Calhoun’s Can(n)ons for January 29, 2001
The enlightenment came soon after I emerged, sputtering , from the icy waters off Coleman Beach: How easy it is for context to hobble reality.
A friend had arranged for us to meet Matt Hudgens, owner of Central Coast Standup Paddling, Friday morning for a free demonstration and to try out some paddle boards. What’s a paddle board, you ask? Well, if you’ve seen people skimming around upright while standing up on what looks like a surfboard, wielding a long paddle, and looking for all the world like a surfer-dude gondolier, they’re on paddle boards.
And I know what you’re thinking. Are you nuts? It’s January, it’s foggy and cold in Los Osos. The water’s freezing. You’ve never surfed a day in your life and at your age you’re gonna now go get on a paddleboard and doodlebug around Morro Bay?
Uh, well, yes.
Happily, that morning’s cold, foggy Los Osos microclimate didn’t carry over into Morro Bay and at Coleman Beach, that flat curve of soft sand and shallow bay located under the towering PG&E towers, the air was still, the water glass, the was sun shining and, mercifully, it was warm. Unfortunately, I was dressed in warm street wear for the fog and cold; rolled up Levis, long sleeved tee and a sweatshirt. And therein lies the tale.
After unloading the selection of boards we helped carry them down to the beach and get our instructions and pretty soon were kneeling on the boards and paddling around. Then, in my case at least, standing up with the wobbles and paddling around. Which is when I began to find out that success in my case would depend on a slightly flatter board and a whole lot of practice since staying upright depends on a constant series of micro-movements. Over-compensation for the slight wobbles will land you in the drink.
Which is where I went. Unable to move quickly enough to get my feet under me, I ended up submerged before I could clamber upright, dripping wet, sodden sweatshirt now hanging down like a dead weight.
Without thinking, I shoved the board to shore and plodded and sloshed out of the water because my brain had unthinkingly locked me into a (false) context: “You’re wearing street clothes,” my brain said, “ and you’ve fallen into water. This is not appropriate. People in street clothes aren’t supposed to fall into water and if they do, they need to immediately get out of the water and get into a change of dry clothes.”
Which is what I did, but without changing. Once standing on shore, I got out of the now very heavy wet sweatshirt, dried off my glasses, collected myself, then went back in with the board to try that again.
And here’s the odd epiphany: Had I been wearing shorts or a bathing suit, my brain would have automatically said: “Oops, we’re suddenly in the water in a bathing suit (correct context) so there’s no need to get out of the water, let’s just hop back on the board and try that again.”
Thus does the brain misinform and misrule us.
But, in this case, not for long. On my second(very soggy) try, I had begun to get the wobbly feel of the board and paddle, which is rather like standing on a balance ball while making unstabilizing paddling motions in the air. The trick, apparently, is to think as little as possible about what you’re doing and let the body respond to the movement. That, and practice, practice, practice. But I did manage to remain awkwardly upright for the rest of the session. (And, mirable dictu, not a sore muscle in sight the next morning.)
The night before, I had watched a DVD about this growing sport/pastime and, like all variants on any sport, the enthusiasts are pushing it to new levels. Folks are now not only surfing with the paddle board, but taking it down raging white-water river runs.
According to Matt, the surfing aspect apparently allows the rider to get up more speed allowing him/her to ride many more smaller waves (more actual wave riding in the same amount of time) or to catch and ride the bigger waves longer since the long paddle allows the rider to power along, keeping just ahead of the curl. Also, for older surfers who are now developing shoulder/arm problems, stand-up surfing allows them to get out to the waves without having to lie flat and paddle. And it’s easier to learn stand up surfing in the first place because it avoids the tricky paddle-out-flat, quickly-stand-up maneuver that challenges so many beginners. With a paddle board, you’re already up.
On the second Saturday of the month, from 9 -2 pm. (weather permitting) Matt is down with his boards at Coleman Beach offering free lessons and try-outs. Or, if you organize a bunch of your friends, you can make an appointment with him to meet him there for a free try out. So, give him a call at (805) 395-0410, or check out his website at http://www.centralcoastsup.com/ . His shop’s located at 257 Morro Bay Blvd, open Thurs – Sunday, so stop by and say Hi. He’s the nicest guy in the world and wonderfully enthusiastic about his sport.
And next time you’re standing around looking at the Bay and you see upright gondoliers tooling along and say to yourself, “Hmmm, that looks like fun, wonder if I could ever learn to do that,” the answer is, “Very likely.”
I mean, if I managed to eventually stay upright on the board, I’d say you’ve got just as good a chance to do the same. But unlike me, be sure to dress -- in context -- for the occasion.