I've been watching with interest the past summer or two as stand up paddle boards have become increasingly popular in our area. They appear to be a case of kayak meets surfboard. If you read the about the race on the Magothy River and Deep Creek this past weekend, you can see what they look like in action—at least in cruising action. Some models can also double as surfboards, which is a different activity altogether—extreme paddle boarding.
The first ones I noticed caught my eye as a novelty when I saw the odd one or two glide past on Deep Creek. I judged the people on them to be a little showy or exhibitionist. It's all out on display standing atop a board in a creek or harbor instead of tucked away inside a kayak or offshore in a wetsuit on a surfboard. I wasn't all that intrigued or impressed initially.
Well, this past weekend, as paddle boarder after paddle boarder pushed up and back down Deep Creek as part of an organized race, I took a bit more notice. This was clearly more than a mere novelty to these folks, and I began to see the appeal of paddling across the top of the water on foot in terms of perspective and comfort level. I have always felt a little low and constricted in kayaks, but these enthusiasts atop the paddle boards were making use of every part of their bodies to stay balanced and move forward. It was like surfing without the threat of being crushed beneath crashing waves or eaten by sharks.
I wasn't the only one who was intrigued. On Sunday evening, my husband asked if I would like to go take a look at paddle boards with him. He also was curious and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I'm not sure if marketing was one of the goals of the race organizers, but it clearly was effective either way.
So, we drove over to East of Maui to do some research and try to learn a little bit about the sport of paddle boarding. After a 20 minute in-store tutorial by one of the owners, we determined that our best bet was to rent a board and see how we liked it before making an investment in one of our own. There are myriad board options available, and we were not even certain if we had the balance to stand upright on one.
We strapped an 11-foot beginner model to the roof of our Explorer (feeling very cool to have something even close to surfboard looking on top of our vehicle), drove home, and deposited it in Deep Creek for a trial run. I was not at all sure how easy or difficult this was going to be. The guy at the shop had given us a slew of pointers. They even offer classes, but I felt pretty sure this was something we could figure out on our own.
Well, we spent the better part of the afternoon taking turns paddling out in gradually longer distances. The "idiot proof" beginner model was surprisingly easy to balance as long as you kept moving - kind of like riding a bike. Like I suspected, I enjoyed being upright and having a better view than down low in a kayak.
Overall, we agreed that we really liked paddle boarding. The boards are lighter and more manageable than kayaks in terms of getting them in and out, and it really is fun being upright—standing on water. I found that my feet would tend to go a little numb after a while on the board—I think because I was trying so hard to balance properly. A little repositioning seemed to take care of it as I became more acclimated.
We managed to make our way up and down the length of Deep Creek between the two of us without falling in. I had a couple of dodgy moments up at the top of the creek trying to turn around in a narrow, shallow channel, but I even figured out how to reverse on a paddle board to get me out of a tight spot. It wasn't pretty, but nobody could see me up there but the birds and the frogs. My husband, who ventured out into the Magothy, said it was pretty challenging to stay upright in even a little bit of chop, and a boat wake almost dumped him.
While I was at the head of Deep Creek, I came across some really lovely flowers that I hadn't seen before—looked like white and pink hibiscus. I don't know if they are desirable or not in that habitat, but they were really eye catching. I found myself wishing I had my camera with me.
Later in the day just past sunset, I made a second paddle board trip up the creek (with a paddle, mind you), but this time, I threw caution to the wind and took a camera with me. The water was significantly higher by this hour, so the channels were a bit more navigable.
I was disappointed to find that the flowers had closed up for the night, but I still got some pretty shots of the head of the creek. I also took some video of the birds fluttering in the reeds. The sound was amazing, but the video doesn't quite capture the full effect (see at right). I felt a little guilty for disrupting their settled evening reverie. I fear Deep Creek will be even more disrupted by the ominous sounds of bulldozers that I could hear and just see through the thinned out trees on the south bank of the creek...
As I turned back down the creek and headed for home, I could see lightning strikes from a thunderstorm in the distance to the northeast. This is where I almost went in the drink in my enthusiasm to capture the lightning on camera while not dropping my paddle (in which case I WOULD have been up the creek without a paddle). If I waited to take the shot when the lightning struck, I missed it. So I just started randomly taking pictures (thank goodness for digital photography), and managed to catch a strike on one of them.
Then I used the part of my brain God gave me (as opposed to the worthless Homer Simpson part that would have just kept clicking randomly to catch one lightning strike in 20 shots) and switched to video mode to capture some more of the show. The pictures and video that I shot can be seen at right. They aren't terrific quality, but cut me some slack. I was holding a long paddle in one hand and balancing for my life, or at least for the life of my camera...
It's nothing short of miraculous that my camera did not end up at the bottom of Deep Creek. Heck, it's miraculous that I didn't end up at the bottom of Deep Creek. While I DO recommend paddle boarding, I do NOT recommend paddle board photography unless you have a waterproof case for your camera. I was truly tempting fate, and it was only a matter of time before I and the camera took a swim (deadly for the camera and potentially hazardous to my health with the bacteria levels recently measured in the Magothy).
We're still debating whether to go all in and purchase a board. We agreed we need to do more homework and get a better feel for how much we would use one. I certainly don't anticipate competing in a race anytime soon. I'm thinking it would be more fun to sit on shore with a water balloon canon and try to knock the paddlers off as they pass by. Now, THAT'S some serious sport! (Do I have to actually say that I'm just kidding and that I don't condone that behavior?)