Honolulu Lite Extra!
COURTESY SARAH MEMMINGER
Stand-up paddling coach Ray Sanborn watches as columnist Charles Memminger demonstrates a graceful dismount from a stand-up paddle board at the Kaneohe Yacht Club boat basin.
Learn to stand-up paddle with the grace of a drunken gecko
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Over the years, I've ridden longboards, short boards, boogie boards, wave skis, canoes, kayaks and just about every other type of floaty object available. But the strangest feeling was my recent attempt at stand-up paddling a massive surfboard.
The newest and increasingly popular water sport of stand-up paddling is about as close as you'll come to walking on water. Standing square-footed on a board the size of an airplane wing, you push yourself along with a one-bladed paddle. Although the board is long, it's still tipsy, and I managed to amuse onlookers with a variety of spectacular, uh, dismounts. But after only a half-hour of professional training, I was as calm and comfortable stand-up paddling as a gecko on a popsicle stick in a flushing toilet.
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It seems an unnatural thing, just sort of standing practically on the surface of the water, gliding along like on one of those long moving walkways they have in some airports.
But that's what stand-up paddle boarding feels like, the closest you'll get to actually walking on water. That is, after you've gotten the hang of standing on a tippy surfboard the size of a B-52 wing. When it comes to learning new things, I'm kind of like an idiot savant, without the savant part. So the first few times I tried to stand-up paddle, even on the glass-smooth waters of the Kaneohe Yacht Club boat basin, I found myself entertaining onlookers with less-than-graceful "dismounts." But in just a few minutes I got the hang of it and was scooting around the basin with all the confidence and coordination of a drunken gecko on a floating popsicle stick.
COURTESY SARAH MEMMINGER
He got himself nice and soaked, but Charles Memminger did eventually get the hang of things.
Like bicycles, stand-up paddle boards are more stable when moving. So the trick is to get up a little momentum, then cruise along as smoothly as the Queen Mary. And these boards are almost as big as the Queen Mary. They have to be. Especially when the passenger is my size, something over (mumble-mumble) pounds.
A friend of mine, Ray Sanborn, president of one of Hawaii's largest child-care organizations, Kamaaina Kids, decided that running more than 20 schools statewide wasn't enough work. So he and waterman Victor Lozano, who owns the ocean tour business Dolphin Excursions, started Stand Up Paddle Board Hawaii to introduce people to the hottest new water sport in Hawaii.
"The purpose was to develop fitness classes based on the paddle boards," Sanborn said.
Ray knows that since becoming old and decrepit, I limit my water play to sit-down wave-ski surfing, but he insisted I try this stand-up paddling thing. It actually isn't new, but hails back to the early Waikiki beachboy days when people like Duke Kahanamoku stood up on long, wooded boards and propelled themselves along with a one-bladed oar.
The boards today are lightweight resin that sell for $1,200 to $1,800, with the high-tech paddles going for around $350. Many people actually catch waves on the stand-up paddle boards.
COURTESY SARAH MEMMINGER
Ray Sanborn, left, and Victor Lozano founded Stand Up Paddle Board Hawaii to teach people the fun and health benefits of Hawaii's fast-growing water sport.
But it's the fact that you don't have to surf to enjoy the fun and exercise of stand-up paddling that makes the sport more universal.
"Anyone can do it, from little girls to grannies," said Clark Kormier, manager of Wet Feet Hawaii, an Aina Haina surf shop that specializes in stand-up paddle boards. "Most people who are doing it have never surfed in their life and are more into it for the health aspects."
You can rent a board from Wet Feet to try out before you buy. Or, you can head out to Surf & Sea in Haleiwa on Thursday, when four paddle-board manufacturers will be offering free demos on the beach. Or you can take regular paddle fitness classes with organizations like Sanborn and Lozano's. (Call the Kaneohe Yacht Club, 247-4121, for details.)
As I made my way unsteadily around the boat basin on my glorified airplane wing, I tried to imagine what it would be like paddling across the treacherous Molokai Channel, as Victor did recently with his buddy, legendary lifeguard Brian Keaulana, and a group of hearty souls with excellent balance in an all-stand-up paddle-board race. As I took another impromptu dip in the drink, it was clear I wasn't ready for the Molokai Channel just yet. And where are the little girls and grannies when you need them?
Buy Charles Memminger's hilarious new book, "Hey, Waiter, There's An Umbrella In My Drink!" at island book stores or online
at any book retailer. E-mail him at email@example.com