Adventures in Paddleboarding

By Megan McDonald August 10, 2011

Paddleboarders at sunset. Photo courtesy of Sarasota Paddleboard Company.

My weekday morning routine usually goes something like this:

Wake up. Hit snooze button on alarm clock. Stumble out of bed and over to the tea kettle. Heat water for tea while in the shower. Get out of shower, put on clothes. Make tea. Scarf down a bowl of cereal. Head to work in a state of autopilot and dive head-first into responding to emails, writing Facebook posts and working on web projects.

Of course, there’s variation from day to day. But that’s pretty much it. Not very glamorous, right?

And until last Tuesday, not once did my day ever begin with me putting on my bathing suit and flip flops and driving to Bird Key Park so I could meet up with Sarasota Paddleboard Company’s Bob McFarland for an early-morning stand-up paddleboarding lesson.  Although now I think I want that to start happening more frequently.

By now, you’re probably familiar with stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP. Though the sport has been around for years, it’s becoming so popular that McFarland, who is also an experienced surfer, now hosts a yearly “SUP Fest” that draws hundreds of paddleboarders—young and old, experienced and amateur—and features  races, a poker run, live music and an awards ceremony.

To paddleboard, you climb on to what is basically a long surfboard while gripping a high-tech, lightweight paddle. (“You want to invest in a good paddle,” McFarland advises. “It makes a huge difference.”) Then you paddle out into the water, and slowly and carefully stand up on your board. (McFarland notes that a wide, relaxed stance over the center of your board is best, and the most helpful in keeping you upright). From there, you use the paddle to help the board glide through the water. And it’s right at that point—right when you realize that you’ve got your balance and that all that’s surrounding you is sparkling blue water and gorgeous natural scenery—that you start to feel something close to invincible.

Initially, I thought the paddling part was going to be similar to kayaking, but it’s actually quite different. Because you’re standing rather than sitting, you’re using different muscles. Your core is completely engaged the whole time. Even leisurely paddleboarding is a workout—and a full-body workout, at that.

And you’re not limited to simply standing on your paddleboard. McFarland and yoga instructor Ami French also offer a weekly yogaboarding class. I haven’t tried doing sun salutations on the board yet, but the thought is inspiring.

I mentioned in my last blog post that living in Sarasota has turned me into someone who loves being on—or by, or in—the water. Paddleboarding, for me, was the ultimate expression of that. The morning we went, the bay was smooth as glass, and the sky was clear and blue. Every so often, a bird would flutter by or a fish would jump out of the water, but aside from that, everything was quiet. I managed to completely turn off the thoughts that are normally pulsing through my head at 8:30 on any given weekday morning and just let myself enjoy the experience. And that is why I wouldn’t mind beginning every morning on top of a paddleboard, with the width of the bay in front of me and below me and the city skyline behind me. It was perfect.

Do you paddleboard? Any tips for beginners (like me)?  And do you feel that same sense of peace when you’re on a board, too?

This year’s SUP Fest will be held on October 1, 2011, beginning at 10 a.m. For more information, visit or email [email protected].

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