Beyond Flatwater: A SUP Journey

By: Konae Nowell

Today is different than others.  It is the day after returning from a trip to California and the lake is calling my name.  Yes, it is time to paddle.  Driving up to DFW Surf on Lake Lewisville is comforting because the equipment waits and all I have to do is arrive and hop on my favorite board, the Candice Appleby Bark.  There was no way to know that a sport could do so much for me within one year.  Since trying SUP for the first time in August of 2013, I give paddling credit for giving me peace and for feeling good in my own skin.  The peace comes in different ways, either by paddling so hard that exhaustion leads the way to peace or by paddling to a point where it is possible to just stop and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature, void of man’s noise and chaos.  The spiritual and emotional peace comes simply by taking the time to talk with God somewhere on the water; just me and Him.  How was I to know that feeling good in my own skin was simple when the world tries to make it so complicated?  I discovered that when I paddle for two hours, I burn the same amount of calories as jogging five miles.  As a mother of two teenagers, paddling and healthy nutrition were my path to finding my pre-childbirth body while having fun and not having to starve, take weight-loss products or kill myself in the gym (although I do love a good weight training session!) SUP has become my workout, my fun and my therapy.  So how is this day different?  It is different because it is after the California trip that changed my small world of paddling and made it large.

Our trip to California for my daughter’s figure skating, where she combines training with down time at the beach, became a paddle boarding trip this year.  My family told me to pick out a paddle as a Christmas gift.  After researching ALL paddles online and trying out a Quick Blade Kanaha that is available for DFW Surf members to use, I decided Quick Blade was the paddle for me.   Hugo from Quick Blade was very helpful but I still couldn’t decide which paddle would be the best for me:  a flat water paddler, mother of two, trains every day possible and likes to go fast.  Discovering that Quick Blade headquarters was near where we would be staying in California, I decided to wait and pick out a paddle in person.  This led to getting a lesson with the Jim Terrell on the flume!  Jim Terrell, the professor of technique, the one my coach, Tyler Marshall, asked his students to watch to understand the true technique of paddling.  Yes, the same Jim Terrell!  His teaching style was direct and calm, and the mirrors and his visual direction helped my technique tremendously.  After the lesson, he was very patient with helping me choose the right paddle.  He is brilliant.  He looked at me and told me what height it would need to be and that my top three blade options were the Elite Flyweight, the V Drive and the Trifecta.  The oval tapered shaft was a must because it felt so good in my hands, particularly the way my fingers curled around the front of the shaft.  Since height, shaft and handle were easy, the blade selection was the most difficult.  Jim had me paddle with each one on the flume.  It was a very quick process to narrow it down to the V Drive and the Trifecta.  This is when it got difficult because both of these blades are fantastic in different ways.  The V Drive is a puffy blade compared to the sleek and lean Trifecta but it felt so good in the water, especially at the beginning of the stroke, from the catch to about mid-power.  It entered and exited the water with ease.  It felt good; like it would make me a better paddler.  The Trifecta was amazing from the first catch.  The way it grabbed the water felt very secure then it smoothly built power and exited and entered back into the water with grace.  Due to the carbon material, both paddles were very lightweight.  In the end the Trifecta won.  I am not saying it would be the best paddle for everyone who paddles; but I am saying Jim created the best paddle for me.

Now it was time to try out the new paddle on the board with a lesson with Anthony Vela.  These lessons were arranged through a series of events, which started with Tyler surprising me with a call from Candice Appleby.  (He knew that I believe her to be an exemplary female athlete and role model.  She was so kind and offered to give me a lesson on the ocean since it would be my first time paddling on the open water.  Unfortunately, she was not able to make it because she ended up competing in a surf competition in Malibu and then she was off to another competition in Hawaii.  Her genuine kindness and professionalism were impressive over the phone and text messages.  Since she couldn’t make it, she arranged for me to have lessons with her boyfriend, Anthony.  All things happen for a reason.  Anthony met my daughter and me at Baby Beach, which is a protected bay with smooth cool, clear water and a sandy gradual beach.  Anthony was prepared.  His lesson was thorough and each exercise had a purpose.  He has a warm easygoing personality and makes learning a joy.  Of all the skills he taught me on the first two days of training at Baby Beach, the most important one for me was to relax.  I tend to over think technique and try too hard.  He somehow got through to my brain that it is ok to turn off.  Funny.  After the second day of drill training, it was time to go on the open ocean for the first time.  We decided to meet at “San O” early the next morning.

