Like many of you, I only participate in slightly more esoteric sports when I can get a lesson for a discount through a group coupon website. The only purchases I need to make in running is a nice pair of shoes and the occasional replacement pair of pants. Shelling out close to $100 to learn a sport I may completely suck at isn’t my idea of a wise investment.
This weekend, I attempted to learn to paddleboard. My girls and I bought lessons at Gansett Juice through BuyWithMe a while back. We opted not to contend with the actual surf, and headed over to the Narrow River to meet our instructor for the lesson. I’ve kayaked the Narrow River a few times and I love it. Aside from the occasional wake-tossing motorboat, the river is calm and shallow. When kayaking, I’d often made it to the far end of Narragansett Town Beach and spend some time playing in the surf, praying I didn’t sink a $700 kayak.
Our instructor, Peter Pan (yes, really) met us at the small sandy section which all manner of self-propelled boats launch. Another group of Bostonians stood around Peter’s truck, which was loaded up with various paddleboards. As he talked about the area and the man who owned the parking lot (“He’s 100 years old and so cranky. I have no idea what he has to be cranky about.”), he laid out the boards like playing cards. In a ceremony reminiscent of the house-choosing in Harry Potter, he handed us each a paddle calibrated to our height. He assigned each of us a paddleboard, then illustrated how to paddle and turn.
“You are going to use muscles you didn’t even know you had today,” Peter warned. “Your feet may hurt from balancing yourself. You should be using your abs to power yourself forward. Your shoulders may hurt. We are going to paddle for 20 minutes down the river. If you feel tired before the 20 minutes is up, turn around and head back. We will be paddling back against the current and it’s much harder. I want to see 100 percent from everyone. Some people are nice guys. I’m a bad guy. I want to see you digging deep.”
I looked at my friends. We knew we were in for it.
At long last, we launched our boards into the water. I stood up on my board with ease, but couldn’t move forward because the fin was hung up in the sand. Once most of the rest of the group had taken off, I pushed my board into deeper water and hopped on.
I worried that paddleboarding would be a lot like surfing. My main challenge when taking a surfing lesson about seven years ago was pushing myself up into the standing position. I caught a wave perfectly, and my instructor yelled that I should stand up. But my arms were exhausted from paddling into position. All I could manage was to ride what became a $600 boogie board in my incapable hands into shore.
But I hopped right up on the paddleboard. I grabbed my paddle as I’d been instructed, and headed down the river towards the ocean.
It was amazing. I pushed myself forward, pulling the board forward in the water. The chop created by the breeze lapped at the bottom of the board as I went downriver. I could see seagulls and geese and other birds nesting in the marshy banks of the river. Then I collided with those same beautiful banks and had to push myself away. The feeling of using my own strength to stay standing and cut through the water was exhilarating. I was already mentally planning when I could next afford to rent a paddleboard to practice avoiding the banks of the river.
Then it was time to paddle back to shore. And we learned that Peter Pan was not kidding about the current. It pushed me backwards if I lapsed even momentarily in paddling against it. But the one thing we didn’t expect was the wind. What had been a cooling breeze on the way down felt like the hand of god preventing us from getting back to the beach. We pushed. We paddled furiously. But we could not go forward. Even those that had excelled at the paddle down got turned around and blown backwards by the gale.
For a few moments, I considered hopping into the water and floating the board back. But I had done so well. My arms didn’t ache. Peter told us to hug the shore to cut down on how much the wind would push us. Eventually, I managed to get into a small cove and paddle toward the beach.
As more of the group got back, we traded boards to see which we liked best. I grabbed a wider board and paddled out into the cove, executing a downward dog to say I’m on trend in practicing yoga on a paddleboard.
I hope a new job comes my way soon, because I’d really like to rent a paddleboard a few more times this summer. Even without a discounted coupon. Because I didn’t suck at paddleboarding.