Two Ways to Paddle into Pleasure
by Marilynn Preston
This is the time of year I love to kayak. Think loons, eagles, otters, and herons.
I love paddling Walter, my well-worn, 17-foot foot Solstice, and not just because it’s an inspiring upper body workout. In less than a minute, kayaking transports me into the silence, the rhythm of the waves, one stroke on my right, another on my left, over and over, inhaling, exhaling, sometimes repeating the mantra, sometimes sending my breath to a tight spot on my torso that’s begging
“Why don’t I do this every day?” I ask myself, waiting for Nelson the Eagle to surprise me with a flyover.
“Why isn’t everyone doing this all the time?”
As you can see, regular, rhythmical aerobic exercise has a powerful effect on the mind.
Let’s take a closer look at kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding (SUP), two wonderful waterfront sports worthy of your free time:
WHY KAYAK? It works the body, it shifts the mind, and—here’s the stress-reducing part you’ll never get on a treadmill in the gym—kayaking brings you into contact with nature. The intimate, outdoor connections you make there are biochemically based, and can lower your blood pressure, calm your nerves and revive your spirit.
Getting started, you should know there are sea kayaks and river kayaks. Sea kayaks are stable, great for exploring. River kayaks are tippy, made to roll. Paddling either qualifies as great fun, but today I’m extolling the wonders of exploring gentle rivers, quiet lakes and calm seas in a proper sea kayak.
What do I mean by proper? A multipurpose plastic tub that sells for $49.99 at your local Big Box store is not going to give you the same smooth ride as a quality kayak that’s been designed for efficiency and comfort.
Better to buy a used good kayak than a new clumsy, unbalanced one, even if you love the neon color. So rent the best kayaks you can, and when it comes to buying, save up, and remember to investigate the booming secondhand market.
LEARN THE SKILLS. I’ve had 8-year-olds and 80-year-olds paddling my kayak, giggling with joy, but if you’re planning to get the most out of the experience, learn the basics, including self-rescue. Human teachers are best, I find. You might be surprised to learn that paddling a kayak is a push-and-pull experience, with an emphasis on the push of the upper arm, through the air, not the pull of the lower arm, through the water.
STAND-UP PADDLE BOARDING IS HOT! Technique is also the secret to success with SUP. Many people stand incorrectly, paddle just with their arms, quickly tire, feel bored and quit.
“Use your core muscles for all your strokes,” the experts at SUP TV teach, in their many “Golden Rules of Stand-Up Paddling” videos on YouTube. That means instead of just paddling with your arms and shoulders, dig deep and engage your lats and abs, the muscles around your core that control and support your spine, your posture.
Also, be sure to plant your blade fully in the water before you start to pull. Who knew? You’d never do this if you were paddling a canoe or kayak, but it’s very useful when you paddle board because it gives you more power and control, and helps stabilize you on the board.
How you stand on the board is crucial. Always assume the Ready Position: Your feet are shoulder-width apart; your knees are bent and act like shock absorbers; your back is straight, not hunched, so you can keep your core muscles engaged and prevent lower-back strain and pain.
SUP TV turns out to be a font of information about paddle boarding, including a terrific video series about my new summer love, SUP Yoga, featuring Jodelle Fitzwater.
Down dog on a moving mat? Warrior poses on gentle waves? What a hoot! What a workout! And when you fall, you make a big splash.
But I still love Walter the most. Yesterday, I saw two loons, seven ducks, one blue heron and six turtles on a log. And that was just the first hour.
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! A Secret Teaching.
“Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.”