How All Around Paddle Boarding Saved my Mental Health During Covid
When Covid struck, we were all faced with isolation and loneliness. Who would have thought that a paddle board could have been the cure for so much of society's challenges?
At the beginning of Covid, they shut everything down early here in Northern California. And I mean everything. Even Folsom Lake which is a mile from my house closed its gates to vehicle traffic. Although it was still possible to get to the lake via the trails which were still open.
My office had closed so my normal routine had been altered significantly. We were prohibited from getting together with our friends. The gyms had closed as well, so how was I going to get exercise and practice social distancing? And then it hit me like a thunderbolt: get out your stand up paddle board!
I pulled one of my Glide paddle boards out of storage and dusted it off and was about to put in on the roof rack on my Jeep when I remembered that the park gates were closed and there was no way I was going to be able to carry a hard paddle board a mile. I love my hard boards but transport had now become a major issue during this health emergency. Then one of my daughters reminded me that I had gotten her an inflatable paddle board for Christmas that I was free to use.
From touring board to all around paddle board
With the inflatable paddle board, all I had to do was put the travel bag that came with the inflatable SUP on my back and I could ride my cruiser bike to the lake. Once there, I was excited by the possibility of rediscovering the freedom that I had lost during the pandemic. It was just a matter of inflating the board and heading out.
My normal paddle board of choice for the lake was the Glide Quest hard touring board. I didn't have a ton of experience with inflatable SUP boards but I would have paddled a submerged log at that point if it got me out of the prison that my home had become.
The Quest is a great board for flat water as it has a pointed nose which helps cut through the boat wakes that develop out on Folsom Lake. It can get up to speed quickly which helps when your main goal is a long distance paddle.
The Quest is a narrower board with a board thickness of 6 inches. Like most touring boards it's not super maneuverable but it's the right board for going a long way in a short amount of time. Narrow SUP boards like the Quest require good balance so they are best for intermediate paddlers.
The Glide Retro all around paddle board that I was borrowing was easy to inflate once I got to the lake. Since no motor boats were able to access the lake, I wasn't going to have to worry about boat wakes.
My maiden voyage on the inflatable paddle board
The first thing I noticed about the Retro SUP is that it is a board designed for maneuverability. Because it has a round nose, it would definitely do well in some of the other SUP disciplines like river stand up paddle boarding, SUP yoga or paddle board surfing. Hence the description: all around board.
My first impression was that the board feels like more expensive boards that I've paddled in the past but it sells at a more affordable price. It's incredibly stable so it's beginner friendly but is a really versatile board for all skill levels that won't break the budget.
That first day, I didn't go a long distance but instead tried a little impromptu SUP yoga to clear my head. Yoga on stand up paddle boards is quite a bit more challenging than in a studio where the floor isn't tipping in all different directions. The connection to nature is amazing though because you can hear the water lapping against your SUP boards and take in all of the trees and wildlife along the shore.
A new ritual during Covid
When I got home after that first trial run, I was positively glowing from my special time on the stand up paddle board. It was such an escape from the armageddon that was gripping the planet that I decided I was going to get out on my paddle board daily purely to stay sane.
I realized that the Glide board had ample room and enough board volume to bring my dog on some of my paddling trips. The board's stability was tested to the max when I coaxed Quincy the dog on it with me as he would sit under me and rest against my right leg for more stability.
It turned out to be the perfect stand up paddle board for the two of us as it had a deck pad that ran the full length of the board so that Quincy could sit on the nose as he got more and more comfortable being a Paddle Board Pup. It made me wish that I had gotten into paddle boarding when my kids were still young as they would have loved to have me as their gondolier.
Quality paddle boards
When it comes to inflatable paddle boards, you want make certain that you are buying from a brand that values durability and quality. The kind of construction that is used in inflatable SUPs can vary quite a bit by manufacturer and it is not evident by just looking at a board.
Drop stitch construction is used to make up the core of the board and refers to the thousands of thin strings which you would never guess are inside your board. Each one is connected to both the PVC at the top and bottom of the board. The main two types of drop stitch construction in inflatable stand up paddle boards are "knitted" and "woven".
Woven drop stitch makes the best SUP board core because it's tighter than knitted stitching and therefore the board remains stable when more weight is put on it. It also adds to the durability of the board and gives it a smooth ride.
It's interesting to note that most paddle board reviews don't mention the types of drop stitch and I have yet to find a SUP buyer's guide that does either. This is really a disservice to the inflatable SUP buyer as there is really no way to tell what is on the inside of the board.
One other aspect of inflatable boards that is typically overlooked are the layers of PVC that are used around the core of the board. Many paddle board brands try and get away with a single or double layer of PVC. If it is a double layer, they are typically glued together which gives the SUP a sloppy sloppy and makes the board heavier.
I knew that I wanted a board that used 4 layers of military grade PVC that had been fused together. This meant that not only did I have a stronger board that was less likely to puncture but also a lighter weight board.
Finding paddle bliss
Before the pandemic I was a "one trick pony" on my touring SUP board. The longer board length meant that I could go in a straight line quickly and then turn around and head back to my entry point. It was the best board I could find for flat water paddling by far. Once I discovered the Retro all around board, my paddle board world really opened up.
