Ebb and Flow

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When we moved up to Newport a few years ago Jim and I expanded our watersport activities when we bought some stand up paddleboards. We learned to surf our boards and on flat days we enjoy the water with a nice long paddle. Paddling is our recreational and leisurely activity.

 

 

Last Sunday I changed that by entering the Providence Paddle Battle. I opted for the 3-mile course along the scenic Providence skyline. There was a 9-mile course but I learned a lot from my first half marathon and decided to ease into paddle racing.

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Race day was a beautiful day in Providence. Before we started the wind was low and the temperature was cool. The start was delayed because the course needed to be set and Mother Nature decided to change the conditions. We did a paddle out and return. The way out was perfect, and easy, a little too easy.

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We paid the price on the return to the finish. The light wind turned into a constant head wind and it was low tide so we were going against the current. Not exactly ideal conditions.

 

What I discovered in running, a marathon and a half-marathon are two different beasts. I found out last Sunday a paddle race is a completely new species. After the race I discovered muscles that have never been documented in Gray’s Anatomy.

 

Paddling requires every body part. At the end of the race when I was exhausted I was ready to stop and walk but there is not walking and resting when you are paddling, especially when mother nature is pushing you away from the finish.

 

As I neared the finish and my body was spent, I had to find something to keep me going forward. My distance running instincts kicked in and I relied on sheer will power to get me to the finish. At some point I adopted a mantra and used it with each stroke. “Fuck you, fuck you.” Don’t ask me why I picked those words, but when the brain takes over because the body wants to quit you don’t argue with the one thing that motivates you to finish what you start.

 

I got smoked by most of the other racers. When you run your shoes don’t give you a major advantage or disadvantage. However, when you paddle your vessel is a major factor in how swiftly you cut through the water. I was on a board designed for surf and most everyone else was on a board designed for speed.

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It was discouraging seeing everyone’s backs but somehow I managed to keep the race in perspective. At the end of the day I say it was a success. I finished my first SUP race and even got second place in my division (there was a surfboard division.) I’m not convinced SUP racing is my thing but it was a great experience.

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See you in the water!

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Pre-Race Jitters

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It’s been almost a year since I participated in a race. It’s been so long I’ve forgotten a lot of the things that go into race preparation. I’ve even forgotten about about the pre-race jitters.

 

Over the years my pre-race anxiety has subsided considerably. I figured out what to wear to a race, what to bring to a race, how to pre-hydrate, what time to show, how to hydrate during the race, and when to go to the bathroom before the gun signaled the start of the race. Tomorrow I’m doing my first Stand Up Paddle (SUP) race.

 

A race on water is much different from one on land. To begin, it takes a lot longer to paddle a mile than it does to run a mile. So that means my 3 mile race will take about as long as it does to run a 10k.

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Some of the logistics concern me. What if I have to make an emergency number 2 stop during the race. I really doubt there will be floating port o johns along the course.

 

Then there is the matter of water stops. I imagine volunteers swimming around in the water handing out cups. I doubt it

 

And hydration during the race? Will there be volunteers swimming around in the water handing out cups of water? I really doubt it.

 

How do you dress for a SUP race? Will it be to hot for a rash guard? Will I burn if I wear just a swimsuit?

 

So many questions. I guess I’ll just pack more than I need and stick with nutrition and hydration that I know works for a distance run. Aside from that, I’ll just be flexible and see how things go.

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Water hiking

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Unlike many other sports, surfing requires the right conditions. There are days when you might be geared up for riding some waves, but first Mother Nature has to bring the waves. This makes surfing both frustrating and magical.

 

We’ve been on a lull here in Rhode Island. The forecast predicted waves, but nature forgot to bring them. So when the waves don’t come thank goodness for paddleboards.

 

The weather has been amazing and we are finally to the point where we don’t have to wear a wetsuit in the water. Those days don’t last long in RI, so we have to take full advantage. On the calm days when the water is clear, we go exploring the waters looking for fish, starfish, jellyfish, crabs, and other sea creatures. It’s the water version of hiking and listening to birds and trying to find a squirrel.

