Today I experienced something that I haven’t experienced in a while, fear. My wife made a reservation at a local boathouse to go paddleboarding and kayak this morning. I am the one who chooses the paddleboard due to an excellent experience I had in Honolulu a few years ago.
All week, I have been waiting for this, I was excited, and I was ready to get on that paddleboard and own it. My previous experience with it was in a very manicured and very calm laguna next to the ocean in Waikiki. Since the water was tranquil and not too deep, I felt comfortable on the paddleboard from the very moment I got on it. That was my experience, my only one.
This morning we wake up, eat breakfast, drink some coffee and water, and head to the boathouse to get our equipment and onto the water. This boathouse is located in a bay in Bellevue, WA. Its name is Meydenbauer Bay Park, and it’s the home of a beautiful beach, boat docks, a beautiful picnic area, and of course, the boathouse.
After signing up the usual release forms where you promise not to sue anyone if you die there, we walked directly to the beach to get on the paddleboard and kayaks. The first question I got from the staff at the beach is, “have you ever been on a paddleboard?” and of course, my answer is an energetic, yes! and then he recommends to stay on my knees until I can pass a bridge, and then after that, I can stand up and go on my way.
Just a minute or two later, I pass that bridge, but since I feel comfortable on my knees, I decided to stay like that until I get out of the beach area. I don’t want to scare away swimmers with my paddle-boarding skills now, do I?… or perhaps this is when I start to feel nervous, it’s evident to me now that this isn’t going to be like my Hawaii experience.
We are in a bay, not a lagoon. Boats are coming in and out, passing by, swimmers, kayakers, other paddle-boarders, ducks and their ducklings, and even one or two seaplanes nearby. This is different, it’s alive, and everything moves. I decide to stay on my knees on the paddleboard a little longer. My two sons are nearby in the kayak; they are having a good time. My wife is a bit far from me on a “pedal” board, it’s like a paddleboard, but with pedals and handlebars, she looks nervous, but she’s also enjoying it.
After over 30 minutes of using the paddleboard while on my knees, I end up near the moorage surrounded by boats of all sizes; the water is quiet, a lot calmer than around the beach where I started. But, my mind wonders, telling me to stop being a baby and get up and paddle. After all, this is a “stand up” paddleboard; the idea is to use it while standing.
Several minutes go by, and then I try to “park” the paddleboard near a dock. My idea is to hold on to the dock while I try to stand up and then just take it from there. As soon as I try that, the paddleboard moves from under me, and I almost fell. Fear increases, and I am ready to give up. My mind wanders a bit more, and then I imagine trying to get up near the dock but falling and hitting my head in it, then drowning and dying in a very freakish way.
The water is calm around the docks, all the boats here are mooring, it feels like the appropriate place for me to try to stand up on the board. So I move away from the dock. I don’t want to hit myself with it if I fell. I then realize that my wallet and phone are in my pocket. If I fell on the water, I think I’ll be fine since I am wearing a life jacket, but my phone and wallet will probably go to the bottom, and I’ll lose both forever.
I start to convince myself that this is a bad idea. And at the same time, I want to get up and try it, then show my wife and kids how awesome I am. I take my sandals off, thinking that it is more natural to be standing without them as if I will have a better grasp with my toes and get a better balance. I move my left knee up, placing my left foot on the board as if I am proposing to someone, I do the same with the other leg, and just like that, I am up!
After getting up, I feel happy for a second, but both of my legs start to shake vigorously, and while the water is calm, my legs are moving the board with all the shaking. I know it is fear and not a lack of balance. My first thought is to go back on my knees and just continue enjoying my paddleboard adventure that way. But I don’t do that. Instead, I try to use the paddle to see if moving the board forward will help. It does a bit. Then I concentrate on my breathing, trying to calm myself down, and it works.
After what felt like an eternity, probably 2-3 minutes with both of my legs shaking, it suddenly stops, the shaking is gone, and my body feels more attached to the board. I feel stable standing up on this paddleboard. I start paddling towards the beach area again, I see a boat coming my way, about 30 feet from me, and I know that soon, I’ll be feeling the ripples and wakes behind that boat. The first thought is to go back on my knees, but I don’t do that. Instead, I get closer to a moored large boat to my right, thinking that if I stay away enough from the passing boat ripples, I’ll be OK.
The boat passes, and the ripples and wakes get closer and closer. Finally, I am next to a still and huge boat, thinking that the water will be calm there. Once the ripples and wakes start to reach me, they are weak, and I manage to stay up and dry. And then a few seconds later, I feel a vigorous shake, it’s coming from my right side… it’s the ripple and wakes bouncing off the bigger boat, causing new and stronger waves and wakes right next to me. I try to move away faster, I manage to stay up, and all is fine.
A few minutes later, I am near the beach. My sons and my wife take pictures from the water, I get closer to show them how I am standing up, and while they don’t seem to be amused, I feel proud of myself. I know that this simple water outing today was tremendously helpful for me. The experience of fear and then overcoming that fear will have substantial positive ripples and wakes in my future.
So what is fear? I think it’s what happens to you right before you experience something new. It’s a profound learning experience, and hopefully, a positive one.
Have a great weekend and a safe 4th of July. Cheers!