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The Island Runaways go...Stand Up Paddleboarding

I have a confession to make, when it comes to a tropical runaways, whether in the gorgeous Caribbean islands or the Greek isles: sometimes my favorite activity is just to lounge on a towel on the beach. In other words, do nothing. Yes, Zickie, our daughter, and I have a great time snorkeling over a tropical reef, kayaking, and exploring the water by boat, but there is simply nothing as relaxing or rewarding as…lying in the sand and gazing at blue, blue ocean.

That being said, after the holidays, even I feel the need to get in some, ahem, exercise. But that doesn't mean the exercise in question has to feel like a punishment. Let’s say you’re vacationing in the Bahamas, or Key Biscayne. What can you do that incorporates the beauty of your surroundings with some rewarding physical movement? How about SUP?

Island Runaways

(Island Runaways' Laura paddling off Virginia Key in Florida)

SUP stands for Stand Up Paddleboarding, a watersport that has quickly spread across the world. Maybe you’ve already tried it? If not, let me give you a little background. There is some debate about which island culture developed the paddleboard, but we know that in 1778 Captain Cook encountered Hawaiians surfing on long boards; sometimes they used paddles as well, in order to steer.

Throughout the 20th century, various people, from Israel to Hawaii, have incorporated the paddle along with their surfing experience. Yet it’s only within the last decade or so that SUP has taken off as an internationally popular phenomenon. Why is that? For one thing, it’s much easier than surfing. And unlike surfing, SUP can be done on flat ocean, rivers, or lakes -- you don't need to go in search of waves!

Caribbean blog

(Paddleboards with lessons, Photo Robert Neff, from Flickr)

Zickie, our daughter, and I have all tried SUP a few times and found it incredibly fun. (And while you’re having a great time, you’ll also be getting a good “core” workout.) Although some paddlers like a more challenging experience, we’ve preferred a calm, protected bay like the one off Virginia Key in Miami. Particularly when paddling for the first time with a child, calm waters and low or almost no wind is key.

Whether you’re in the Caribbean islands or the Florida Keys, it pays to rent from experienced SUP experts, who can give you important pointers for your first foray out. Generally, they’ll suggest you start on your knees. This helps you get your balance, and SUP is all about maintaining balance. To do so, you’ll be using muscles in your legs, stomach, and arms. After you feel comfortable paddling on your knees, you can slowly try to stand up. Try to stay loose and flexible, rather than tensing up. Don’t worry if you fall. Lots of people do at first! (Just try to avoid smacking into your board as you hit the water.)

Caribbean getaway

(Paddleboard lesson, Photo by Karma Surf Retreat, from Flickr)

The paddling part itself is not difficult. You switch from side to side, like in a kayak, although obviously, you hold the paddle differently. One hand goes on the paddle’s “neck” and the other propels the handle. Don’t lock your knees; bend them just a little. That helps you adjust your balance more easily.

Some safety tips: In terms of safety, if you’re going to be paddling in water over your head, the U.S. Coast Guard requires you to wear a life jacket. (Zickie and I always insist our daughter wears one, no matter how shallow the water. Just for peace of mind.) Also, in terms of safety, we always ask about the wind and water conditions. For example, the other day in Key Largo, there were some pretty brisk winds wipping up on Florida Bay, so we chose to kayak rather than SUP. Keep in mind that when you’re standing up on a long board, your body essentially acts as a sail. This means strong winds can potentially push you where you don’t want to go. If you run into this situation, sit down on your board and paddle it like a canoe. You’ll make a lot more progress.

When the wind and water conditions are right, however, SUP can be amazing. Once you get the hang of it, you'll be zipping along the ocean, savoring the azure skies overhead and peering into the depths of the sea for discoveries. Particularly when the sea water is clear, like it is in places off certain beaches in Martinique or St. Vincent, you can literally see all the way to the bottom. This vantage point, from 5 to 6 feet aboard the ocean's surface gives you a wonderful view of tropical fish, conchs, and shells . This activity can be so much fun that you literally don’t realize that you’re exercising.

SUP Caribbean

(Paddleboarding, Photo by Swell Surf Camp, from Flickr)

Have you tried SUP? If so, did you love it? Zickie and I would love to know what you think.

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