marina, feeling strong, as a pack, and, concentrating as I was, one paddle at a time, it was suddenly that a huge ship approached, and it was only then that I recognized I had allowed a large gap to widen between me and the other paddlers. Large enough that one of the hands was able to leisurely stroll to the end of the ship and motion to me to Hold On. I did. There’s not much you can do when a giant ship is making way.
“Best you stay there, ok?” he said. “The channel is deep enough for us to pass here, so we have to.”
That was the last time I saw the pack of paddlers all in a clump.
15 minutes later the damn ship had “made way” across the channel cut and off I went again. It was sunny, and I was standing up paddling like a pro. I got into the main channel and the water became choppy, something new for me. Canals have pretty tame water, the ocean, on the horizon promised even choppier water and I tried to keep my eyes down, not on the horizon as I was starting to feel a little panic rising.
The lead guy passed me before I could even see the turnaround, which was out on the ocean, past the low-wake zone, where the boats floored it making huge chop, the likes that would toss a newbie like me right over.
I caught up to all the kids, finally. Phew! Relief. Nope.
At the turnaround, which required a lot of skill just to avoid the children who were as wild with their directional abilities as me, I pushed passed them, and then, in a turn of fate, the wind hit me, a full 25 mph full in the face, and those little shits passed me again.
So, I was in last place. No biggie.
Except that it started to rain, and some recreational paddlers happened to be hanging out near the shore line and called out to me to get on my knees or I would just blow backwards during the storm. The storm?! WTF?!!
Around this time, one of my friends showed up in a boat asking if I would like to ditch and take a ride back with them. Nope, I’ll make it, I said, semi-confidently.
The storm arrived shortly after they turned and whizzed away and brought a good amount of rain.
I had not been paying attention during our departure on the marina we left from, so focused was I on not falling on my face into the drink. This proved extremely taxing, but allowed me to shift my overwhelming feelings of terror onto something other than falling into and drowning in the water.
Someone took a picture of me as I came in – the rain was making those huge indentations in the water, pelting away. I look very determined, and I guess I was, because I didn’t fall in and I finished the race, last place, but I did it.
I bought a paddle from this place the next year when we were hopping around the Hawaiian islands. There’s a pic of it in the shop before the owner cut it down to size for me and a couple on the water shots at home. He gave me a lesson standing atop a rock wall before he let me buy it. He was very serious about good form. His shop sits on a wedge corner where all the traffic converges. Hello, passing traffic. He offered to take me out on the water for a lesson but I turned him down - stupidly - never turn the surf shop guy down if he offers to take you out on perfectly clear water on a Hawaiian island. Doh!!
He was good for his word and mailed me the paddle 4 weeks later. It has never paddled in warm, clear water, always the muddy brown. I found a guy selling boards here, bringing them up from Florida to get people in far off states excited about the sport. I bought my first one for $500 and I still have it in my garage and I take it out when I can on the lakes and rivers.
It takes no pushing to get me to get out on the water and on the ocean, once you get past the break line, it’s smooth sailing. I try not to think of all of those creatures living below my board while I glide along the surface. It is crazy to get out that far, on a 20ft board, just you and the water as far as the eye can see.
The pic way below is of a black sand beach in Hana. It is the most magical water thing I have ever seen and it is hard to beat. There's also a pic I've snipped a little of me and the (little) kiddo on a board. I used to take him out sitting there, between my feet, when he was a wee lad.