As a family, we are spending the summer at Carolina Beach (historically Wilmington Beach). This is good as we are renovating our home downtown and because our daughter has found a job and is working at Uncle Vinny’s Pizzeria (shameless plug for my daughter).
Being at the beach my wife is up before the sun out on the ocean on her paddle board. She just bought a new paddle board and if the weather is good she is out as the sun rises spending hours in her daily meditative exercise after which she often regales us with her experiences with marine life including dolphins, leather back turtles, and even and confused alligator.
My wife, with her fervent love for paddling, encouraged me that I should perhaps consider taking it up. While I usually would surf, the swell this summer has been consistent, well in a word; missing. So my neighbor loaned me his paddle board which is a fair amount larger to accommodate me. He advised me: keep your eyes on the horizon, don’t stare down. This has been great advice and has helped me stay on my feet and on the board.
Now I started day one by pushing the board into and beyond the breakers and climbing on awkwardly and getting to my knees and paddling out. I can say after better than a half-century of living, paddling on my knees definitely wasn’t the most comfortable position ( So much for my catholic upbringing…). While I attempted several times to stand and paddle, each time quickly led to a flailing loss of balance followed by me hitting with a big “kerplunk”. My wife didn’t have to even look back to know where I was… Each morning I would repeat the pattern of the prior day but with each new day, I was able to stand for longer periods. A few days in my neighbor, who had loaned me the board, was out on the beach watching, so I stood and paddled for a long time, not wanting to embarrass myself and only fell three or four times over the course of my time on the water.
So over the course of days, my balance has improved and I can paddle over some pretty impressive swells. I’ve have paddled in and through endless scores of cabbage head jellyfish (fortunately they can’t sting most people but the numbers can still be a bit unnerving) and often through pods of dolphin. I’ve even met an important climatologist, also out for a paddle, while out one Sunday morning (he said the science is true –I guess he expects paddling will become how we get around in the future).
I have been paddling pretty diligently over the course of weeks and while I’m not getting the same bliss my wife claims, I do find paddling enjoyable, calming, and somewhat meditative. It is an enjoyable workout. The paddling is relatively easy, the real work is balance: great workout for the core, legs, and feet (Who knew so much of balance is in the feet?) and it improves muscles and mechanisms for balance which I expect will be more and more important as I get older.
Last Sunday on our paddle was pretty exciting. We saw the cabbage head jellyfish, our daily companions, as they bob up to the surface and then turn and jet back beneath, but also saw sea nettles (definitely didn’t want to fall on them). Kelly pointed out something next to my board which when I looked was definitely a shark. It was within three feet or so from my board and so I got a good look at was likely a six-foot bull or black tip. Really cool but not nearly as cool as the huge leather back turtle we saw later in our paddle.
Perhaps what is best is that paddling takes you away from everything else. It’s just you out on the ocean a respite from the noise, people and other distractions. Out there you can watch the sunlight playing across the patterns on the water, feel the wind, smell the clean salt air, and for a while at least be apart from all the noise, complications, and distractions and simply focus on the next pull of the paddle and the feel of the board as it crests the swell and you slide down its back. While it is a short trip from reality it takes you far and away and leaves you better, clearer and able to return and face whatever the day brings and if you’re lucky… it comes with dolphins…