12 Ways Paddleboarding Changed My Life (Empowerment - Part 3)
I spent two hours writing this blog post, and then it disappeared. That has never happened to me before. I am taking that to mean I didn’t get it right the first time. So here goes—I’m going to try again:
I made it to the first lesson despite getting lost. I showed up and there Burleigh Cooper was, waiting. I hadn't given up. Granted, I said fuck a million times as I drove and walked around the harbor, but I proved that I can depend on me to get me where I want to go even though this brain of mine gets easily rattled.
Standing on a paddleboard while it floats on the water is like standing on jello. My brain LOVED the feeling. It gave it something to do other than yammer at me—it had to focus to keep me balanced.
I call Burleigh Captain Safety because right away I saw I was in good hands. Low is Pro, he said as he showed me how to get on the board without smashing into the dock. Slow is Pro. We spent my first lesson paddling around the harbor. He taught me various strokes, how to stop, what to do when a boat passes. It was like when my dad taught me how to drive his car in the Saint Margaret Mary’s parking lot, only now the ocean was going to be my new open road.
I first went for a run when I was 13. I was hooked. Running became part of my identity. I was a runner. I took my first yoga class when I was 30. Hooked again. When I was 50, I had stopped running and had stopped doing yoga. All my body wanted to do, it seemed, was walk. I felt old. Then, a few weeks ago, at age 53, I had my first lesson at Portside Paddle. The magic thing happened for the third time in my life. Hooked. I have a sport that my mind and body love and that, while doing it, I find myself home. And the old thing spun down the drain and disappeared.
I think in a past life, Burleigh was a mindfulness coach: Did you feel that? What did you feel? Did you see that? Did you look behind you? What does the water feel like today? What is it telling you? What is the wind doing? How do you feel? Don’t miss this. It’s Thursday morning and we’re out on the water. Be here. I was so busy trying to figure out how to turn my experience into a blog post, I was thinking more than I was experiencing. I listened to Burleigh, heard him, and I got it. Be here. Don’t miss this. I came back to shore less interested in blogging, more interested in feeling, in being present, in being on the board, on the ocean. Really there.
In addition to being a mindfulness coach, I think in a past life (okay, this one) Burleigh was (is) a cheerleader: Nice job! Did you see what you just did! Good turn! Good use of the paddle to stop yourself! You’re really getting this! You’re a natural. A good teacher makes his students feel both supported and independent, and the thrill of learning in this kind of atmosphere leads to a wonder that travels into future days. Like now. I can still feel it. It feels like: I can do it. And, if I can do that, I can do anything.
Doing exercises where an arm or a leg goes across midline of the body helps to balance the brain. What this means is that as I reach across my body to sink the oar and pull the paddleboard forward, I am stimulating both sides of my brain to work together. This may mean nothing to you, but if you are a creative type like me who, increasingly, can’t make sense of many left-brain activities such as linear thinking or remembering names, this felt like balm to my being. I felt more plugged in, less floaty.
Burleigh wrote a long email after my third lesson summing up all we had done and all the skills I had learned. It was detailed, carefully written, and above and beyond what had been promised when I initially signed up for lessons (wet suit, lifejacket, board, paddle, instruction). The email made me feel valuable, and it made the time and resources I’d invested in the lessons feel that much more precious. It also showed me what commitment looks like. I saw how Burleigh puts 150% effort into providing high-quality equipment, attention, and instruction and how that extra effort makes me feel. It makes me want to try harder in everything I do. To put my whole self into everything I do. Why? Because I can. Because quality matters. Because the body and mind were made to stretch and grow. Because we show others we care by caring.
On the third day, the water was choppy, and I felt afraid. I wasn’t afraid of falling into the water, so I’m not exactly sure what I was afraid of. Losing control? I watched Burleigh paddle and I saw how his knees were soft and how his entire body was relaxed even when he was working hard. I felt like a plank with two arms. I tried to soften my knees, to move with the water. I worked at fake relaxing. I’m still working at it. Soon my body will do it for real.
I had signed up for my first paddleboard lesson after Frosty Hesson took me out on a surfboard so I could feel what it’s like to be carried by a wave. I wasn’t ready to surf on my own or really with anyone else aside from Frosty since no one I was friends with knew the ocean like he did, but I wanted to be in the water. I thought paddleboarding might be a good compromise. I realized I didn’t think there was room in the ocean for me, that it was for “real” surfers, “real” paddle boarders. I decided it was time to be real and to claim some space. The moment I had to find my balance on my board, everything got real fast.
I have never saved up for anything I’ve wanted. In the past, if I wanted something, I would get an anxious feeling that it was now or never and I’d figure a way to get the thing by hook or by crook. This goes back to being real. If I’m real, I can stick around with a desire and work with it. I can save. I can believe it’s okay to want something and to work for and and to get it. I know. This may all sound crazy to you, but I’m telling you, growing up as an adopted person can be such a crazy-making experience. I’m both a grown up and a child, and so my learning curve may look radically different from yours. But here’s the thing: I’ve committed to saving for a board I really want. It’s expensive, and it’s going to take me a few months to get the money. I’m learning what it feels like to want something and to not get it, but to know that if I stay focused, I can have it in the future. I’m changing how my brain works. I’m growing up.
I am afraid of the ocean. I’m afraid of paddleboarding. I’m afraid I’ll get sucked out by the tide or by the wind and not be able to get back in. I’m afraid a whale will come up and whip me with his tail and take me down. I’m afraid I’ll go off into the horizon and just disappear. I’m afraid I’ll fall off near the jetty, hit my head on a rock, and die. I’m afraid a seal will come up and kill me. I’m afraid jellyfish will crawl onto my board and wrap around my legs and sting me to death. Burleigh believes in me. He says I’m ready. I’ll stay close to shore. I’ll wear the leash around my ankle. I’ll wear a life vest. I’m afraid to leave the comfort of shore and go out into such a big place.
But every time I got into my car after a paddleboard lesson, I was euphoric. After a lifetime of trying to figure out who I was, what my story was, what I was supposed to do with my life, I got to see what it felt like just to be: a person on a paddleboard out on the ocean. I didn’t have to do anything besides stay afloat, or fall in the water, or climb back onto the board. Everything was okay. Underneath my feet was a whole world I could not see. So much was happening, and I was part of it. Soon I will go out on my own, without Burleigh. I can go down the street and rent a board at Cowell’s.
Maybe I’ll go on Monday. Maybe Tuesday.