Paddle Boarding and Tree Guy

After the Fourth of July, I had promises to keep. So, Tree Guy got a pair of earrings on Wednesday, and I went paddle boarding on Saturday.

Tree Guy’s looking good, but Friday morning I discovered a squirrel had messed with one of his earrings. Every summer I forget about the hooligan squirrels until I find dirt and a section of flowers on the ground. Searching for an easy place to bury seeds for the next winter, squirrels dig in the flower baskets hanging from Tree Guy’s earlobes. Joke’s on the squirrels because I empty the baskets in the fall and return them to the farmers market so they can be reused. I stuck bamboo kabob skewers in the baskets and made plans to replace the damaged flowers. Yesterday morning I discovered one of the skewers on the ground, no doubt used as a javelin by one of the wayward squirrels.

After fortifying the hanging baskets, I went paddle boarding for the first time this summer. Last year I started paddling in June. But this year a long, cold spring latched onto the heels of a long, cold winter.

Mayflies on my screen this morning

I needed a reminder about how to attach my seat and ankle strap because once I connected them to my board last summer, they stayed put until I deflated the board in the fall. Heather, part owner of the paddle board shop, helped me. She talked about mayflies, and how late they hatched this year. I, too, had wondered where they had been. Heather described a recent moonlight paddle-boarding session where a flock of birds burst into the air, zooming and darting, feasting on newly hatched mayflies. She was excited to share her story, and I was happy she did.

Getting on my board and paddling away from the dock was like riding a bicycle after winter recedes—muscle memory kicked in. The water was smooth, the breeze a whisper, and the air hot. Even though I saw other paddle boarders, small fishing boats, and large pleasure craft gliding through the water, it was quiet. Perhaps because the heat and still air created a meditative atmosphere that compels people to lower their voices and move silently.

As I paddled around the northwest tip of the island, I watched billowing cloud formations compete for space to present shifting images.  A pair of clouds became two bear cubs standing on their hind legs, playfully boxing with each other. A moment later one cub morphed into a zaftig fertility goddess, and the other cub became a roaring lion with a flowing mane. Scanning the sky, I found a wolf, its snout tilted toward the heavens in a silent howl at a still sleeping moon. I spotted a laughing puppy and a resting dragon along the way.

A pair of paddle boarders put in from their home along the island, and on one of the boards, a yellow lab sat with its back toward their destination. Its owner said the dog was learning to stay on the board. Me too. On days when the water is rough or when a wake created by a motor boat rolls past me, I sit on my board and paddle kayak style.

I rounded the southeastern tip of the island and noticed tiny dead creatures floating on the water’s surface. I used my paddle to lift one of them out of the water for a closer look. They were exoskeletons. I wondered if they belonged to mayflies that shed their nymph skins then rest on the water’s surface to dry their wings before they can take flight. Later, I googled a picture of a mayfly’s nymph skin, and it seemed to match. Given Heather’s description of the recent mayfly hatch, it made sense.

Another paddler I met waved and said, “Summer’s finally here.”

“Yes,” I answered. And while I was out on the water, I forgot about the squirrels in my backyard preparing for winter.

[For more information about mayflies read my blog “Mayflies.”]

What Makes Me Feel Strong?

[Bloganuary wants to know. It’s the WordPress blog prompt for January 25, 2022.]

The dog is Colorado. He belongs to the shop owners, and he loves to paddleboard.

Paddleboarding makes me feel strong.

I took my first lesson last summer. The instructor mentioned an absurd number of calories that a person burns while standing upright on a paddleboard, maintaining balance. I don’t remember the number—numbers are my kryptonite. Plus, I don’t care about calorie-burning numbers like I did when I was young (and foolish).

The instructor explained all our muscles were working together and continuously to keep us upright on our boards while moving us over the water. That’s what impressed me—my muscles working to keep me balanced, upright, strong. As I age and watch older family members age, I realize balance is my friend, falling is my foe.