How’s your spiritual health?

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Let’s go to the gym and get our sweat on.

 

The cool thing about working out is tangible results. If you have a goal to trim your waist, you will notice a difference when you slide into that pair of skinny jeans. If you have a goal to run faster, the time on the clock will show faster mile splits.  If you have a goal to lift more weight, when you place five more pounds on the bar and lift, you’ve done it.

 

Physical fitness is just one of the part of being a healthy person. It is also the easiest to measure.

 

When we start talking about the more fuzzy things like spiritual fitness most of us have no idea where to start. There isn’t a gym membership for spiritual health. It is also something that you can’t easily quantify. How do you measure if you spiritual health? How do you define if you have more meaning and purpose in your life?

 

Some people think of church and religion when they hear the word spirituality. For me spirituality is something that falls outside of the scope of church and religion. I’ve never been much of a churchgoer and I’ve never followed any religion, however I’ve studied several of the world’s religions. Now I try to incorporate aspects of different religions into my life.

 

In many ways I still don’t know how to “work out” to get stronger with my spiritual fitness. But I do understand what things make me feel more spiritual and connected to the world and the people around me.

 

Running, surfing, and yoga.

 

These do much more than just help me strengthen my cardio and get toned. When I run, surf, or do yoga I feel more connected to the world around me. In a pose, riding a wave, and finding my stride I have moments where I focus so intently on what I am doing, the rest of the world dissolves.

 

Those meditative moments of being rooted in the present are few and far between. But in those moments where I am in the flow, the world is perfect. In those moments I reach a state of peace and perfection. I also strengthen more than my body, I strengthen my heart, my mind, and my soul.

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Patience

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Jim is part of the seaweed analysis program with Clean Ocean Access.  Every Saturday he and a group of people head down to the beach to see how much seaweed is on the beach.  They are interested in finding out if there is something we are doing to make the seaweed grow and end up on the beach.

 

Since my injury most Saturdays I stay at home with my foot propped up on a pillow. I sit and watch television, do some reading, grade stuff, or write.  Today was beautiful.  The thermometer read over 50° so I went to the beach with Jim. Why not enjoy the ocean view while reading my book and listening to music?

 

For a while I watched the surfers.  Something occurred to me as I watched them, something I know but I had forgotten. A lot of time out in the water is spent sitting and waiting patiently. Sometimes it is waiting for your turn. Sometimes waiting for the next set. Sometimes waiting for your arms to recover so you can try paddling again.

 

Not only is there a lot of waiting, there is trial and error. There are times when you paddle and miss the wave. When you do you have to go back out and try again.

 

The sport takes a lot of patience.

 

I’ve spent months out of the water. But sitting today and watching was a great reminder. Right now I am just between sets.

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When is it time?

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Good news I am back to running. Yoga is pain free. Walking stairs and hiking on rocks doesn’t really hurt me like it did a few weeks ago.

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Bad news, I still haven’t gotten back in the water and I don’t know why I am so apprehensive about surfing.

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It’s winter in Rhode Island and winter surfing is tough. The wetsuit is so thick that you can barely lift your arms to paddle out. Just donning the suit is a workout in itself. Once you manage to get geared up and in the water, during the paddle out your arms feel heavy. Heavy from the workout and heavy from the extra material you have to wear just to stay warm. After you are safely past where the waves break and you’ve rested, it is easy to settle into the surfing.

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But wait, the challenge is far from over. The extra gear can make a wipe out more daunting than during a nice summer day. And after the surf session you have the next major challenge of getting out of your gear. The workout resumes as you wrestle off gloves and booties. Even if you drive home wearing your wetsuit, you still have to free the proper appendages so you can drive.

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Aside from the logistics of winter surfing I think my biggest apprehension is re-hurting my knee. I surf regular, which means my right foot is my back foot. You steer your board with your back foot, which puts strain on your knee. Unfortunately I hurt my right knee.  How I surf I makes me more likely to exacerbate my injury.

 

I’ve been considering changing my stance to goofy so my right foot will be the front foot. However, changing your stance is akin to starting from scratch. Winter is not the best season to start over again.

