For the first three seconds that I’m standing on a paddle board in the middle of a lake, I’m sure I’m going to end up in the water. My right foot loses traction. Balance is no longer with me. Then for a fraction of a second before I’m in the drink, I sweep my slipping foot from underneath myself and drop to one knee. Miraculously, I stay on the board, pop back up and paddle on.
“This is the easy part,” says my instructor, Tom Losee. After my 90-minute stand-up paddle-boarding lesson on Western Lake in North Florida’s Santa Rosa Beach, my shoulders and legs are sore, but the true excitement from gliding over the water’s surface hinders the hurt. Losee, the co-founder of YOLO Board (yoloboard.com) and my instructor for the entire weekend, warns me about my next lesson, which will be in the Gulf of Mexico. “We all end up wet our first time paddling in the surf,” he says. “But don’t worry; this is a sport where it’s fun to fall.”
During my drive up the coast, I was most worried I wouldn’t be able to keep my balance on what’s essentially a long surfboard. on the smooth lake water, I was comfortable after five minutes—and I took pride in my balancing better after the near fall. But soon I realize Losee is right. The worst that can happen is I take a dive into the warm Gulf water—not bad for a Saturday afternoon.
“You may not realize it,” Losee continues, “but you’re [also] getting a workout.” If there’s such a thing as a paddle-boarding evangelist, it’s Losee. He started YOLO with partner Jeff Archer in 2006, partly to merge work with recreation and a “You Only Live Once” philosophy, and it so happens that the acronym made a catchy business name.
The next day, the Gulf is as calm as I’ve ever seen it, nearly as smooth as the lake, but the tide still throws me from the board several times. I’m soaked but finding my sea legs. Looking down into the transparent green water, I see a stingray below me, then a baby shark, and finally a school of cobia swimming by. Paddling back to shore a half-hour later, I jump into the water one more time to refresh myself.
When the lesson comes to an end, I had managed to stay on my feet for 30 solid minutes. Not bad for someone with the balance of a toddler. Find more paddle boarding fun in Key West (supkeywest.com) and Orlando (paddleboardorlando.com). Now you can download a user-friendly smart phone app and stay connected to the world of stand-up paddling, click here to learn more.
Find a spot for your towel in our Ultimate Florida Beach Guide »