Standing on the board, paddling around Barker’s Island on Lake Superior makes me feel strong—Popeye strong. Sometimes when I circle Barker’s Island, I have to sit on my board for half the trip because the wind produces choppy waters on either the outside or the inside of the island.

When I have to sit, I use my paddle and board like a kayak and propel myself through the water. The choppier the waves, the faster I paddle, finding a rhythm that sends me speeding through the bumpy water. (Speeding might be hyperbole, but I feel strong—Bionic Woman strong.) The waves and I battle. They want to turn my board sideways or move it backwards. I grip the paddle, cut the blade into the water and pull, over and over. I am strong and resolute—Ziva David, kick-butt determined.

I skim across the water and watch the sky, water, trees, plants, birds and otters, while I fortify my future ability to stand upright, walk sure footed, and retain balance. I’m She-Hulk strong.

And all the strong-ness and grace as I skim across Lake Superior, floods my mind with strength and calmness, and hopefully, some wisdom.

Middle of the Ocean

September 6, 2021

I went paddle boarding on Superior Bay today because every day I get on the water before winter is a treasure.

Along the outside of Barker’s Island, northeasterly winds pushed against me and made the water choppy. To avoid becoming a human sail shoved in the wrong direction, I knelt, paddled fast, and kept the board moving forward.

After I rounded the tip of the island and entered the calm waters on the marina side, I stood up, slowed down, and looked around. The jubilant sky was azure blue with wispy clouds, as if Bob Ross had painted them with a wide brush, using bold, sweeping strokes of brilliant white paint, while cooing, “Let’s add happy clouds in the sky.”

It’s a tale of two sides of the island when the wind comes out of the northeast, and I could’ve made up for lost time. Instead, I paddled as if I were strolling through botanical gardens. White clouds lilted across the blue sky. Ducks swam on the water and took flight when I neared. Boats pulled out of slips, headed to open waters. Children ran on the sandy beach, then dipped their feet in the lake.

I glided by the marina and noticed my favorite boat—a 66-foot yacht named after a righteous Disney character—moored at its slip. Someone polished its gleaming white surface while listening to the song “Middle of the Ocean.” The soothing lyrics and lazy tune serenaded me, as I edged by the yacht, which could cross the ocean if it wanted to.

When winter comes, I wonder if my dream yacht will sail for warmer waters or enter winter storage.

I’ll deflate my paddle board and go snowshoeing—and hum the tune “Middle of the Ocean.”

Paddle Boarding in August

A calm day. A cloudless, blue sky.

Floatplanes, motorboats, yachts, fishing boats, kayaks, paddle boards.

As I paddled by the marina, so many boats pulled out of their slips. I thought about cars exiting a parking ramp at quitting time.

59 minutes around Barker’s Island, my best time yet.

The best moment—six ducks in the water, their twitching butts pointed toward the sky while they ate their lunch underwater.

I Stopped Saying I Wanted to Learn to Paddle Board—and Just Did It

After a Saturday fling with a paddle board on Superior Bay, I was smitten. Within an hour of finishing my lesson, I wanted one. I experienced this same love-at-first-try feeling forty years ago when I cross-country skied for the first time and rushed out to buy skis. I used those skis for years.

North Shore SUP on Barker’s Island

Before my lesson, a friend said, “Paddle boarding is Zen-like.” It’s true. After the instructor taught us some paddle strokes, I danced on the water, moving the board in lose turns and tight turns (which are rad). The rest of the world dropped away, until the instructor snapped my Zen-like focus, when he said, “If synchronized paddle boarding ever becomes an Olympic sport, I want to be on the team.” At first, I thought he was joking, but after I played around for an hour on a board, I believe he was serious. After all, I relished skimming across the water, making the board do what I wanted it to do.

The last stroke we learned helped us pull up to the dock sideways. The instructor called it parallel parking. I went to the dock early, so I could practice without other paddlers in the way. Success on my first try!