 

Part of me thinks my logic for staying on dry land is reasonable and logical. But part of me wonders if I am just rationalizing reasons to not go because I am afraid. (And I admit I am mostly afraid of the really cold weather.)

 

Maya Gabeira is a big wave surfer who had a major wipe out in Portugal, which almost killed her. The other day I saw a video clip of her surfing again. Seeing that clip made me wonder what on earth is wrong with me and why I haven’t gone back out. Surfing almost killed her and she is back in the water, what is my excuse a bum knee? Yes it was great inspiration to get back out there, but she was wearing a swimsuit and surfing in warm water.

 

You know what, there is no shame in taking some time away from the water. Spring will be here before we know it. The conditions should be much more conducive to surfing. Now if I am making the same excuses when it’s warmer…….well we will know I am just rationalizing.

 

How do you know when it is time to start up again after an injury?

For Love of the Ocean

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I tend to believe things happen for a reason. One day I caught an interview with David Gessner the author of “My Green Manifesto”. Gessner suggested an alternative approach to environmentalism. His premise is people will do more to protect the environment if they care about it. To get people to care about the environment people have to spend time outside in nature.

Surfers fit nicely into Gessner’s hypothesis. They spend a lot of time in nature. The ocean is their playground and they are more likely to fight to protect it. When people mess with surf spots, surfers mobilize to protect them. Trestles and Ruggles are great examples of this.

While the surfing community puts up a good fight for the ocean, the reality is there are not many surfers in the world. With a population of over 7 billion people, it is estimated only one third of one percent (0.3%) are surfers. Even though nearly 80% of the people in the world live within 60 miles of the coastline, few join the surfing ranks. Surfing tends to be an insular community; family or friends who surf introduce most new people to the sport.

The challenge is getting more people to use the ocean as their playground. What better way than to share the stoke.

After listening to Gessner’s words, I skipped drafting my manifesto and jumped to action. My goal: take kids who don’t usually get a chance to go surfing out for a day in the waves. My hope: the kids would fall in love with our local beach and want to preserve it.

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While surfing would be the main draw of an event like this, I wanted it to be more. My hope was to create a sense of responsibility in keeping the ocean clean. In order to make that happen I worked with Save the Bay and Clean Ocean Access, groups dedicated to preserving our coastline and beaches, and Island Surf and Sport. Together we created a day centered on learning about marine life, keeping the beaches clean, and surfing for kids from the Boys and Girls Club.

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At the Save the Bay Exploration Center the kids from the Boys and Girls Club were allowed to touch and handle several species of animals found in our local waters. While the kids acted squeamish about touching the spider crab, horseshoe crab, sea anemone, dogfish, and skate their curiosity outweighed their apprehension and they eagerly took the opportunity to find out what these animals felt like.

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After learning about the animals in the water, it was time for a beach clean up. Clean Ocean Access transformed their traditional clean up into a scavenger hunt. The hunt targeted items that are commonly found on our beaches such as cigarette butts, pieces of plastic, and plastic bags, which can harm ocean birds and animals. Turning the clean up into a competitive scavenger hunt appealed to the kids, they took pride in trying to outdo each other on what they could find. At the end the kids boasted they found a baby diaper and a potato chip bag.

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The reward for a clean beach is surfing. Island Surf and Sport donated boards and wetsuits. After a quick surf introduction on the beach, we donned our wetsuits and headed into the water. The waves were friendly and generous. The kids took to right to surfing. Their stoke was evident by the smiles that never left their faces. Each of them rode waves on their knees, bellies, and feet. After each wipe out, they quickly hopped on the board and paddled right back for another wave.

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The day was a success. We learned about the water, cleaned the beach, and got stoked.

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A lot of surfers complain about the ever-growing line up and competition for waves. Some people don’t want to welcome new surfers into the fold. But we need new people to love the ocean and to fight for it. Surfing is a great way to start the love affair.

Gessner’s manifesto is pretty simple: go outside. Our surf event followed that guidance, we took some kids outside, and our hope is they develop a passion for the ocean.