Surfing kicked my ass. Sailing seems suicidal. Even kayaking, which I admittedly enjoy, once tried to have me “eliminated” in an unfortunate sea kayaking episode. WATER SPORTS ARE THE DEVIL.
Except paddleboarding, it seems. I was initially skeptical, but paddleboarding is my new religion… and I’m an evangelical. Here are my top five reasons why you should give paddleboarding a shot.
1. It’s really easy to learn!
Like, really ridiculously easy. Here’s what you do:
- Put your board in the water.
- Put yourself on the board (basically just kneel in the middle).
- Grab the paddle and use it to carefully propel yourself in circles until you feel comfortable (try not to fall in).
- Raise yourself onto your knees and paddle some more.
- When you’re bored with this stage (after about three minutes) and feeling adventurous, stand up. You may feel wobbly for a bit, but keep looking forward (not at your feet!) and keep paddling.
- Congratulations, you’re paddleboarding! Now go have fun.
The beauty of paddleboarding is that the worst thing that can happen is you might fall in the water. Sure, this has the potential to really suck (particularly if it’s freezing outside, as it was when when went out), but it’s not dangerous, you’re not falling very far, and it’s usually not that big of a deal. And, for what it’s worth (probably not much), neither Kali or I fell once during the entire two and a half hours we were on the water.
Should I get lessons?
Here’s the thing. If you’re relatively comfortable in the water and have decent balance and athletic ability, you really don’t need a lesson (though our guide did provide some really helpful tips, so who knows). There are a number of locations where you can rent paddleboards and paddles for a pretty small fee and just set off on your own, so that might be a good option.
HOWEVER! I would HIGHLY recommend having a guided tour if there’s one available in your area. Seriously, going with someone who knows the area and the ecosystem and the names and history of all the fantastic sea animals is so freaking rad. Megan, our awesome tour guide from the awesome SUP Key West, took us into the hidden mangrove forest, convinced us the monster sea slug was safe to hold, and pointed out the joys of Pelican Poop Island. If we had gone out on our own, we likely would have missed most of this (okay, except the pelican poop… that shit was pretty obvious).
A “beginner’s lesson” was included in the guided tour, but you really don’t need lessons like you would for, say, surfing or kayaking. We spent about fifteen minutes at the dock playing around, then set off and had fun. So a lengthy lesson? Probably not worth it. A guided tour with a knowledgeable professional? DO IT.
2. You can paddle almost anywhere.
Unlike other water sports, you aren’t reliant on wind or waves or currents. Lakes, rivers, ponds, oceans, bays, salt flats, gulfs, moats, reservoirs, wetlands, canals, lagoons, swamps, or streams… you can paddleboard just about anywhere there’s liquid! It’s best to have at least a foot or so of water (so you can use your paddle and not get stuck), but paddleboards are a superb way to navigate shallow areas.
It would probably be ideal to stick to calmer and warmer water if you’re just starting out, but for the intrepid paddler oceans and choppy lakes are by no means off limits.
3. You can easily explore your surroundings.
Paddleboarding offers a high degree of maneuverability, so it’s a great option if you’re looking for a way to investigate the ocean around you while, um… locomoting nautically. The shallow waters surrounding Key West are teeming with tropical sea creatures and marine life, and our paddleboards allowed us to float gently on the surface and peer down at them in their natural habitat.
The monster sea slug (aka the sea hare) was one of the coolest creatures we saw. They scoot along the bottom of the salt flats and emit a bright inky substance to foil their predators. We picked one up and said hello, but the cheeky little thing didn’t ink at all until we put it back in the water!
But it was the mangroves we found most intriguing. There are four main types of mangrove in the Keys, and they each have unique adaptations allowing them to thrive in salty environs that would kill most other plants. Some trap salt through in nodules, others excrete it through their leaves to be washed off when big storms roll through… the whole story is really enthralling, but you’ll have to find a guide of your own for all the details.
Their seedlings sprout in shallow water and build up massive root systems, eventually developing into their own islands. Megan took us into one of these watery forests, where we pulled ourselves along through narrow channels until we reached the clearing in the middle. It seriously felt like we were in the Secret Garden, exploring some unknown and hidden mangrove cave that no one else had ever been into! To actually be INSIDE a mangrove forest was definitely a one-of-a-kind experience, and we wouldn’t have been able to manage it without our paddleboards.
4. You get a full-body workout.
Paddling works your core muscles like nobody’s business. Admittedly, we spent much of our time kneeling on our boards to peer into the water or navigate through the mangroves, but when we actually got down to business and did some serious paddling we could definitely feel the burn. And if you get too hot from all that strenuous activity, you can always “accidentally” fall into the water to cool off.
5. It’s fun!
We had a blast; even though it was chilly and we were terrified of toppling into the icy (welll.. sixty degree) water, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. If you have the opportunity to try paddleboarding, give it a shot — there’s a good chance you’ll love it!