The paddle boards were lined up on the shore, picturesque and bright white in the morning sunlight. My toes curled in the cool sand, which had yet to heat, though I was told that it was never exceptionally warm on the banks of Lake Tahoe. Because it was already September, the season’s hottest temperatures were long past.
Long and imposing, the stand-up paddle boards might have looked like surfboards or even snowboards, but I had no way of knowing. With fins sticking out of the back, they might even have resembled sharks, but the life jackets set on each board were a worthy reassurance that I would stay on top and not beneath when I finally worked up the guts to push mine away from the shore. I snapped on a red jacket and tightened the straps around my chest.
I dipped a toe into the water.
Stand up paddle boarding (or SUP) has become an increasingly popular sport, our instructor explained before launching into the basics. Stand with two feet in the middle of the board. Got it. Stroke through the water evenly. Yep. Use the core muscles to help stand and steer. Okay.
A difficult task? Possibly, but I opted to leave my shorts and tank top on, confident in my ability to stand upright on the paddle board as I headed out toward the middle of the lake. I stepped into the water; the light waves licked at my ankles. The board was awkward, unwieldy, a bit larger than I thought I might be able to handle, almost like a kayak without a place to sit. Placing my knees parallel in the middle of the board, I pushed my heels down and stood upright, the paddle in my hand.
For a moment, my body wavered as the waves played with the new weight on the board. I held fast, focusing my attention just beyond the end of the paddle board. I tightened my abs, held my shoulders back and pushed the paddle through the water with confident ease.
First a few inches separated me from the shore, and then a few feet, and then I was free floating. Just me, my paddle and my paddle board.
The shore from which I’d pushed off was tucked into a small cove, protected by a few large rocks from the heart of Lake Tahoe. Inside the cove, the waves were more like ripples, adding an artistic shimmer to my view. I believed I could stand on the board, and so I did, but the farther out I paddled, the more aware I became of how far I was from the shore … and how far I would have to swim, float or paddle in wet clothes to get back if I doubted my abilities to stand even momentarily.
I paddled on. The rocks came closer, and then I began maneuvering my way around them into the wide open mouth of the lake. The ripples became waves, and occasionally one crested over the edge of my paddle board. My toes tickled with the cold but I kept my body tight, pushing through the waves. Around me, the mountainous landscape dotted with trees rose up from the lake, itself a brilliant blue color against the white board.
The paddle board moved with the waves. I shifted my feet slightly to compensate for the movement, but continued to plunge my paddle in, pulling myself through the water. I tightened my stance and turned through the waves, heading back toward the rocks and the gentle cove with its gentle ripples washing up on the shore. Once I passed the rocks, I dug in, seeing how fast I could go, how adroitly I could turn, how smoothly I could paddle.
And then I began my journey back to shore, just me, my paddle and my paddle board. My ankles were damp from my step off the board into the water and onto the sand, but other than that, I had survived my first SUP experience without a spill into the lake.
Stepping onto the shore, I snapped the life jacket off and was surprised to discover I’d worked up a small sweat. My shoulders felt awkwardly warm in the sun yet chilly from the breeze coming off of Lake Tahoe. I pulled the glistening board out of the water and dragged it ashore, dropping my life jacket on top. Once again, the board lay in the sand, lined up with the others, waiting for someone else to push it out into the deep blue waters of Lake Tahoe.
If you go: Tahoe City Kayak offers kayak and stand up paddle board tours, rentals and lessons. Details can be found at the company website.
My SUP experience on Lake Tahoe was provided by the Nevada Commission on Tourism but all opinions are my own. Second photo taken by Judy Bayliff.