Since the first time I noticed someone glide effortlessly on a board across the calm water on Lake Michigan, near Leland, I knew I was watching my own new summertime activity. The paddler generated a graceful motion that looked both relaxing and fun. He took smooth strokes, propelling himself forward with such ease, it seemed remarkably graceful and easy to me. That was probably eight or nine summers ago. Since that time Joan and I have acquired two Stand Up Paddle Boards, a “his” and a “hers.” Joan likes it, too.
I am out on Lake Michigan several times per week and have been known to keep swim trunks and a towel in my car for an impromptu paddle. In the shoulder seasons, when the big lake is too cold, we have put in at Victoria Creek in Cedar and will paddle up and down the river for hours. Once you get around the bend and can no longer see the light poles from the softball field, you would think that you are the first explorers to the area. There are no man-made structures within sight, and the natural surroundings are as pristine as when the glaciers ripped through this part of the state.
As you can imagine, the reality of standing on the calm water is very different than the image of the agile paddler I had first seen. It requires a certain amount of balance and coordination. A mistake that is often made by the beginner is to overcompensate for any movement at all. A quick change in the center of balance will most assuredly cause an over-reaction to the other side which inevitably dumps the paddler into the aforementioned “calm” water. The board is the board and remains a constant in the water; it is the paddler’s actions which will introduce said paddler to the water in an exhilarating and expeditious fashion.
I was told, when I first bought mine, that I would need to log at least three cumulative hours on the board before I would feel comfortable and not ready to fall in at any moment. Those first three hours and into that first summer, I spent more time than I would have expected unceremoniously face planting in the water. This brings up an interesting point. If you crash while learning to ride a bike you may break your arm or need stitches on some body part. If you crash while learning to ski, you may also break something. If you crash on the paddle board, you get wet. Even wiping out can be fun.
Here is a little insight into me: I don’t enjoy working out. I know people say they do. I disagree. I don’t believe anyone really enjoys it. They may enjoy the results, they may enjoy how they feel when they are finished, but I sincerely doubt a claim of enjoying a workout. This new activity, however, is purely enjoyable. I love it. When I am not paddling, I am thinking about it. It is hard for me to be on the beach without my board. The nice thing about it, from a fitness point of view, is that it’s a full body workout. That first day on the board, while I was learning, I thought, “Hmm, this doesn’t seem to be the exercise that people claim it to be. I don’t feel anything.” The next morning I could barely walk I was so sore. My legs were sore, my arms and upper body were sore, my core was sore. I knew right then and there, I had stumbled on my fun way to work out.
Because of the elevation above the water, on a bright day I have seen schools of fish, golf balls, and cell phones on the bottom of the lake. I even paddled with a confused beaver who was in Lake Michigan. (He must have been lost.)
Last summer I discovered a new and improved way to enjoy being on my board. I found that I can carefully place my beach chair on top and paddle sitting down. The water needs to be fairly still, but I will bring my water bottle and a book (or kindle) with me and just float while I read. I knew I struck on something cool when I heard a teenager on shore say to his friend, “Dude, check that out. That is so awesome.” Yeah, it is awesome, and I turned the page and kept reading. It is important to be a good example for the youth; they don’t read enough books.