Tall palm trees sway as the winds blow from the south. Pelicans bob up and down on the rolling blue waves. Seagulls fly back and forth above them, looking for an afternoon snack. Couples, kids, grandparents, cousins, friends and strangers walk along the sandy shores of Sanibel Island, Fla. The vacation destination off the Gulf Coast is near Fort Myers. It's home to over 230 types of birds, 50 kinds of fish and 250 types of shells. There are 15 miles of naturally preserved beaches — no raking, removing or re-constructing allowed. It's a final spring break for a college senior, escaping the mayhem of campus life.
On Sanibel, relaxation is everything. For some active folks, staying busy with fun activities is relaxing in its own way. I recently discovered a new hobby combining physical, mental and spiritual elements. It's called stand-up paddle boarding (SUP).
SUP originated 50 years ago but has recently gained popularity in the surfing industry. It's a combination of surfing and kayaking, offering a great core challenge. Athletes use it as an alternative cross-training workout; surfers in Hawaii SUP to see upcoming sets better, or to ride more waves out of one set. Competitions pop up across the world, and newbies like me enjoy a good ol' butt-kicking time.
It's not easy standing up on an 11-foot-long board. It's not easy when the waves roll left and right, throwing off my balance and making my knees shake. Once standing, the next challenge is to get moving and paddle. There's one paddle, and like canoeing, it's used rowing alternatively from side to side. Unlike canoeing or kayaking, the rower isn't seated comfortably with legs resting at ease. Instead the rower is balancing on an unsteady board and trying to paddle. This is where having a strong core comes in handy.
I'm on my third day practicing with the board. I've got four more days to work on it until I turn the rental back in. Curious folks on the beach want to try it out. One fellow, an experienced barefoot water-skier and kite surfer, gave SUP a try. He mentioned it was different and challenging, but he's willing to come back for more and try it again.
Even in the calmest of waters, a surfer wannabe like myself can give the sport a try. It's something unique and challenging, offering the Hawaiian free spirit to tourists and athletes. That's pretty gnarly, bro.