I don’t know what compels a grown man, and one not so young as he thinks he is, to believe he can do what only young people should try. It can’t be an attempt to recapture the glory days of his youth, since this new challenge is a first to him in part, but mostly because he never really HAD any glory days, unless you can count those times when he was majoring in juvenile delinquency and, to the envy of all his pubescent friends, spent his days racing down the back roads of Alabama while under the influence of a variety of drugs, both of the legal and illegal variety (though in reality given his age at the time, EVERY drug was illegal unless administered under the supervision of an adult), while trying to impress his oh, so very young and delightfully naive girlfriend with the quality of his…assets. But such pathetic hometown heroics don’t stand the test of time, unless he’s managed to turn his adolescent talents into an actual job, like NASCAR racing or pornography, neither of which he had the talent or inclination to pursue, and so it can only be said his hasty yet somehow incomprehensibly stupid decision to take surfing lessons was born not of some idiotic impulse to relive his past, but rather from his growing concern about his waning masculinity and the downward trajectory of his flaccid and inadequate existence, otherwise known as a mid-life crisis.
Why it is that one man seeks to defy old age via the flatulent machismo of a Harley Davidson motorcycle, proud of his Born in Amurrica independence and individuality as he rides in a phalanx of identically-outfitted accountants and middle manager poseurs desperate to prove that they are REBELS, damn it, while others, like me, try to prove that they are still youthfully physical and active, I can’t say. What I CAN say is that it is a bad idea for both phenotypes.
I know this for myself because I have barely risen to my feet on a paddleboard about 100 yards from shore when I realize that human beings are not supposed to balance on top of floating foam in the ocean waves like some kind of phony Tahitian daydream, at least not humans of the Jonathan Haley variety, because no sooner have I risen on wobbly knees to something akin to an erect oarsman position, I fall gracelessly from my perch like a buckshot squirrel, cracking my ribs on the rail of the board before sliding ignominiously into the deep blue sea.
Now, people who know me know that I am a little clumsy, or perhaps even laughably uncoordinated, so they will wonder why I even bothered to try something like this. After all, I am a man who has sustained injuries in even the most innocuous activities. While “a walk on the beach” is almost a proverbial metaphor for something easy to do, I recently managed to cut my heel like some kind of Margaritaville drunk while strolling down Satellite Beach stone cold sober. Then there was the time I poked a hole in my hand with a Sawsall, requiring a trip to the infirmary. Twice. Or when I closed the car door on my own foot. And of course there was my famous home run in college, which ended in tragedy when I slid into home plate…on my face. I have the stitches to prove most of these accounts, but the point is, I’m no Jim Thorpe (and yes, merely by mentioning his name, I have shown my age). So why, oh why do I persist in trying? Because the alternatives really suck.
So there I am, floundering and glubbing in the water, while trying to act like my chest doesn’t feel like someone had taken a ballpeen hammer to it, when I hear my instructor yell, “Good job! You got up on it! Next time, plant your feet more forward and stay on your toes!” She says this from a safe distance, having wisely maneuvered her own board out of harm’s way once she realizes the level of balance and agility she’s dealing with, but I give her credit, since she manages to keep her game face on instead of cackling like a Hyena, which is what her friend, floating alongside, is doing, and is also watching me with the growing sense that this is better than an episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos.
I must say in my own defense that my “instruction”, such as it was, consisted of my surfer chick spending about 30 seconds explaining to me the basics of paddleboarding, which were:
a) flopping up on the board on your belly like a seal on ice
b) paddling with your hands, surfer style, and
c) standing up and paddling with the oar
Simple, right? Well, that was true, as far as it went…but it didn’t go near far enough, as is evidenced by her tardy admonitions to balance on my toes, which came too late to save my ribs, which still hurt 24 hours later, though only when I breath. When she handed the board over to me in the water after this brief intro, she must have seen the befuddled look in my eyes, because it was only then that she asked, as if she were throwing in something extra for my money, if I wanted to actually see her do it? Why, yes indeedy I do, if only to establish that you, little lady, know how to do it yourself, since you obviously can’t actually teach. But of course, she slips up on the board and stands in just a few short strokes, like she has been doing this her whole life, which she probably has, since she grew up near Cocoa Beach and has won some surfing awards, which is supposed to impress me, but I doubt her experience has ever included a delusional fat guy with the awkward agility of a pot-bellied pig, though I think she suspected that when she first met me, because she looked me up and down like an auctioneer appraising a draft horse before pronouncing, “Yep, you’re going to need the long board, all right.” Of course, “long boards” are for beginners and graceless lard asses, and I am both, so I shouldn’t be surprised by this, but I AM surprised at the size of the board, which measures 10’6”, which means that carrying it around is a little like tucking a canoe under your arm, but, in the event, I am VERY glad for this once out in the water, because it SHOULD be easier to balance on for a normal person.
But then, I’ve never been normal, and so it takes me no less than 6 attempts before I can even stand for a few seconds. Finally, after much pain and very little gain, I have summited the rocking beast, and am actually able to paddle around a little before my inevitably unintentional dismount, but I feel like I have made some progress after all, and I am crazy enough to actually do this again. Once I can breath normally.
If you want to paddleboard, and you have my age and balance, I would recommend not doing it. But if you insist, get as big a board as you possibly can…say, the size of a small raft, and maybe even a competent teacher, and then go out somewhere safe (like your swimming pool) to practice. Or better yet, buy yourself a Harley. I hear that hot tattooed women just LOVE them, and there’s not much room on a paddleboard for two, after all.