It was my sixth time on an introductory board and I was feeling confident. I had not fallen into the water yet! I asked the folks at Ecomarine if I should up the bar and try a new board. “Well you are thinking of getting a Red Paddle Explorer”..said Peter..”why not try a twelve foot touring board”. “What is the difference” I asked and Peter looked me in the eye and with an Irish smirk said..”well it it is a thinner board so it is kind of tippy”.
My initial instructor Dave took me down to the dock and noticed that I was wearing less insulated gear. “So do you want to stand on the board and see how it feels first?” he asked as we both went down to the dock. I got the PFD, leash and paddle and David took the board off the rack. The board was narrow..eight inches narrower and as it went into the water, I considered how cold the water might be today.
I jumped..who am I kidding..I cautiously climbed on and did a few side to side bear dance moves. “Hmm..yup..less stable.”..I said to David as he gave me my paddle and said..”try it out”..I did three paddles. “You ok?” I heard Dave ask and with a feeble “yup” and with a wobbly drunken sailor stance, I navigated around the end of the dock with all of the confidence of well lubricated New Year’s eve party goer!
For a novice paddler, False Creek has three key obstacles to test a newbie paddler. The first is the wind, which seems to magically increase just several minutes after you have made the choice to go down the creek and see if you can make the nearby bridge. The second obstacle is the numerous water taxis, who..I believe..get a secret joy in sneaking up on SUP Paddlers from behind and sending a wake their way. The final obstacle is the resident cormorant population, who seem to surface at the oddest of times and just in front of your board or paddle. Being that this was my six time, I had adopted a few strategies. I signaled to the water taxis with my paddle. I started my paddle down wind and…I honestly enjoyed the antics of the local bird population.
I had made the Cambie Street bridge much faster than I thought I would. It was true that the board was much faster. Yet I was feeling as stable as a person with a full bladder doing a pee dance in a block long portapotty line at a concert. Each ferry produced a wake and I turned to go into it. “Ha, I dare you to tease me!” I quietly taunted the ferries. I successfully navigated the shallow low tide water at the bridge, enjoyed the voices of kids playing on the shore and played hide and go seek with four more ferries.
By now the wind was up and I decided to cut a diagonal across the creek and then work in what I hoped would be a wind shadow created by the Island’s cement factory. I was calming smiling at runners and stray tourist on shore. I was free on the water and muscling my way into the wind. I did not see the ferry pass behind me. Paddle boards are meant to surf and with just a small wave, I was now suddenly rocketing forward into the wind. Without even having the time to go “Cowabunga”, I noticed that my feet and board leash were going skyward.
Now in theory, to get back onto the board, there are several strategies. Having paddled canoes and kayaks, the first instinct kicked in. Stay calm. Float and point your board into the wind. Hold onto your board and your paddle. Ignore the fact that a lovely matronly woman is now on deck wondering if you are going to drown. Ignore the six monohull canoeist and some brawny hawaiin big kahuna in his outrigger. “You ok?”..”Oh yeah..just got too hot..wanted to cool down…!”. Bull shit..your board is heading for the nearby dock and the grand mum is now offering you the steps on the back of their boat..and you are actually thinking about it.
Happily, in my private lesson Dave and I had discussed this situation and in hindsight, I should have just jumped in a done a trial run. I was about three feet from the dock when I finally stood up and started to paddle to windward again. A kayaker looked over his shoulder and gave me this long look of discust… “Silly frickin Paddle boarder”..or so I thought. To show my confidence, I launched into some strong strokes. I was soaked. My legs were shaking not from cold but from exhaustion and I was yet to get to Granville Island.
When you shut off you thoughts and just paddle, the world seems to make more sense. It is just one stroke after the other. The fear of falling in was now over and with that there was also the private joy of getting back up and paddling to windward without showing any sign of being scared. How often do we actually challenge gravity in life? How often do we put our selves in situations that may be a little tippy? I wasn’t pondering these thoughts but a grin stayed on my face till I made the dock about twenty minutes later.
I changed and walked into the Granville Island market with a new swagger. I indulged and bought a monster lemon aid and went outside to see the dock I had just paddled by. Two guitarist were playing Pacabel’s Cannon and I looked over to the railing where three years ago I had met the woman who had inspired today’s antics. While she had moved, I could still see her first smile at me. The music was mixed with the cry’s of gulls and more ferry traffic. Either due to exhaustion or a poetic moment, I sat down and soaked it all in. Time and memories lyrically followed the melody of one of my favorite songs. Contently, I listened to the music as my legs continued to vibrate. After the song, I slowly got up and went inside and got a Thai Chicken Special. The wise elderly lady behind the counter must have read my eyes and sun burned face and gave me a discount on another lemon aid.
So this is why I paddle. There is always going to be the daily challenge. There is always going to be the challenge of the unexpected. Yet the reward for my soggy time on water was this beatific state of mind of wandering around Granville Island full of life, alone and yet not alone. There is the knowing that while you may become overcomed with the life outside of you there is is also peace of mind inside of you. Life is good today; even though it is kind of tippy.