Define “Being a Paddler”: The 100/100 on “Where They Stack Up”

Julia Nicholls And Another Thing with Julie Nicholls, Columns Leave a Comment

Paddlers Defined

The 100/100 “Who?”

The 100/100 Paddle Challenge Facebook group, now three years old, is almost 800 members strong. We are a community, a family, of paddlers completing (note I did not say “COMPETING IN”) 100 day paddle challenges. Sometimes it’s 100 miles, sometimes 100 hours, or 100 paddles; it gives us all a common achievable goal and changes every 100 days. We are not a business; we don’t market or advertise, fund raise or push our own personal agendas. We are Paddlers. Of all crafts, with a variety of shapes, sizes, goals and abilities. We are “just” paddlers. We might be fast, we might be slow, or somewhere in between. We share our craft, locations, efforts, voyages, success and failures with pictures and math and words. We are real. We’re not glossed up or air brushed; I repeat we are real deal paddlers.

What “Exactly” is a Paddler?

I started a thread on the 100/100 group page about bench marks and comparisons and whether or how we personally “stack up” to other paddlers. I also asked myself, does it matter? Do I need to race to be a paddler (I like to race)? Do I need to be a podium placer to be a paddler (who doesn’t want to be on the podium)? Do I need to have a “quiver” of boards or boats (Which I do)? Or can I own just a nice flat floater behemoth that I move around like a barge as I drink an adult beverage and watch the sunset (it sounds so sweet)?

Paddlers Defined

For Me

Personally, there are “experiences” that are important/defining to me as a paddler. I know that if my focus of the day is a goal oriented training paddle (heart rate intervals, distance, or technique) vs. a run, a bike, or some other activity; I’m morphing into a paddler first, other sport athlete second. I am proud of my sometimes over the top OCD commitment to train when I paddle with not one, but two gps devices and have my heart rate monitor strapped on and rolling. I know that I have practiced buoy turns when I lean over to pick up my board (after paddling) to load up, and water runs out my nose; it indicates buoy turn practice=falling in=progress in skills. I know that I want to be able to load, unload and setup or tear down whatever I own; in particular my OC1. I’ve got a tall car, means OC1 loading is a workout in itself for this girl. But it is important that I can handle it myself, just like changing a tire on a bike, I consider myself a “real” paddler if I don’t have to rely on someone else to get me on the water. I don’t want to be a “sissy girl” paddler. I’m proud of the realization that my “jelly legs” (think first excursions onto the ocean) are more of a mental thing than a physical thing and I can talk myself down with self-talk “relax Jul, just feel the water, trust your board, keep your paddle in the water, enjoy the movement and the motion and roll with it”. I know I have “appreciated” racing when I come in DFL (Dead Freaking Last) at least once. It means I won by not quitting. Several on the 100/100 feel that DFL is something we should all experience. It’s humbling, it can be fun, AND, you often get the biggest cheers at the finish.

How the “Rest of the Pack” Defines Being a Paddler

From Janet: “I was fortunate to retire four years ago; learning to paddle energized my soul and renewed my spirit. It allowed me to live in the moment and appreciate every second of the beauty and wonder of the wildlife we are surrounded with. My paddle buddies love racing, but I have been slow to engage. For me, I guess training shifts my attention to something other than wonder. I paddle year round in all conditions. I paddle hard because it feels good to stretch out my muscles or because it’s the only way I’m going to get home safely in the chop and headwind.”

Paddlers Defined

From Mark: “I started surfing alone and taking in the serenity of the beach, sun and nature in general. Then I got a sup raceboard and became addicted with training and beating other paddlers. I had a lot of podium places but over time I didn’t care much about it. It transformed my health habits, my body, and strength but I was left with a void over the years. Now I stay in shape by running, biking, no gym, no situps or anything I don’t really want to do. I find new creative ways to stay in shape, be healthy, happy and mainly have fun and enjoy the time on the water. ….. I have been last on my first prone race but I felt super accomplished to finish the race. Overall the paddle community is full of diverse and stoked paddlers who just love the water and are awesome people in general. Don’t forget to have fun.”

