There have been better days than last Friday to go stand-up paddling for the first time on Ambergris Caye.
For one, the four previous days, which were marked by still air and a glossy flat sea. Cutting through that water would have been like cutting through soft butter. And just as slick, quick and greasy.
Friday’s weather was, um, challenging. Imagine you are a feather floating atop lovely blue-green water and you are trying to get to the other side of the bowl, where your true love (another feather, of course) awaits.
Only, there is a 20 horsepower blow drier and it is turned on full and it is between you, the delicate little feather, and your destination.
Something like that.
You can see the challenges facing us. Yes?
Then there was all the warm-up exercise: Rose is filling in for Nicole and Tara at Zen Arcade so she taught two yoga classes on Friday morning. I took one of them. It beat me up.
Just the same, when we heard that Todd and Tamera, easily two of the fittest people on the island, were headed out for an afternoon of stand-up paddling, of course we wanted to join them. If I had any misgivings, they vanished when I learned that fellow yoga student Jentri – who recently gave birth to a little baby girl – was also going out.
It’s like when I was feeling so good about hauling a five-gallon container of water home on my bicycle, and then I see a woman on her bike with a five-gallon jug of water — and a baby. I can be such a drama queen.
So, that’s how we all met up at Chuck & Robbie’s dive shop on Boca Del Rio Drive. At the back, Derek Angele has recently opened BIGSUP Belize, a full-on stand-up paddle rental and sales shop featuring a full line of Beaver Boards from his native Canada.
These blunt-nosed boards are extremely stable, nearly 12 feet long with dual fins, bamboo and fiberglass casing over polystyrene, neoprene anti-slip padding and a carbon-fiber paddle that is so light it practically floats out of your hands.
People do yoga on these boards. (Add Rose to the list of people who intend to take out a board on a calm day and see just how many yoga positions she can accomplish on the platform.)
Todd and Tamara are old hands at stand-up paddling, having paddled out to the reef several times since Derek opened his shop. Tamara was one-half of an all-female team in this year’s grueling two-day kayak race around Ambergris Caye. Todd is just a sinewy engine of paddling energy.
Even so, even Derek had his doubts. Not that he wanted to discourage us but it was really choppy in the old bathtub. And we’d be paddling into a pretty stiff wind. “Coming back will be really easy,” he acknowledged. “You might even be able to stand up on the way back.”
When there is a decent wind, the erect human body apparently works like a full sail on a paddle board. Which is really cool if the wind is going in the same direction that you want to paddle.
On this day, Derek recommended paddling out to the reef on our knees and standing up on the return run.
OK. We were up for that.
With a few other tips — and reassurances from us that we can all swim — Derek waved us on.
So, yes, it was challenging but it is not like we were paddling on some Great Northern lake with ice crystals forming on our fingertips. This is the Caribbean Sea where the water is bathtub warm, the breeze was stiff but refreshing and the sunlight was glorious.
Yes, context is everything.
We did stay low on our knees and even went to a sitting position as we drew close to the reef – where Todd was waiting for us having arrived easily 15 minutes earlier. Man, can he paddle.
It took the rest of us a good 45 minutes to reach our destination, a white buoy on the edge of the reef.
As Derek predicted, the return run was a breeze. Maybe 10 minutes.
Bottom line: The Beaver Boards are ridiculously stable and agile, even under challenging conditions. Keeping it stable in choppy water works all of your core muscles (as I discovered so painfully the next day in Rose’s Pilates class.). Upper body workout — arms, back, shoulders — is top notch, too.
Will we do it again? Heck yes, and the sooner the better.
Derek also has a selection of sleek, sharp-nosed racing boards. He talked about developing a racing community and perhaps international races to Turneffe Atoll or some other distant and exotic destination.
Renting the boards is $15 USD an hour or $25 for two hours, either of which would be plenty of time for beginners. BIGSUP is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. but I wouldn’t be surprised if you could catch Derek and his SUP buddy Trevor (from Lola’s) out there even earlier, chasing dolphins along the reef.
Next up on Things We Don’t Normally Do: Late-night BBQ