My toes are purple. I thought at first it was because my goosebump skin hadn’t yet warmed up to the cool waters of Lake Coeur d’Alene, but that’s not the case. The truth of the matter is: I’m scared. I’m petrified of falling in the water and not being able to drag myself back on top of this thing they call a stand-up paddleboard, eventually tiring myself out and, well ... drowning.
Sure, this sounds a bit irrational — I mean, there’s a life jacket at the end of my board — but the more disaster scenarios swirl around in my head, the tighter my toes cling to the board, purple, hanging on for dear life.
And I thought this was supposed to be relaxing …
This evening, I’m stand-up paddleboarding on the lake with Kym Murdoch, owner of Coeur d’Alene Paddle Board Company, and her group of about 15 other paddlers. The paddlers are the epitome of Coeur d’Alene — beachy, laid-back, triathlete-looking beauties in swimsuits, looking calm and collected. With bright white teeth and tanned faces, they exclaim, “You’re doing great!”
Which means I guess they can’t smell my terror. And me out here, in my white-and-red striped shirt, I look like a buoy.
Before we get into the water, the group tells me that stand-up paddleboarding originated in Hawaii. The sport uses gigantic carbon-fiber finned boards (similar to surf boards) between nine and 14 feet long. Paddlers stand, sit or kneel towards the tail end of the board and paddle with right- and left-handed strokes across the water.
This is all the tutorial I was given: Get your board in the water about shin-deep, lay the paddle down horizontally in front of you, climb onto the board and sit back on your knees, paddle out into deeper water, and then just stand up. And I did it.
But getting into a standing position wasn’t nearly as difficult as maintaining that standing position. While up in air, I seemed drunk, wobbly at the knees, and unable to maintain my center of gravity. The slightest shift in weight almost threw me off. So did trying to scratch a bug bite.
But I got used to it. The choppy water and waves coming from passing boaters were nerve-wracking, but they challenged me to paddle into the wave tip-first. I rolled over the curls with ease and for a while paddling was great. It was relaxing to be out on the water, so close to it, toes wet, slowly propelling myself across the deep blue.
My fellow paddlers and I were quiet as we explored the shoreline and coves of Lake Coeur d’Alene. One woman brought her black-and-white border collie, Haley, who laid down peacefully at the front of the board, while others rested cans of Bud Light between their feet.
And by 8 pm I didn’t have a care in the world. The gray-swirl sky was still speckled with sunlight and, despite my paranoia, I didn’t fall in. The fear of not being able to haul my wet ass back on top of the thing kept me and my purple toes safe.