6 Life Lessons Stand Up Paddleboarding Has Taught Me

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1.) Keep moving forward, never look back

The primary goal of paddling is to advance forward. Looking back can slow one down and throw them off balance, especially when paddling in wavy waters. Replaying some of life’s tragic moments over and over while concocting alternatives on how it could have been avoided or remedied will only consume us with guilt and regret, a recipe for stagnation especially when working towards a goal. Learn from mistakes, but do not let them define you. Don’t get off track in achieving your aspirations, keep moving forward. Paddle on!

2.) Failure is key to success

When I first started paddling, it was difficult for me to learn more advanced strokes and pivotal maneuvers because I was too scared to fall off the board. On the other hand, my brother was never scared of trying a variety of paddling and board movements. He fell a lot but learned faster than I did. In a short amount of time, he was able to gain control over his board – its  speed, movement, and direction. In our society, failure is often frowned upon, its value undermined. One has to realize that failure is not always a bad thing if you consider it as a learning experience rather than an obstacle, only then could it be the perfect ingredient for innovation and change. Consider the new businesses and organizations that surfaced as a result of startup failures. Don’t be afraid to fall. Learn to fall gracefully and jump back on your board and do it again, this time adjusting your technique and comfort level. Remember if you’ve never failed, you’ve never lived.

3.) Be efficient

Cadence in SUP usually refers to the paddler’s number of strokes per minute while torque refers to the amount of force exerted by the paddler when planting the paddle on the water. Higher cadence allow paddlers to accelerate faster on the water but it also tires them pretty quickly. Higher amount of torque, on the other hand, provides maximum drag, focusing in covering more distance rather than speed. Like higher cadence, increasing torque can also lead to premature fatigue. Mastering the technique of combining just a right amount of cadence and torque allows paddlers to be more efficient, paddling faster and covering more distance with the least amount of energy. Life is one long distance paddle, we need to learn how to pace ourselves, enjoy the calmness of flat water to have enough energy to sustain the lashes of strong waves. We can’t be too intense all the time, giving it our all without any good outcome – at work, in relationships, and life in general. To keep us moving in the right direction over the long-haul, we need to save and invest our energy towards the person, things, and activities deserving of our time and effort.

4.) Be assertive, don’t be a pushover – paddle with power against power

I am more comfortable paddling in flat water and am not used to wavy conditions. The first time I paddled in the ocean with relentless, washing machine-like waves, I (along with my board) flipped several times. My SUP instructor imparted me a good advice – he told me that when paddling against waves, remember to paddle with power against power. It’s the only way to keep the board stable. I consider myself a peaceful, non-aggressive person so this tip I thought would not fly for me outside of SUP. I realized however that paddling with power does not mean to be aggressive, but rather to be assertive. Aggression arises from impulse while assertiveness arises from need. Aggression exhibits panic while assertion demonstrates control. If we voluntarily accept beating from others’ negative words and actions, we will be doormats and at some point, going to explode with anger and resentment, consuming our very being and juicing out the tidbit of positivity left within us. We have to assert ourselves to preserve self-respect and demand respect from others. We have to accept that in life, we cannot take the beating of the waves all the time – it will strip the life out of us. At the same time, we can’t always paddle with power otherwise we will consume so much energy long before we reach the finish line. Only paddle with power in wavy situations and relax when paddling in flat, calm waters. We have to choose our battles wisely, go with the flow in calm waters and paddle with power in wavy conditions.

5.) Know yourself

There are different types of SUP board which are shaped uniquely to reach maximum performance for a specific SUP style or activity – race, tour, surf, yoga, hybrid (all-around) and recreational. One has to know the SUP style that they enjoy the most to get the greatest benefit of owning a board that matches their choice. Raceboards are narrower and longer than regular recreational SUP boards and glide faster on flat water. Although raceboards can be used recreationally, they are not as stable as recreational and yoga boards and may not be the best board for beginners and those who just want to paddle for fun. Surf SUP boards, on the other hand, work well on wavy open waters but is not an ideal choice for gaining momentum and speed. Hybrid boards are also available for those who would like to use their boards for multiple SUP activities but they do not necessarily ensure maximum performance as compared to specialized boards. Using a raceboard to SUP surf is possible but is mostly done by more advanced paddlers. More likely than not however, falling off your board and getting swallowed by bigger and stronger waves is inevitable when using raceboard to SUP surf.

In contrast, in life, one has to discover who they are – their style, values, wants, and needs to be able to wisely discern life choices critical for success, if not survival. If you prefer living a relaxed life, your decisions and actions must reflect such lifestyle, choosing an environment free of stress and surrounding yourself with positive people. Acting counterintuitively to your values and aspirations will only lead to repeated failure and unsatisfaction. Make sure to align your actions and goals with your values. Failure is not necessarily a bad thing, but repeated failure resulting from committing the same mistakes over and over is foolishness — one has to identify what they are doing wrong and adjust accordingly. Choose a board that fits your style and you should be on your way cruisin’ towards reaching your maximum potential.

6.) Balance varies day to day, learn to embrace the off days

Balance and good body coordination are key elements in all types of SUP styles/activities. There are some days though, when our balance is off. Instead of being upset, learn to accept that there will be days and certain conditions that will tick off our ability to remain stable. No matter how skilled we are at what we do or how disciplined we are, there will be times when “shit” happens – things beyond our control – that will throw us off balance. The sooner we accept this fact, the faster we will be able to cope with spikes in the ebb and flow of life. TC mark

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