Everything I Needed to Know I Learned While Paddleboarding

My birthday was last week, and every year, I do something that scares me a little. I figure if I get through that, I’d be able to handle whatever else comes my way the rest of the year.

So last week, I went down to Marina del Rey to try paddleboarding. I’m scared of drowning because I almost drowned twice as a child, once before learning to swim, and once after. Despite lessons with the Red Cross, and my following instructions exactly, I never became a strong swimmer, and can’t tread water at all. There’s something about my bony body that just wants to sink. My swimming instructors were confounded, too.

Even though I fully expected to go in the water while paddleboarding, I put on a long-sleeved shirt and yoga pants. Mr. PCN, in a surf tee and swim trunks, asked me in the car, “You’re wearing a bathing suit underneath, right?”


“You brought a change of clothes?”


“Are we renting wetsuits?”

“Nah.” After he gave me a strange look, I added, “Maybe this will make me try harder to stay on the board. I don’t want to give myself permission to fall because I’m wearing something water-friendly.”

Mr. PCN shrugged.

When we got to the marina, the paddleboard rental guy also looked at my street clothes as if thinking, “Okaayyy, crazy lady.”

“Do first-timers go in the water often?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah,” he said, no hesitation.

The winds were strong that day, causing choppy waters. For the first ten minutes, I paddled while on my knees because my board never felt steady enough for me to stand up. But then we moved away from the main channel and toward where boats were docked, where the water was calmer.

I got up in steps. First I stuck my butt up, then I was in chair position, then finally I was standing straight up. And I stayed standing! The wind was blowing through my hair, the sun was shining, the view was better from up there—what in the world had I been afraid of?

I paddled along like that for a while, feeling the stress of the day and my fears draining from me. I was top of the world, or at least queen of the harbor.

Then this motorboat came up from behind, too close. Its wake rocked my board hard. As I wobbled like a gymnast who’d just landed badly on the balance beam, I was sure I’d go in the water, but I fell to my knees and managed to hang on. I breathed a sigh of relief when the boat moved farther away.

But I found myself unable to get up again. That close call robbed me of all my confidence. It was scarier to stand up again than it was originally when I didn’t know anything about paddleboarding. Part of my brain said, “Next time, you may not be so lucky. Play it safe and stay on your knees. You can still make it back to the dock in dry clothes.”

I did that—paddle while on my knees—for the next few minutes. Until another part of my brain said, “Are you kidding me?! If you fall, you’re supposed to get back up again. You didn’t even fall in the water, and you’re gonna stay on your knees? You’ll just let that man in the boat ruin your day?”

While my brain fought with itself, I started paddling harder and faster. Mr. PCN, alongside me on his own board, said, “Uh-oh, I’ve seen that look before. She’s getting mad. ”

And I realized I was mad. I was doing so well! Now look at me, all small and scared. Without further internal debate, I stood up.

Other boats zipped by, kicking up big waves. I hung on. We were going against the wind, and my arms were screaming in protest. I kept paddling.

As we approached the dock, the rental guy tried to hide his surprise that I wasn’t soaking wet. When we got close, he told us to stop paddling and let him guide us in with a really long paddle.

“We do it this way because people come in too fast, crash the board against the dock, and knock themselves off,” he explained.

I started to relax, exhausted but exhilarated that I’d had a good day. Then I noticed the guy was pulling me in too fast. He was going to crash my board and throw me off! Seriously??

I’d already handed over my paddle so I couldn’t stop my forward trajectory. There was only one thing to do: wait for the crash to throw me off, but use the momentum to launch myself at the dock. I dangled there briefly until the rental guy reached down and helped me up, apologizing profusely.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “You’re not the first person who tried to knock me off my feet today. But I’m fine.”

I thought about all this when the news these past several days made me want to cry and hide and not go outside again for a while. But I remember what it felt like after that first boat tried to capsize me, and I tell myself:

Stand up and keep paddling.



  • Reply
    Chinwags and Tittle-Tattles
    April 19, 2013 at 2:25 am

    Hi PCN,

    That’s what make life very interesting; we learn about some of its basic and most important principles at the most unexpected time and event.

    I’ve been knocked out by life several times, but like what you’ve learned, I just stood up over and over to keep paddling again.

    Lovely post.

    Chinwags and Tittle-Tattles for msmadge.blogspot.co.uk

  • Reply
    April 19, 2013 at 6:20 am

    Great post, Elyse! Love this. And a belated Happy Birthday 🙂

  • Reply
    April 19, 2013 at 7:31 am

    Congratulations!!! It’s fantastic that you did that! Plus it looks like a lot of fun. Happy belated Birthday!!! =)

  • Reply
    April 19, 2013 at 8:29 am

    Thanks for putting it all into perspective. We all know what you are saying, we just need to be reminded every now and then.

    A very Happy Belated Birthday to you, PCN.

  • Reply
    sabrina ogden
    April 19, 2013 at 8:44 am

    How AWESOME! What a wonderful lesson for all of us, lady. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Reply
    April 19, 2013 at 9:22 am

    Paddle on, every day. Paddle on!

  • Reply
    April 19, 2013 at 9:26 am

    Awesome. I love you, E.

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    April 19, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    Keep paddling ~ it’s a fine analogy, Elyse. And I love your idea of upping the ante by not wearing swimming togs. Some of us need to increase the possible pain factor to bring out the extra determination. Sounds like you had a very fulfilling birthday ~ I was thinking of you and Mr PCN!

  • Reply
    April 19, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    Congrats on your courage, happy belated birthday, and thank you for tying your experience into how to face life’s disappointments.

  • Reply
    April 22, 2013 at 10:56 am

    how very dearly i love that you wore yoga pants to motivate you NOT to get wet. i totally and completely get that logic. 🙂 so awesome that you did this!!!

  • Reply
    Pop Culture Nerd
    April 22, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    My dear friends, thank you so much for reading, the birthday wishes, and not making fun of me for wearing yoga pants to paddleboard!

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