Me, wearing my quick-drying clothes, and Colorado, the North Shore SUP owners’ dog. He likes paddle boarding.

When I came home, my husband, who was golfing when I left for my lesson, looked at me and said, “Well, you certainly dressed for the part.”

“Yes, I did. It was wonderful!” Dress for the job you want, and I wanted to be a paddle boarder. I wore new quick-drying clothes and a new white baseball cap to protect my scalp from sunburn. I’d mastered paddle-board-causal couture. I told him I wanted a paddle board. He thought that was fine—I think my outfit convinced him. I returned to North Shore SUP, where I’d taken my lesson, and paid for a new board, which came with groovy accessories. (I’m allowed to say rad and groovy because I’m old enough.)

A couple of weeks after my lesson, I took my grandkids to an ice cream social paddle board event for kids at North Shore SUP. They took a lesson and ate ice cream. They had fun jumping off their boards and climbing back on. Photo credit: Garrett, co-owner of North Shore SUP.

The next day I picked up my board and another lesson. Because I bought an inflatable board, I learned how to inflate it, deflate it, and carry it. I learned how to attach the seat, the leash, and the fin. The seat lets me to use the board like a kayak. The leash keeps us together if the board dumps me. The fin, shaped like a dolphin’s, helps the board track in water. My board has a dolphin fin—how warm and fuzzy is that? I watched the TV show Flipper as child, and I can still sing some of the lyrics from the theme song.

I’m not athletic or graceful or fast. When it comes to persuading my brain and muscles to work together, my learning curve resembles Mt. Everest. I was six when my father removed the training wheels from my bike and attempted to teach me to ride. He gripped the seat and ran behind me, but as soon as he let go, I tipped over. After a half-hour he gave up, but I practiced for days, eventually learning to balance on two wheels.

But I could stand and balance on a paddle board the first time I tried.

I tried out for cheerleading, but lousy cartwheel skills doomed me. So, I thought I’d try out for pom poms. I was always two beats behind, and the dance steps confused my feet. I didn’t show up for tryouts.

But I’m graceful on a paddle board. And cartwheel skills don’t matter.

I was sixteen the first time I roller skated. I buffed the floors with my behind more than I skated. But I kept going to the rink, and eventually, I spent most of the time upright. I was seventeen the first and only time I downhill skied. I never made it down the hill without falling. I lacked the strength to coerce my legs to snowplough. I skied so fast that I’d lose my balance, fall over, and ride my butt down the slope. My mitten got caught in the tow rope, and if an alert operator hadn’t shut it down, I’d have broken my arm.

But I’m strong when I paddle board. And there are no snowy hills or tow ropes.

Other paddlers asked, “Have you fallen off the board yet?” Getting wet seemed to be a rite of passage. “No,” I’d say, until last Sunday when I lost my balance. I went under, but my life jacket thrust me to the surface like a cork popping from a champagne bottle. The leash kept me tethered to the board, the strap on my sunglasses held, and my friend rescued my white hat. I remounted my board, though not nimbly, and stood up. My quick-drying clothes dripped, but felt light—the right outfit for the job.

I stowed my gear and said goodbye to my friend. I couldn’t wait to text my paddle-boarding sister with the good news: “I fell off my board today!”

Initiation’s over—I’m a full-fledged paddle boarder. And my waterproof Timex is still ticking.

Paddle-the-Island Door. My name is now on this door with two hashmarks because I’ve paddled twice around Barker’s Island, a two-and-a-half-mile trip.

[North Shore SUP is located on Barker’s Island in Superior, Wisconsin, on Superior Bay, a natural harbor on Lake Superior. Friendly and encouraging, the owners work to make everyone’s paddle boarding experience a joy. They give lessons, rent paddle boards, and host other paddle boarding events and outings. For more information visit them on Facebook and their website.]