From Monty: “I was a whitewater paddler who had to quit because of hip issues. Can’t sit in a boat with hip paddling. So I was sad. I found stand up to be perfect for me to rehab my hips and getting back in the water. Love sunrise paddles. I do a few races for challenge and a bit of adventure but after years of triathlons, running events and lots of cycling races, I am done with being competitive and driving myself to enjoy health, fitness and wellbeing.”

Paddlers Defined

From Andrea: “I love going to SUP and OC races and seeing paddling friends I haven’t seen all year and talking story with them. I love how after the race regardless of how anyone placed; we all can kick back, drink a few beers, and enjoy each other’s company. It’s the paddling community that makes me want to paddle more and keep the stoke going.”

From John: “I have come in last; face planted on buoy turns and have dealt with pain mentally on longer paddles. For me, you’re a paddler if you bring the positive vibe, stoke and camaraderie to the water AND you’re not an a**hole to others and our environment.”

From Joe: “Twenty months ago, I was running trails, doing an occasional 50k and looking to go longer. Then my feet stopped cooperating and my neurologist told me I was a runner no more. So fourteen months ago, I bought a board. It didn’t take too many paddles before I realized it was still going to be about distance and endurance. Seeing what I could coax out of my body when it was willing and finding out if there was another mile or two to be had. There’s something in the process that I find enjoyable.

Billy Hamilton’s words come to mind “to become energy of the wave, that’s the main idea. You take when the water gives, and you give when the water takes. It’s a constant interplay of bold confrontation and mellow respect.” Still learning when it pays to be mellow or bold, whether on the water or land. There are also days when in the midst of deep mileage, the mind goes to a pretty dark place “There be dragons here” dark. I slay the dragon, some days the dragon devours me and some days we mutually decide to leave the slaying and devouring for another day. And that’s a truce I can live with.”

Paddlers Defined

From Heather: “I know I’m a paddler because I don’t feel like myself if I don’t get on the water several times a week. Running just doesn’t cut it anymore. I primarily paddle for the spiritual connection it gives me and for my mental health. I love the races because of hanging out with awesome paddle people and pushing myself in different conditions but am not super competitive. I don’t follow a specific training plan and my only device is the free tracking App I use. I’ve improved my speed, endurance and skill on different water mainly because I love being on the water so much and have gotten good tips from my paddling friends and clinics.”

Paddlers Defined

From Gail: “I paddle because I can!! I grew up surfing. In 2005 I had a life altering accident. Fx 10 vertebrae and 6 ribs along with tearing major back muscles and ligaments. Got into paddling after years of Pilates and got the racing bug! Now my race goals are simple. Not to puke, fall in or come in last, and to improve my time. Still hoping to be sponsored by Depends or Geritol so I can enter more races.”

From Lynn: “The day I knew I wanted to keep racing was my first race. I got 2nd out of 3 racers, on a 10’6 beater we bought off a rental fleet in CHAS. What hooked me most were the PEOPLE at the after party/awards ceremony! When I went up, everyone cheered and chanted, “First race! First race!” You don’t hear that much, when you’re 50+ years in age! The encouraging, uplifting spirit of the paddling community is unsurpassed. 
Also, I LOVE practicing buoy turns! Starting to establish mental “landmarks” on my board for feet placement on turns, and more attached to my board every day! Love STANDING ON WATER!”

From John: “I am a paddler who enters races. I race only against myself. The race bug bit me hard and it started to ruin paddling for me worrying about racing too much and not just paddling. For me falling is a part of it, it is a water sport so why be afraid of getting wet!?! I love the connection with nature, the solitude on days where my soul needs it most, and the huge Ohana when it doesn’t. I left my house yesterday at 6AM to go to a race I wasn’t entered to see the people of this group, give them a hug, shake their hand and wish them well.”

There are so many other personal “definitions” of “Being a Paddler”. I think it comes down to what a friend shared with me that at times “Comparison is the Thief of Joy”. If YOU say you’re a paddler, then YOU ARE a PADDLER. Doesn’t matter how you stack up to others. You decide. Only you.

Paddlers Defined

Go paddle. Enjoy. Have fun. Share with others.