Stand up paddle boarding worth a try

Last Thursday, instead of my typical hiking excursion, I borrowed a wetsuit and waded into the Atlantic Ocean off Lincolnville Beach with the co-owners of Thorfinn Expeditions, Thor Emory and Chris Laughlin.

To learn about their business and paddle boarding in Maine, check out my BDN story here: Thorfinn Expeditions story.

Though it is winter, I thought that taking a dip in the ocean was necessary in order to accurately write about paddle boarding, since I’d never tried the sport. And a big part of it, as usual, was just me wanting to have fun and try something new.

But since the BDN feature story and accompanying video by BDN photographer Gabor Degre, Thor and Chris deserved the spotlight. They have a great thing started in Lincolnville — a place for people to learn to kayak, sail and paddle board from experts, as well as a new water sports retail store.

But at my request, Gabor put together this short film of my experience paddle boarding for the first time on Feb. 2, 2012, for my blog. Despite the chilly weather, I had a blast, and I want to share it with you.

Was the water cold? Yes. But the guys at Thorfinn Expeditions made sure that I was wearing proper gear for a short time in the shallows of Penobscot Bay. I wore a warm wetsuit, neoprene booties and gloves, a paddling jacket and PFD — all over my typical winter hiking layers. I’m not trying to be a tough girl, but I honestly wasn’t that cold. My legs were shaking a bit, but I think that’s because I was trying so hard to balance on the board. My fingers were the first things to start burning with cold.

My initial thoughts before climbing onto the board: “This is going to be hard … huh, my legs aren’t really that cold … I’m glad this beach is sandy … This will be nothing like kayaking … What am I doing? …. I hope I can get a few strokes in before I fall into the freezing ocean … OK, the water is past my knees, I think I’m supposed to climb on now.”

I’m not a graceful person, as you know. “Scrambling” is a good word to describe how I got onto the board. Everything was awkward, the leash tugging at my ankle, the slippery surface of the board, the hood muffling the voice of my instructor, Thor, who held the board behind me so I didn’t slip away on my hands and knees before even standing up.

From a crawling position, I rocked forward, got my feet under me, rocked back and stood up — just as I’d been taught in their Lincolnville shop across the road.

As soon as you’re up, you’ve got to paddle, right away. It helps you maintain balance. But let me tell you, my instincts did not tell me to paddle. My instincts wanted me to hold still. I paddled anyway. Thor had to tell me to stop so I could adjust my feet closer to the central handhold, the best balancing point. Then, he let go of the board and I was off on my own.

I fully expected to fall within seconds. I didn’t. Minutes ticked by and I stayed up, paddling slowly and close to shore, learning how to handle waves, fight the wind and turn the board. It turns out I have decent balance, if poor paddling technique. I need to work on that, and I honestly plan to — perhaps in warmer weather.

About the time my fingers started to burn with cold, the wind picked up and pushed my board towards the rocky area to the right of the sandy beach. Without the proper skills, I was no match for the wind. My body was acting like a sail, so I hopped down and waded back to the sand, guiding the paddle board with my hand.

As I placed the board down on dry land, a little white dog ran up to investigate the emerging sea creature that was me. Through my hood I could barely hear the voice of the dog owner, standing at a distance and inquiring if we were at all cold. I smiled at her and nodded. A little bit, yes. But the experience was amazing.

If you want to try paddle boarding but doubt your ability, I suggest you take a class this summer. With some instruction and the right gear, I had a fantastic time.

Photo by Aislinn Sarnacki. The Penobscot Bay as seen from the Islesboro ferry leaving from Lincolnville, Maine, in the summer of 2011.

 

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.