Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What's Up with SUP?! Trying Stand-Up Paddling

I suppose I should preface this post with a little background. I spent my childhood afraid of water. I lived in a cold part of the country where water sports weren't "a thing". My parents aren't into swimming or water.

I honestly wouldn't have had exposure to swimming and water had it not been for the elementary school in my small Wyoming town, which incorporated swimming lessons in it's PE curriculum. Unusual, I know, but kind of cool in hindsight.

At the time, not so cool.

Early on, everyone else learned to swim except me. They taught us how to do the strokes, kicks, etc, and we even practiced them while hanging on to a wall. I was with them, until they finally wanted us to let go and float.

Let go and float does not describe my approach to anything in life.

I didn't trust I would float. I want to be in complete control of my movement at all times, and didn't want to give up any of my control to water. I wanted one foot touching the floor at all times. Everyone else caught on and started swimming anywhere from 1st to 3rd grade. Except me. While they were swimming laps and learning new strokes, I required a teacher to work with me one-on-one.

I felt like a loser. 

Finally, in 5th or 6th grade, I got the courage to let go and start swimming. I actually liked it. It was freeing and fun! However, even today, I don't jump in. I don't want to fall in. I want to control how I enter water on MY terms. I'm afraid I won't be able to catch myself in the water and adjust to swimming. I use steps to enter a pool. I like the beach because it's a gradual descent.

For this reason, I don't love boats. Ships are fine - they're so big I don't have a fear of falling out. I mean small motorboats. I was once pulled by a boat in a tube and thought I was having a heart attack! I didn't like being pulled by a boat I couldn't control.

Here in TN, water sports are so popular that people think I'm cray.

What, you haven't been water skiing since you were 2?

So why SUP?

In my late 20's, I'm all about facing fears. Plus, since SUP boards aren't motorized, I felt like I would have more control of my movement.

Last week, the Knoxville Track Club partnered with Billy Lush Brand, a new lifestyle and fitness company in Knoxville focused on paddle sports, to provide a stand up paddling (SUP) lesson and experience to complement our usual Wednesday night run.

Haha - back in the 90's people used to say 'sup instead of "What's up?" Long before "totes", "cray" and "yolo".

If you aren't familiar with SUP, it's basically a recreational activity that involves kneeling or standing on a board (which looks similar to a surfboard but seems more stable) in the water, and maneuvering through the water using a paddle. I saw it as an (albeit scary) opportunity to overcome this fear.

What if it tipped over? What if I fell off? What if I start wiggling around like an idiot? What if I get so scared I started telling people it was great knowing them, and to go forth and tell the tale of the girl who overcame her fear, only to meet her untimely demise.

So ironic. Didn't Alanis Morissette sing about that?

Back to reality - upon arriving, we met with Abe from Billy Lush Brand on the river in downtown Knoxville. We had a large group, so we took turns as boards were available. B and I ran two miles while we waited for boards.

I was feeling nervous beforehand, as I was telling my friends.

Total drama queen moment

Fortunately, Abe walked me through the process and taught me what to do.

I was measured for paddle length (based on the height of my fingers when reaching above my head).

He taught me the rowing motion. My left hand went on top, my right hand below, and I was to pull the paddle near me. Paddling backwards could act as a brake or a way to turn around.

He taught me how to kneel on my board, and told me how I'd stand up. It sounded pretty simple. Hold my board out in front of me and rise to my feet.

Finally, it was time to get on the board. Kneeling on it wasn't bad at all. Surprisingly, the board felt very stable. I didn't feel like I was going to tip over at all.

Paddling wasn't too hard, except for steering. I accidentally ran into a docked boat. Apparently, you can't just paddle on one side. A friend showed me how to paddle on both sides and maneuver myself out of the boat.

Once I was finally out in the water, it was time to try to stand.

I'm fine here, thanks.

No, I came here to try SUP, and SUP without "SU" is just "P".

That was weird.

No really, I wanted to say that I at least attempted the real deal. So, I held my paddle in front of me perpendicular to me and slowly attempted to rise to my feet. As I started to rise, my body and the board wobbled all over the place!

I was only halfway up, and I was wobbling left, then right, then left again, I was going to tip over!

Although I admit it didn't look wobbly from the picture

So I got back down on my knees.

I tried again, only to have the same result.

Finally, a friend told me I should get the board going faster in order to make it less wobbly. I paddled and paddled and got to a decent speed. I raised up again, and was slightly less wobbly. I got to that wobbly halfway point again and made myself push through it.

And I was up!! Once standing, it didn't feel that wobbly anymore. I could balance! I didn't feel like I would fall! I had to actively engage my legs and core to do so, but it wasn't too difficult. I paddled around and got some speed and it was fun!

I'm totally a surfer chick now!

B also did a great job! He was also able to stand up (although he wasn't close to a camera when he did), and enjoyed it.

When our SUP adventure was done, it was time to go back to the dock. They tried to explain a graceful way to dismount, but I ended up flopping onto the dock. Whatever works!

The next morning, I was surprised that when I got out of bed, my core, shoulders, and legs were all incredibly sore! I didn't feel like I'd been working that hard! I was hobbling around! It must have been a great workout!

If you try SUP for the first time, I'd recommend:

  • Start with a lesson or demonstration so you learn how to balance on the board and paddle safely and effectively. Here in Knoxville, Billy Lush Brand is a great resource for classes and rentals. They even do yoga on the board, which I can't even imagine!
  • If you can't swim or don't swim well, be sure wear a life jacket (in our case provided with the board)!
  • As you stand, try to let go of the fear of tipping over and don't hesitate too much. For me, that seemed to make it wobblier.
  • Try to SUP with friends or with a group who can help you if you get stuck, or are having issues. I wouldn't recommend doing SUP alone.
  • Start on a nice day where the water is pretty calm.
  • Try to let go and have fun! It took me awhile to do this, but that's the whole point, right?
Overall, it was a fun experience, and I'd definitely do it again! Considering my water issues, that should say something!

Have you tried SUP? What tips do you have for people trying it?


Participating in Monday link-up (a day late). See what Ashley from Coffee and Macarons and others are doing this week!

Coffee & macarons

I was not compensated by Billy Lush Brand for this post, nor is it affiliated with this blog. I am simply sharing my honest opinions and experiences. The views expressed in this article are solely my own. Also, I'm not a health or fitness professional of any kind. See my Terms and Conditions page.

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  1. Sounds like fun. I need to go sometime.

  2. I'm the same way! I've never been one to jump right into the pool. I HAVE to be in control. So glad to hear that there is another like me in a world of cannon ballers :)

  3. Way to go, surfer chic! I grew up near the beach and have been swimming for as long as I can remember, so I have no fear of water. You don't want to be next to me in an airplane, though :) I LOVE SUP and would most definitely own one if I lived near water now.

  4. Hi Amy!
    I love this post and I totally relate with you about the swimming thing. I sink...I don't float :) I have seen the SUP when I was in San Francisco and thought it looked so cool. I'd love to try it some day it looks like a great core workout!

  5. This is so awesome! So amazing that you really went proactive and conquered part of your fears! Thanks for sharing those tips - I would not have any idea where to start in getting lessons or trying it on my own....

  6. Fun! I want to try. Good job facing your fears. Those pictures are fun! I tried a stand-up solo jet ski a few months ago when my family went to the lake. It was really fun.