It was October 2015 and I was on vacation in Puerto Rico, where I first stood up on a paddleboard. Heading into the heart of San Juan I glanced over from my taxi window towards the ocean and saw people out on the water on what I thought were surfboards, but they had paddles with them. Of course, I googled it and found a local paddleboard expert that had his own touring spot just a few miles from the hotel. I said, “I’m up for a challenge, why not try it? Looks easy enough.” A few days later, it was time to test this out. So, after five minutes of instruction, I started paddling on my knees out into a small flat water lagoon full of fish. I summoned up some courage and took the steps to bring myself to stand. “Lay the paddle across the board, right foot up, then left foot and rise from your knees.” Easy, right? Heh. I slowly got into position and off I went without really much of a wobble or two off balance. I was immediately hooked. Paddling and gliding along the water made me feel so free, so alive! No noise, no turbulence. Just peace.
After I returned from vacation, I talked a lot about my SUP experience to friends, family, my coworkers, to anyone who would listen. I knew that owning my own board would be in my future, I just didn’t know when. Four months later, my long-term year marriage came to an abrupt end and I was wrecked from my heart to my toes. I threw myself into talk therapy, which helped me a ton, but I needed something more to heal the broken pieces of my soul. Summer was upon me and remembered my first paddleboard trip. I found a recreational SUP board from a sporting goods store about 40 miles from my house. I loaded the board on top of the new soft car rack I bought just a week before. Feelings of sheer panic and a white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel followed me for three hours as I transported everything home, driving back roads traveling at speeds of around 30 mph, hoping the rack would hold and the board wouldn’t fly off and hit a car behind me.
Life Changing: Overcoming Grief and Falling in Love with SUP
The following weekend I took my fabulous new purchase out on a lake near my house. “Too late to turn back now,” I thought. I was going to do this. I was determined to heal. And I did. I paddled around different locations and got to know spots along the water to where I felt I could relax, feel my pain and joy, have a picnic, listen to music or just my heartbeat, see the leaves change and find myself again. Being out on the board in nature was so paramount in my healing journey. I cried rivers of tears into the lake. I released my anger with each paddle stroke against the wind. What I didn’t realize until later was that my heart was filling back up with love. I spent three summers as a single woman out on the water on my board. I was alone, but I wasn’t lonely. Paddleboarding comforted me in dark moments and helped saved my life. I learned to fall without fear and how to balance a new life ahead of me. My physical health improved by strengthening my core and lowering my blood pressure. My emotions are in better shape. SUP continues to be a lifeline when I’m in need of some clarity.
I paddled through the Hanalei River while on holiday in Kaua’i in 2017. Soon after my return, a fellow amateur athlete and co-worker told me about a late spring event nearby called the Sprint & Splash Race. I looked it up online and thought, “No way. I’ve run road races before but they have SUP races, too? I’m in!” I signed up for the 2-Mile SUP competition, paddled and huffed across the finish line and, to my utmost surprise, won 1st place in the event! A year later, I did the same race but in horrible weather conditions (3 foot swells and 50 mph winds) and received another 1st place finish! Yup, I’m officially a badass. (lol) Later that summer, I was gifted a GoPro camera for my birthday. I asked fellow paddleboarders on social media about how to get the best shots while out on the water. After lots of trials and hundreds of awkward-looking photos later, I think I’ve got a system down. It’s been a so much fun capturing share-worthy shots at different angles and using lots of accessories.
My health has always been super important to me, so I’m doing my best to take care of myself with yoga, a balanced diet, and low-impact cardio. I want to paddle in more races as long as my body will allow me. I’m currently studying about invasive species through the Michigan State Extension Program in hopes to further protect our waters. Next year, I am hoping to use the lessons I’ve learned to get nationally certified to teach others and share in the joy SUP brings for physical and mental health. Stay tuned!
Gotta question about SUP? Anything. Ask me!
(Written July 2020)
– Becky Ashcraft