If you can’t walk on water, SUP on it.
That’s my new motto.
This Labor Day weekend, in addition to completing a nearly 4-mile beach-to-breach hike with my dad where we saw a fox, and gorging myself on a lot of shellfish, I tried something I’d been wanting to try for a long time: Stand Up Paddleboard, otherwise known as SUP. (By the way, I asked a regular: It is A.O.K to pronounce it as if you were greeting a rapper.)
The funny thing about my finally giving it a go is that I did it right here in my own backyard. Not my parent’s backyard on the water in Long Island—though, I am sorta hoping my dad decides to add one to his collection of water toys—but rather my “city backyard,” the Hudson River. (Yes, ’tis true. I willingly put myself at risk for falling into the Hudson.)
I had several chances to try SUP this past summer at way more exotic (and perhaps cleaner) locales, from Lagos, Portugal where the water was turquoise and I could’ve navigated in and out of caves, to Fair Harbor, Fire Island where I probably would’ve floated out to sea never to be heard from again. But for whatever reason, I held out. And boy am I glad I did.
For starters, this was free! A few months ago I attended a charity event and bought a few raffle tickets. I don’t think I spent more than $10 and lo and behold, I won one of the prizes: a $150 to New York Kayak Co. My initial reaction was, “Wait, I’ve definitely seen signs touting ‘FREE KAYAKS’ down by the river before. This doesn’t feel like a win.” In fact, that remained my reaction until last week when a friend of mine—oddly enough, the same friend I was with when I won the prize!—asked if I was interested in trying SUP on the Hudson. It was then that I remembered my gift certificate, which I had stuffed in my desk drawer with no intention of ever using.
“Oh, oh, oh!” I said. “Maybe I can use my G.C.!”
Unfortunately, she was taking a class with her trainer at a different location, but the seed had been planted: I was ready to try SUP. So I looked into New York Kayak Co. and saw that not only could I try SUP, but I could try SUP yoga! Since just standing up on a paddle board seemed like it’d be pretty easy (disclosure: it’s not), I figured I’d go big or go boring. Plus, one SUP yoga class is $40, which meant I could take at least three without having to spend a dime. I tried to recruit a few friends to join me—my treat!—but none were down. Their loss, cause now I’m totally going to use the remaining credit on moi!
I booked myself for the 9:30a.m. intro class and went down to the river with enough time to slather myself in SPF and sign a waiver that I barely read. My nerves had gotten the best of me, so I had nothing more than a black coffee and a banana before leaving—in retrospect, perhaps not the most wise course of action.
The instructor, Paulina, was this super buff and blond Eastern European who teaches regularly at Yoga to the People. She asked me a bit about my level (none for SUP, lots for yoga) and said neither would be a problem. Since there was only one other person taking the 60-minute class, she’d be able to cater it to each of our levels, which as it so happened were similar.
As I walked down the concrete pier barefoot and wearing nothing but a two-piece, I not only felt a bit self-conscience, but super weird. Just the day before I was running by this very spot in sneakers and Wunder Under’s, and now I was letting it all hang out, about to paddle into the uknown.
Paulina handed me a life preserver, which I awkwardly slipped my arms into, wondering how the hell one is supposed to do a downdog in a floatable straight jacket. Then she told me we don’t wear them, rather we only tuck them into the front of the board “just in case.” She then gave me the paddle, followed by a 10-second tutorial on how to hold it and suggested I ease out on my knees. As the board floated further and further into the river, I realized I may never get off of them. Turns out, water moves. A lot.
Paulina then instructed us to “drop anchor” (aka a rubber weight), which enabled us to practice without floating into the danger zone while doing our sun salutations.
Once the board itself was tethered to the bottom, there were still waves and wind to worry about while moving from pose to pose. (So much for being zen.) Inhaling and exhaling quickly became my only constant, as even the most simplest yoga poses—the ones I breeze through in a regular class on wood floors—were difficult. Whereas I rarely keep my knee down in low lunge, there was no way I could pick it up to balance on the other foot just yet. And tadasana? (Aka, just standing up in “mountain pose”?) Yeah, that was near impossible. I had to keep me knees bent, and at the slightest sign of a wave, I faltered and brought my hands to the board.
Still, I couldn’t wipe the gigantic smile from my face. There I was, floating in the Hudson River with the Freedom Tower straight ahead. If the only thing I could fully master was deep Ujjayi breathing in downward dog that was fine with me. Little by little, though, it became easier to balance and I began to straighten out my form and even shift my gaze to the blue sky above.
We didn’t quite make it to Warrior 1 or 2—again, the most basic of Vinyasa poses—but we did do pigeon (since that pretty much requires lying face down and flat on the board) and bridge pose, which is a supported back bend that you do lying down.
As is the case in a typical vinyasa class, the final active pose of the practice was plow into shoulder stand, but seeing as I could barely stand on my feet, doing so on my shoulders seemed a bit of a—excuse the pun—stretch. Not to mention that I was queasy. Like, Need-To-Focus-On-A-Steady-Point-But-There-Isn’t-A-Steady-Point-Because-I’m-Moving Queasy. Whether it was the lack of food or the small amount I did eat, I was full-fledge seasick and trying my best to keep my cool. In general, this is an odd sensation for me. I am a boater and have been since I was two weeks old. (No joke, my mother just the other day confirmed that she took me out for my first boat ride about 14 days after popping me out.) So yeah. I do not get seasick. And yet, there I was, worried that I’d soon be contributing to the “Hudson River is Filthy” stereotype.
So I opted to go straight into savasana, allowing the lapping of the waves on my board to lull me into a peaceful state rather than a puke-y one.
Check out the other girl in the class, though. She went for it!
Once we “namasted” and pulled up our weights to head back, I felt a sudden urge to try paddling while standing up. As in, SUP. But alas, I was still too shaky and fearful of falling in so I retreated to my knees.
Next time, I told myself. Because oh yeah, there will be a next time.