As the sun was rising, we made our way down to the beach.  Anthony asked who would like to go first for a surf lesson.  My daughter, Karis, said I should go first.  After the onshore lesson (observation, technique and surf etiquette), it was time to get wet.  Anthony preferred entering the water in a certain area, past the pebbles and rocks, into the cool saltwater.  It was time to use what he had just taught me.  Push up on the board.  Get through the waves while staying balanced on the blue surfboard.  Land on the other side of the wave.  Anthony quickly turned my board toward the beach.  Now I feel the rush of timing and the sound of the waves fades out.  All I hear is Anthony calmly saying:  “Get ready.  Paddle. Paddle.  Paddle.  Stand.  Stay low.” I’m up!  I’m down.  Paddling my way back to Anthony, I am thinking, “Oh, my.  This is great.  Wonderful, actually; but what does surfing have to do with SUP?  Why am I learning to surf today instead of spending this valuable time with this outstanding coach and teacher working on being a better paddler?”  It is a question that was not asked out loud because, at the time, it felt like a super opportunity to be pushed out of my comfort zone and to learn something new.  Why not? After I was able to get up and ride some waves, Anthony took Karis out.  He taught her not just how to surf but also how to be comfortable in the ocean.

After the surf lesson and experiencing the thrill of riding a “wild ocean wave”, it was time to take the “Appleby” and my new paddle, “Baby Tony”, named after Baby Beach and Anthony.  (Both are good reminders of when my new paddle was used for the first time.)  Trying SUP for the first time on the ocean was a different mindset than surfing for the first time.  Surfing was entered into fresh, with no expectations and total vulnerability.  SUP was different.  This is where I feel comfortable and trust in my ability as an “advanced beginner.”  It was time to kick off the booties from surfing and feel the board with the skin on the bottom of my feet.  Anthony started the day with observation:  a study of the waves, the water flow, the wind and the people.  Now he would lead the way into the “wild,” down the path he researched and concluded would be the best route.  He earned my trust, always the sign of a good coach.  Woosh!  Waves were beginning to crash against the side of the board, trying to buck me off, as we made our way south by paddling parallel to the beach.  This Texas girl was not too proud to take it to the knees in order to maneuver out to the open ocean entrance.  It was time time to turn the board 90 degrees to face the waves head on.  The Appleby’s nose went up, faced the clouds and came crashing down on the backside of the wave.  Success!  I made it over the first wave, then the next, then the next, and before I knew it, I was out on the open ocean with Anthony on my right, leading the way.  After I stood up, we paddled, and paddled and paddled along the planned course.  Somewhere between the time we made it past the breaking waves to the imaginary buoy, which in reality was a clump of seaweed, Anthony asked why I was so quiet.  ”Because all I can think right now is “Wow!”  This is what SUP is all about!  This is how the sport I fell in love with got started.”  What an amazing feeling.  When the reality hit of how far out we had paddled, my legs started to feel like rocks.  There was a constant battle for balance and comfort.  This added challenge was exciting and greeted with enthusiasm.  It was time to return to the beach where my daughter, a new SUP fan, was waiting.  In order to get there though, the zone of the breaking waves would have to be crossed.  Ok.  Now the pieces came together and I understood why the surf lesson was so important.  Anthony instructed me to get on his left.  He was looking for the best wave to ride in; one with strength, power, speed and the right shape.  “Go! Paddle Fast!” Get bucked off.  Try again.  Wait for Anthony’s cue.  Try again.  Under Anthony’s instruction, I finally surfed the waves back in and it was a blast.  What a thrill!  In one morning, on a beautiful California beach, with a talented professional coach, my beautiful daughter, a 2014 BARK Appleby board, and my new Quick Blade paddle, this breath taking sport came full circle and captured my heart again. 

The lessons learned would be carried home and used on the Texas flat water or by catching waves behind a boat.  Anthony, Jimmy and the Pacific Ocean gave me the gift of understanding where SUP came from.  This understanding brought with it comfort and joy on the water. SUP is a sport of the future for all ages.  It is here to stay.