By Shelby Taylor
When temperatures break 80, I seek solace in my own backyard. Whether it’s hiking under the shade of evergreens or bobbing about Commencement Bay in a kayak, outdoor recreation can be a great way to beat the heat.
My most recent outdoor challenge? Take on stand up paddle (SUP) boarding at Jack Hyde Park, where the bay breeze is cool and the penalty for losing one’s balance is a refreshing plunge into the Sound.
Seven other locals had the same idea one sun soaked Saturday morning. We had all signed up for Metro Parks’ beginner group lesson and paddle in hopes of learning the fundamentals from Certified SUP Instructor Corey Dolan.
Now, I should back up and say I am by no means the most athletic person nor am I all that coordinated for that matter. Nonetheless, Dolan assured that while SUP “sounds intimidating, it’s not as bad as people think.”
Thankfully instruction began on land, where we got acquainted with the equipment. We learned that the center of the board, which is marked by a built-in handle, is where we should aim to be when moving from kneeling to actual standing. By having your core centered over the board, the likelihood of losing balance and tumbling into the blue below decreases.
In terms of the paddle, that which propels the vessel forward and backward, we were told to always have the blade angled and facing away, which was easily remembered by this simple fact: When on the water, you’re basically an advertisement, as the angled side is covered with logos.
With the basic concept down, we headed for the beach, marched up with our boards, and got mid-calf deep in Commencement Bay. We pupils diligently kept our boards parallel to the shore when attempting to board, and soon, most of us were comfortably kneeling, getting the feel for SUP.
At this point, I was pretty confident in my ability to paddle from a kneeling position. Sure my hands were not quite properly positioned — one hand should grip the top of the paddle, and the other should be at the center of the shaft — but gosh darn it I was on the water, not in it.
Going from kneeling to standing proved to be the biggest hurdle, as one can well imagine. The easiest way is to make like a stinkbug, with rear pointed in the air and feet flat on the board. I managed this, somehow, but was unprepared for the shakiness that accompanied my effort. My legs were all putty and unsure of what it was that I was trying to do.
Once managing to both stand and paddle at the same time, however, I got into the rhythm of the sport. Dolan checked in with each of us, offering encouragement and tips for better positioning and stroke technique. And, I’ve got to say, it was empowering actually walking – or rather – gliding on water, seemingly defying physics.
What’s more, I was working muscles that I never knew existed. According to a Reuters.com interview with Chief Science Officer for the American Council on Exercise Dr. Cedric Bryant, “All of your stabilizing muscles in hip, lower leg, knee joint are (being) activated in a therapeutic way to stabilize balance on the unstable surface. (…) Paddling is a great core workout, engaging every muscle either actively or as core stabilizer.”
Slowly – very slowly – I was making my way on a sea of glass, when a harbor seal popped up to say hello. Of course, I lost my balance right after the marine mammal appeared. Having taken my eyes off of the horizon, I ended up in the water.
Not at all unhappy with the cool off, I began the dance of kneeling and standing and paddling once more.
Back on land I snagged Dolan for more insight into the world of SUP. According to the owner of Dolan’s Board Sports, he was a surfer first, driving two plus hours to Washington’s beaches to catch a wave. Then in 2008, he was introduced to SUP. Gone was Dolan’s coastal commute, as this new sport could be done on the Puget Sound and nearby rivers and lakes.
“I found a company, started renting and jumped into it,” Dolan said.
To really hone his skills, Dolan sought out professionals like Dave Kalama (credited with developing paddle surfing for the modern water sports world) and Brody Welte of PaddleFit, and Dave and Rhonda Daum of King’s Paddle Sports.
Dolan’s Tacoma business was born soon thereafter. “[I] tried to learn as much about [SUP] as I could. I want to pass it on, so that the sport doesn’t fizzle out. Educating everyone else is most important to getting the sport to grow.”
For beginners like me, Dolan recommends these local places to paddle:
Or anywhere else that is calm with no wake and little boat traffic.
To try your hand at the variant of surfing, look no further than Dolan’s Rentals, Lessons & Party webpage. Introductory and SUP yoga classes are available through Dolan’s Board Sports, which also serves as a one stop shop for equipment rental and sales. Happy paddling.