Driving through the desert and along the roads leading into a valley in the Sonoran Desert in central Arizona, we were surrounded by a carpet of desert dust and a garden of cacti and scrub bushes. Yet, after winding through the desert landscape, we pulled into a parking lot and wandered across a small sandy beach, where I stood toe-to-water with Saguaro Lake. A few men sat in lawn chairs on the shore, fishing poles in their hands. A couple kayakers paddled a bit farther from shore. Beyond that, a speedboat took laps nearly a half mile away, zipping in and out of my sight line as it raced to the far end of the lake, which was hidden beyond a bend in the body of water.
Two people—a man and a woman—steering stand-up paddleboards banked their boards and greeted us on the sand. After a short round of introductions and a refresher course on how to handle one of these self-propelled watercraft (you may remember that I learned how to use a stand-up paddleboard on Lake Tahoe in Nevada and then had to complete a stand-up paddleboarding task during the Urban Adventure Games) I chose a board, pushed off from the shore, stood up confidently (it’s the only way to do it if you’re not going to fall!) and began making my way out into this desert oasis.
When our guide found out that I’d done this before, he asked if I thought it was easier this time, to which I promptly responded no. And that’s the truth. Though the sport makes more intuitive sense the longer you do it—balancing weight, moving the body, navigating disturbances in the water—it is a challenging physical activity, and I’m always impressed by the muscle power required to stay upright and steer. I always have that feel-good core ache the next day.
Close to the shore, I found it easy to paddle as the water was smooth and the air was still. We paddled 100 yards out—maybe 200—past a set of buoys. The waves created by the speed boat, still whizzing back and forth across the water, worked up ripples beneath my board. I put more arm strength into each pull of my paddle as we moved further into the lake’s heart, where the churning surge of everything moving on the surface created the most challenging water terrain we’d paddled across to that point. Mid-water, we stopped for a few minutes, talking about the area, proper SUP technique and unique scenario—floating in water, surrounded by desert.
Stand-up paddleboarding on Saguaro Lake. The irony is apparent, and yet paddling across the water—in spite of the rippling surface—seemed fluid, natural and not at all like an oxymoron.
Disclosure: My experience with Southwest Stand Up Paddle was comped, but all opinions are my own. Many thanks to my host for the picture published in this post.