Now I found myself venturing out to the American River with the inflatable board and heading straight down the rapids (with the proper safety gear, of course). The boards maneuverability in whitewater was like something out of a dream, although I did find myself prostrate on the deck pad or bobbing in the water after some spectacular falls. Luckily the board comes with removable fins so that I could replace them with rubber fins that could handle hitting the rocks. Unfortunately my carbon fiber paddle didn't fair as well in the river and has been replace with a paddle with an ABS blade.
SUP surfs up
As Covid ebbed the first time and things started opening up, a nice getaway was heading down to San Luis Obispo to visit my daughter who was enrolled at Cal Poly. Other boards that I had transported down there had to be tied onto the roof rack with utility straps which made quite a racket on the freeway. With my new inflatable SUP "go to board" I just packed it in the trunk and inflated it with an electric pump once I got down there.
I loved maneuvering the inflatable SUP into the perfect position to catch a waist high wave. I would then glide down the wave and steer out of it before it crashed down on me. I began questioning all of my life choices at the point as I convinced myself that I could have been a pro surfer. The maneuverability that is built into this all around SUP means that the board performs like a much shorter board - even with my considerable body weight handicapping it.
SUP fishing too
One of the things that make these boards such a great value is the kayak seat that is included with them. I figured that having the ability to sit and fish from the board would work pretty well for me.
Even though the Retro SUP board isn't the same length as the Glide fishing board and was more of a lightweight SUP, I was able to return home from our local lake with quite a few trout for the family to feast on. The average weight of each fish was about three quarters of a pound.
I found a special spot on Folsom Lake that was quiet and the fish were biting and would spend an hour or two taking in the solitude and enjoying nature. Maybe the Retro wasn't one of the best boards for fishing but at the time it worked great for me and the weight capacity allowed me to carry all of my gear - including a cooler.
Time with friends
One of the most difficult parts of the pandemic was not being able to see the people we care about. Once I let my friends in on the secret of my newfound happiness, they all ended up buying SUP boards as well.
One friend had put on some extra pounds during Covid so we needed to get him a board with a higher weight capacity. The Glide Angler fit the bill perfectly for him. It turned out to be a great board for bombing down the American River as well.
It was so nice being able to reconnect with everyone and to be able to social distance, be outside and get a workout all at the same time. After a paddling session, we would often just sit on our boards and catch up with each other.
SUP board calisthenics
If my friends and I ever tired of flat water or river paddling, we would set up group workouts on the SUP boards. I had done a fair amount of research on Aquatic Balance Stability Training (ABST) based on my experience with SUP yoga and found that I could get far better results doing the simplest of exercises like push ups and air squats while balancing on my board.
We made these sessions fun by having each person create a workout program and we would alternate who was in charge of each session. Falling in the water was half the fun.
Once the parks opened up again, I was able to convince the family and some friends to give paddle board camping a try. We would head up to Lake Clementine in the Auburn area and ferry our camping gear in via our SUP boards.
It was so nice to leave the confines of our house and sleep under the stairs. The feeling was almost hard to describe.
My all around paddle board served a new purpose while camping: comfy bed. I would deflate the paddle board a bit so that it was quite a bit softer than I needed it to be while paddling. The comfortable deck pad added to the comfort of my new mattress and I slept like a baby.
My main goal when I set out to paddle board every day was to keep myself from slipping into a funk mentally. I didn't expect to see so many changes to my body. All of a sudden, I was looking leaner and more muscular.
I was aware that paddling boarding was a full body workout but I had no idea how many muscles it actually worked. On top of building strength, I was also getting an excellent cardio workout!
The beauty of this was that the workout didn't feel like a chore as it did in the gym. Getting a workout while you are doing something you love is truly a good feeling and I'm pretty sure that all of the vitamin D is was absorbing helped me fight Covid after I contracted it.
Giving racing a try
The one SUP discipline that I hadn't tried during my paddle board adventures was SUP racing. I ordered a Glide Godspeed and started up a training regimen. I figured I might as well put this new found strength and cardio fitness to good use.
A race board was a very different animal from my all around board. The maneuverability of it took a lot of getting used to as did balancing on a much narrower board. Once I had mastered the balance aspect of it, I taught myself how to make the turns around buoys that are required in SUP racing.
By putting my right foot on the tail of the board, I could raise the nose of the board which allowed me to perform a quick turn. I can't even count how many times I fell in the lake practicing this move. Once I had it down, though, the race paddle board became much more maneuverable.
I've been practicing my racing every other day and hope to enter my first race this summer. It's going to be a whole new challenge trying to compete while a bunch of competitors churn up the water with their paddles!
The pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives in so many ways. Most of these changes have been negative but we humans are an adaptable beast.
I'm certain that many of the strategies that we deployed to combat the challenges of loneliness and boredom that the Covid lockdowns caused will carry forward in a post pandemic world. When my health club sent out an email letting me know that I could come back in again, I didn't hesitate to call them and let them know that I wouldn't need my gym membership any more.
Now, I have embraced working from home because I know that it has given me the flexibility to head out to the lake before work or during lunch. I'm either practicing for the summer SUP race circuit, doing calisthenics on the board or catching fish. Why would I want to turn my back on the sport that kept me sane during one of the greatest global calamities of all time?