I am a late bloomer. Not only did I marry a die-hard surfer at a more mature age, I also decided to join him in his new adventure of Stand Up Paddle surfing.
It began a few years ago ago with the purchase of a Whopper: the name of the first Stand Up Paddle board he bought me. My husband, Gary, ecstatic with my new interest in the sport, surprised me. He hid it in the bedroom in the small cottage where we live. It was wide, heavy and it took up the whole room. I was kind of scared.
We first brought the boards to the Creeks to paddle. It’s a quiet, natural destination on Nantucket, the water calm and shallow.
My first lesson was about the tides, or lack of a high one. The sound of my fin scraping the sand was like fingernails on a blackboard to Gary. I learned quickly to carry the board out to deeper waters. Next was the direction or strength of the winds, as if gaining my balance on the board wasn’t hard enough. I paddled. I fell. I paddled. I fell. It was exhausting.
Gary stayed right with me. He was stronger and more experienced, but when it came to instruction he didn’t always know when to keep quiet. This was especially annoying when, as he was advising me, he would paddle circles around my board pointing out my errors. He was like the great white shark of SUP schooling.
The more I started to get it, the more I knew I had to learn. Gary really liked to talk about my feet, or rather the wrong position they were in. He was obsessed with getting me to learn to turn the board quickly using my paddle. This often resulted in me crankily deciding to paddle right back to shore. To say this didn’t lead to frustration for both of us would be an understatement. There is no Dr. Phil in Stand Up Paddling.
Later that summer, now having a bit more confidence, I entered a charity paddle race in the flat water of the Creeks. I used my lighter paddle thinking it would make me go faster through the water. Ignoring Gary’s dubious look regarding my choice, I carried on. Proudly close to the finish line I asked a friend in a nearby kayak who was still racing behind me. What he kindly neglected to tell me was they were the official event volunteers.
In my second year I was feeling more confident. Gary and I had even spent a little time on the Island’s south shore for me to try to actual surf. First though, I had to get past the breaking waves out to the calmer seas. It looks so much easier from the beach. Through trial and error and some gulps of salt water, I eventually made it. I still hadn’t caught any waves yet, but I made friends with some curious seals and loved my heightened seascape from the board.
Towards the end of that summer, surfing small waves became within my grasp. I was still working on getting my feet in the right stance but I now understood what I was doing wrong. Somewhere in this journey, I became committed and less afraid. Regular dawn patrols with checking the wind/tide reports were now part of my summer daily routine. I was really catching waves.
We now go surfing together all the time. I still know Gary is watching me from the beach when he is not out with me in the water. As I now catch a wave and glide into shore, I look up to find him. He is always there, giving me a thumb’s up.
Kate Hamilton Pardee is a writer and the Director of Visitors' Services on Nantucket.