Stand up paddling (SUP) is the new hot thing on Maui's Napili Bay, where my wife and I vacation frequently.
This year on Maui, most days the waves weren't very big. So I spent a lot of time on the beach, boogieboard and fins sitting on the sand, wishing for larger waves. And watching the stand up paddlers do their thing.
It didn't look that difficult. I decided to give it a try.
So I perused a bunch of surfing/SUP brochures, each of which promised that in one lesson you'd be able to surf a wave or paddle your way around on a modified surfboard.
Figuring that my land paddling ability on wheels would translate into being able to stand up paddle on water, I confidently requested a private lesson from the Goofy Foot Surf School in Lahaina. I didn't want my progress to be held back by a bunch of aging tourists from the mainland.
(Thus spoke my 64 year old mind, residing at the time in a Maui condo while on vacation from Oregon.)
After meeting my instructor, we walked a short ways to the beach. The brochure had a photo of calm waters in the "lagoon" where SUP lessons happen, usually early in the morning.
But I'd asked for an afternoon lesson. While on Maui I'm not big on doing anything before mid-morning other than drink coffee, eat breakfast (papaya, yum!), and read the Honolulu newspaper.
Don't know what the water conditions were like earlier in the day.
I instantly could tell, though, that this was no calm lagoon. Fairly large waves were smashing into a breakwater and carrying over on a smaller scale. It also was pretty damn windy.
Plus, the instructor's dog was taking on the role of those aging mainland tourists who I worried were going to hold me back. Literally.
My wife was going to dog-sit this six-month pit bull during the lesson.
However, the puppy was so attached to its owner, it immediately ran into the water after him. The guy must have trained it to ride on his board, because the dog apparently figured that if he jumped on the back of mine, this would be a ticket to ride to his owner.
Unfortunately my wife didn't get a photo of that scene -- which transpired about ten seconds into my first attempt to stand up paddle in some sort of fashion.
I think I was on my knees, as shown in a later iPhone shot. While intently focused on keeping my balance while the waves rolled in, I felt the front of the board tip up as extra pit bull weight was added to the back.
Can't remember if I fell into the water.
But I clearly do remember many other falls. It didn't take me long to realize that even though I was pretty skilled at keeping my balance on a longboard, there's one big difference between land paddling and stand up paddling on water:
Water moves. Land doesn't.
So it took me 15 or 20 minutes before I began to get the hang of adjusting to the waves and wind. During that time it was stand up, take a few strokes, teeter, splash. Then repeat. My instructor gave me some good tips.
Relax. Keep your feet and legs limber. Stand straight. Eyes forward. Keep lead hand fixed in front of you. Rotate core rather than just using arms to paddle. Don't paddle beyond your body position on the board.
Which was good, given that at one point we made it all the way down to the end of the lagoon. The instructor led me out close to where a surfer was catching waves past the breakwater. "Don't fall in," he said, "the water is really shallow here."
Oh, great, I thought, looking down and seeing rocks not far under the surface.
Nothing like a little pressure to help one's balance. I did fine, not falling again until we were almost back to Laurel and the dog -- which had been tied up, preventing another dash onto my board.
I enjoyed the lesson. However, I didn't feel like renting a SUP board and honing my skills on Napili Bay. Stand up paddling on water was fun, but not exciting. Not like bodyboarding is, or like land paddling on a longboard is.
If I wasn't into bodyboarding and land paddling, I think stand up paddling would have appealed to me more. Propelling myself along with a paddle on water, no waves, downhills, or turning/carving involved, just seemed ho-hum.
Challenging for me, given the need to balance while waves and wind did their thing, yet not enticing. I never felt the Yes! rush that bodyboarding and land paddling give me. If I ever got good enough to SUP-surf on waves, I'm sure I'd get that same feeling.
Maybe another time. More visits to Maui likely await.
One day on our vacation I watched a guy who seemed to be a local use a paddle to surf waves marvelously skillfully. It looked like a lot of fun. He might have been on an actual surfboard, rather than a SUP board.
Never have had a surfing lesson. Never too old to learn, right?