Paddleboard Diary

We keep inventing new ways to play in water. On water. Several offshoots of surfing – such as wind surfing and kite surfing have attracted some but the degree of difficulty has kept their appeal limited.

Paddleboarding stands alongside activities such as canoeing, skiing and hiking in an important way: you don’t have to be especially competent to get some fun out of it. It was surprisingly easy to take my first ride on the calm waters of a local beach, and I’ve watched several rookies master the basics. I was also surprised at how endurance wasn’t an issue. With only a few minutes of practice on the lake, and some expert tips from a friend, my first real trip involved spending all afternoon on a peaceful Assiniboine River. No more taxing physically than doing it in a canoe. In fact – given what we now know about humans and sitting – I shouldn’t be surprised how few aches and pains that trip caused.

But if you like a challenge you can step it up.

Mastered flatwater and a few day trips with your canoe? Try a seven day circuit at Lac La Ronge  and/or – try some rapids. Mastered the blue runs at Lake Louise?  Try some moguls. No problem with a 25 km hike in Riding Mountain National Park? Try the Chilkoot Trail.

My first challenge was fast water, but that wasn’t too much of a problem. It was predictable. It kept you on your toes, rocked you just a bit, but I was able to adjust and, for the most part, stay on my feet. I quickly learned that falling off was no problem anyway – part of the experience. What could be safer?  Lifejacket on. Tethered to the board so it doesn’t escape on you.

Climb aboard and continue.

Rapids with visible rocks to dodge was the next challenge. I approached the first ones on my knees and was re-assured right away. The paddleboard is very manoeuvrable when you take to your knees but it wasn’t long before I was confident enough to try standing up through rapids. No problem unless the rather long fins ,that give it manoeverabilty,  catch on a rock. That can throw you right off. Wearing a helmet is a good idea. I also soon learned that I can get shorter fins for river trips when rocks will be an issue.

Waves offer another challenge.  I had encountered standing waves in rapids with some success. You see them coming – and hit them head on. On a lake you will want to learn to take them at any angle, and it took me some practice.  My first try was on modest metre gently rolling waves. I got on – and they threw me off. It took maybe ten tries to be able to stay upright for a short stretch. But then, I just learned to roll with them for a bit.

Turning around was the next task and that also took some tries. But my experience then, and subsequent experience helping a few other beginners get started, has shown me that our bodies are amazing at dealing with all balance-related issues. Most us can learn to anticipate and adapt to the water’s shifts. We were born to stay upright!

After that higher waves, including breaking waves, are obstacles to be attacked as we are ready.

I’m free to use such skills as I have – and just enjoy my time on my board – or I can keep pushing myself to try more demanding trips and face more demanding conditions. It’s all fun.

Convenience and accessibility are important issues. Because my paddle board is an inflatable it goes everywhere – fitting with room to spare into the back of my small hatchback. That feature means that I use it a lot more than I ever used my canoe – and I really liked using my canoe.

The whole thing fits in a backpack - under 30 lbs.