It’s no surprise that I have taken up stand up paddleboarding. Or, maybe you are my relatives who aren’t on Instagram (which is my second home) and this is the first you are hearing about it. So back up. Hello, my name is Allison, I love Stand Up Paddleboarding, or SUP.
Here at the beach, there are many ways to get out and be on the water but when I rented a paddleboard with a friend for the first time last summer, I was hooked. I went and rented many more times and took some SUP yoga classes. For Christmas, my husband bought a board for me.
My husband and I have always kayaked (not whitewater….nice easy flat water where I am in no danger of losing my beer), but something about paddleboarding gripped me in a way that kayaking did not. I think it is similar to my infatuation with hot yoga.
My head goes ALL THE TIME. The brain part of my head. And while I know that I need to shut it down sometimes, the fact is that it is really hard for me. This post I wrote and illustrated (ha!) years ago is still true. It is just hard to turn off. So while I want to sink into the water views and listen to the sounds of nature when I kayak, most of the time I am not. I am drifting – in all ways.
But hot yoga and paddleboarding have enough challenge that I have no choice but to be totally immersed in what I am doing, my surroundings, and ever inch of my body, including my toes. These two things take me outside of myself in a way nothing else does.
Any new sport or hobby tends to be best experienced with a group. Hobbies are ripe fields for plucking new friendships and developing socially, but also by being within a group there is more opportunity to learn about the hobby, to also pluck experience and wisdom. Plus, being involved in a group that revolves around our hobbies helps motivate us to keep practicing.
So I went to a meet up group here that is for paddleboarders. Consider it a quest to find my people.
Just to be honest, not everything in my Beyond the Comfort Zone Challenge has gone great, and this is one. Listen, though: this had nothing to do with the people part of the meet up group. They were friendly, warm, and very welcoming.
The thing that made this unsuccessful was the fact that I am new to the sport and slow. The conditions were very rough, and I simply couldn’t keep up. One very nice gentleman was doing laps around me, making sure I was okay, while the rest of the group had taken off and was gone out of sight before I could even figure out if I was holding my paddle right (it is something I always worry about, even though I’ve got it).
Immediately, I knew I was out of my element and felt like a failure. After all, I am not new to the sport and I had just spent a good chunk of a change on a decent board from a local paddleboard shop. I work out. Why was I so dismal at this?
Because apart from my dear friend who agreed to join me on this meet up because she is a kindred, adventurous soul, all the other paddlers far eclipsed me. I came out with a kayaking PFD I roped to the front of my board, a huge pack with a water bottle, phone in a pouch, flip flops, sunscreen, bug spray, and whatever else I need to go out for a beautiful evening on the water. They all rolled out in the most minimal and high tech gear paddleboarders can own. I looked over-eager, novice and, I am sure, ridiculous.
At one point, my friend and I considered turning back. But when a sea turtle rose up out of the choppy waters in front of me, whitecaps breaking, and smiled, I knew we would do it. It would be hard, but we would do it.
Nearly 45-minutes later, we came around a bend to find the entire contingency of paddlers from the meet up group waiting for us. They were all smiles, cheers, and kind words. I was sweaty, out of breath, and embarrassed. They had to have been waiting at least 20 minutes. And this paddle wasn’t even over!
As the turtle knew I would, I made it. My shoulders were on fire and everyone else already had their boards out of the water and on their cars. One gentleman took one look at me and hoisted my board on top of my Highlander for me. Gratefully, I smiled. Then, he suggested I join the group for a beer.
Over a beer and some pizza, the group was incredibly enthusiastic about my, and my friend’s, participation.
“You should come back!” “You just need a better board!” “We were like you, too, where our boards kept us the slowest on the block, and we ended up buying better gear and now we can keep up!” “Keep at it, you’ll get better.” “You should do some races. There are hardly any women out there so you’d be sure to get some sort of medal!”
Yes, it was meant to be encouraging but instead it hit me: I am not in this to win a race or be faster. And for the first time in my life, that’s okay.
For pretty much my whole life, I would only tackle things I could excel at. Or, rather, I would make sure I excelled at whatever I tackled. If I couldn’t be one of the best, then I didn’t want in. Professional ballet at the age of 12; competitive softball on a select team; graduating top 10 at high school and with distinction and nearly a 3.8 GPA from college; president of all the organizations I could get on; moving through the ranks of my jobs quickly.
This isn’t to say that I was amazing at everything I did. In fact, I was politely asked NOT to return to basketball. I did one year of flute and didn’t make the middle school band. My voice teacher suggested I stick to dancing.
But the fact was that if I wasn’t great at it, I quit. The joy wasn’t in the doing, perse, it was in the excelling.
Here, though, now with paddleboarding, I think I am okay with simply the joy. It seems like I will not be the best. I am nearly 40 and am simply proud that I reached outside my comfort zone to try something new, does it matter if I excel? I don’t want to invest over $1,000 in equipment.
Instead, I want to just get out and feel my toes on the board, the salt water massaging them as they cramp from gripping. I will be on my board and when the sweat from exertion starts to sting my eyes and my abs are screaming, I will jump off and into the water, watching the fish scatter around me. When my labored breathing becomes white noise and my thoughts cease, I will look at the pelican in the sky and feel like I know him.
I don’t want a challenge or a goal. I don’t want to excel.
I am so thankful I went to that meet up group (and really so very happy my friend went with me). It helped me learn more about myself and realize what I want out of my new hobby.
I wish I could hang out with the group again – maybe we can start a slow paddle meet up group? – as I felt connected to them. But I also know that I was far too slow, and far too uninterested in investing to the next level to bring myself back.
I will not excel, but that’s okay.
This challenge was designed in September 2015 by me, to push myself outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to force myself to try new things, to learn to embrace my life, to take a situation where I was feeling sad and lonely and force a new perspective. I was feeling stagnant but I realized it was my own fault. There is way too much fun, adventure, laughter and good people in the world for me to feel sad. I didn’t have true goals when I started: just to get out of self-pity and to get in the middle of the road and rush straight forward.