Carrying my stand-up paddleboard under one arm, I descended the steep, root-filled bank to the edge of the lake. I then slid the board into the shallows, careful not to bang its three fins on any of the large granite boulders lurking just offshore. Without prompting, my dog, Juno, leapt aboard, walked casually to the back of the board and lied down.
The first time that happened about two weeks ago, I was in shock.
I guess some dogs are born to ride floating objects like boards and boats. Others require the lure of a special treat or they simply refuse to have anything to do with it. Apparently Juno belongs to the first group — the floaters. But that doesn’t mean she’s a perfect passenger.
Fortunately, my stand-up paddleboard is fairly stable. It takes a lot of shifting around to flip it over.
Swinging one leg over the board, I sat down at its center and pushed off the sandy lakebottom with both feet, propelling us backward. My legs snagged thin stems of floating watershield as we drifted. I then started to paddle with my one-bladed paddle, much like I would a canoe.
I never planned to get into paddleboarding. It just sort of happened.
A couple of years ago, my husband, Derek, was surfing the internet when he saw that a local resident was selling a paddleboard for half its retail price. We just couldn’t pass up such a good deal, especially since we live close to a lake that’s great for swimming. And that’s what I thought paddleboarding entailed: lots of swimming.
I imagined stand-up paddleboarding to be similar to learning how to use a skateboard or snowboard. Based on my experiences with those types of boards, I expected to lose my balance frequently and fall often. But it wasn’t like that at all.
While using a stand-up paddleboard does require maintaining your balance, it’s fairly easy for most people to pick up, especially on flatwater. In fact, on calm, hot days, I find I need to jump off my board to go swimming. Otherwise, I might never cool off.
Windy days are another story. I don’t even bother paddleboarding on blustery days. It’s just too frustrating. Standing up on the board, I’m like a sail. The wind hits my body and pushes me whichever direction it happens to be blowing. One way to combat that is by kneeling or sitting down, then I become a smaller sail. But the waves that the wind whips up can be bothersome, too. So I stick to paddling during tranquil weather.
This year, I started paddleboarding in May, prompted by my friend Kim. The water was chilly, but not as cold as I thought it would be, due to some unseasonably warm weather. Kim had just received an inflatable paddleboard for her birthday and was eager to try it out.
Like kayaks or canoes, there are all sorts of different paddleboard designs. Mine is a solid board made by Cruiser SUP, built out of carbon, bamboo, fiberglass and foam. Kim, on the other hand, has an inflatable board made of durable, flexible plastic. It can be folded and carried in a backpack. Pretty convenient.
While her board is easy to transport, it isn’t quite as stable on the water as mine. We made sure to pump lots of air into it so the structure would be as rigid as possible, but it still flexed a little when she stood up, which made maintaining her balance challenging. Nevertheless, she only fell off once, and that’s when she turned her head to reply to something I said. Oops.
The cool thing about falling off a stand-up paddleboard is that it doesn’t usually hurt — unless you’re in super shallow water and manage to hit a lakebottom or a rock. To be safe, I stay seated and paddle out into deeper water before standing up.
In the event that Juno is aboard, I don’t stand-up at all — not yet, at least. That’s because she hasn’t learned how to be a calm passenger.
As I paddle, Juno crawls around me to reach the front of the board. There she’ll sit for a minute or two before crawling back around me to reach the back again. She’ll stand, sit and lie down, lap at the passing waves and snuggle up between my legs. I’m hoping that as she becomes more comfortable with the activity she’ll settle down, but who knows.
Navigating around boulders and buoys, I remain fairly close to shore when Juno is aboard, just in case she decides to go for a swim. I also require her to wear a doggy life vest. And while she doesn’t wear a leash while riding, I carry one with me, fastened to the bungies that criss-cross the board near the nose.
Like hiking, paddleboarding is a little more complicated with a dog in tow, but I’ve been enjoying the challenge. And judging by how Juno hops on that paddleboard, she has been enjoying it, too.