I set out for Mission Bay Sportcenter Sunday morning with a plan to redeem a promotional voucher for a full day rental of a stand-up paddleboard (SUP). While my surfer boyfriend and traditional paddleboarder friends ridicule the people on "janitor boards" sweeping the sea with their paddles, I was convinced this would be a perfect water sport for me--utilizing my core and arm strength, and not requiring me to spend a lot of time immersed in cold water.
My 2 biggest fears about the experience were getting my bike stolen while there and falling off the board, so I prepared accordingly...put on an old gymwear tank top and pair of cotton drawstring shorts, carried nothing but my ID, voucher and a $10 bill, and rode the unassuming "ghetto bike" over to the rental site.
The voucher said the rental included instruction. If by "instruction" they mean some guy saying "there's your board,"this was absolutely correct. Luckily the big wide boards make balance very easy and the experience is pretty intuitive...just like it looks, flat-water paddleboarding is a lot like kayaking standing up. So while I started out paddling on my knees, I was standing in no time and feeling pretty comfortable as I headed across the bay.
I never had the massive splashdown fall I was dreading...I did lose my balance and slip once, but only did a butt-plant fall onto the board. And I seemed to be getting around pretty well...covering distance pretty quickly. But in my concentration on paddle technique and balance I had lost track of one key factor--the wind that had been picking up speed rapidly since my arrival at the Sportcenter and was now pushing me towards the opposite shore.
While the wind had totally escaped my attention as I was paddling with it, it became a major point of interest when I turned around to head back to the Sportcenter. At first I thought I was just being negative in my perception, but soon I realized my suspicions were true--no matter how hard I paddled, I was making absolutely zero forward progress. After a few minutes of paddling furiously, I resigned myself to the prospect of walking the board all the way back around the shore to the rental site.
As I pulled the board out of the water, however, I was in for yet another unexpected lesson in physics. The board's massive surface made it so easy to balance in the water...but once hoisted into the air it acted like a giant fiberglass sail. I could only go a few steps forward at a time as the board turned me around with the wind. A passing jogger took pity on me and helped me hoist the board up to a more aerodynamic forward carrying position on top of my head, and that helped me make a little faster progress...but as soon as I let the board's front end come up enough to catch the wind, it was back out of my hands.
By myself it was impossible to get the board back overhead, so I thought I would make one more attempt at paddling. I had no illusions about making it across to the Sportcenter--my goal was to get within hailing distance of a pontoon boat a short distance offshore and offer the owner my now-waterlogged $10 bill for a lift to the other side of the bay.
But once again, forward progress was impossible against the wind. In fact, I lost most of the ground I had gained doing the head-carry forward march. So after a few very futile random thoughts ("Is there a "Vessel Assist" for paddleboarders? " "Should I have brought my phone in a Ziploc bag?" "Might the cops take time out from ticketing beachside drinkers to give me a courtesy ride?" ), I admitted final defeat and realized the only way I could get back was by wading along the shoreline with the board in the water.
As I slogged along the sandy bay bottom in thigh-deep water (too shallow and I would have to bend uncomfortably to reach down to the board), I observed all the action around the bay. Lots of other paddleboards--all safely stowed beachside instead of braving the wind. Volleyball and hackysack games, loungers catching sun, kids making sandcastles--even a foursome on an anchored powerboat sounding increasingly sloshed as they played quarter-bounce with red beer cups on deck. I had plenty of time to see everything, and attention to spare as I tried not to think about how much my calves and ankles would hurt the next day from my watery hike.
Finally I "turned the corner" to a point where I would be able to paddle towards the rental site with the wind at my back...so even in defeat, I managed to pull off a smooth-looking final approach to the Sportcenter entrance. As I went to the checkout counter, I found a huge lineup of renters waiting for boards...it turns out lots of other rookie paddlers got blown across the bay, and not all of them made it back as fast as I did. My embarrassment on getting stranded diminished a bit--but that didn't do anything to help the soaking I got.
After completing my return it was time to take my waterlogged self home. I readjusted my fully soaked shorts, unlocked the old bike, got on and began pedaling very slowly towards home. It was far from my prettiest commute, and was more than a little uncomfortable--but I must admit the SUP experience was totally worth it.