Zen and the Art of Stand Up Paddling
Stand Up Paddling (SUP), isn't a new sport – although you may have never heard of it. Designed back in the '60s by Hawaiian Surf instructors, stand up paddlers use long surfboards, wider and more stable than the average surfboard, paired with large canoe-size paddles twisted to one side to keep balance.
SUP has seen a big resurgence in the last few years, making Lake Arenal the first location in Costa Rica to host the relaxing sport.
Walking on Water
At 8 a.m. the water in the northeast inlet of the Lake Arenal was as smooth as glass. Waves pulsed against the shore in shallows spells. I sat down on the board with my knees spread wide against the soft, foam pad. Using the long wooden paddle, I pushed off the bank toward deeper water.
The group's guide, Jose, explained that standing up is easy. Standing with your shoulders square to the board, your feet planted wide, close to the sides to help keep balance. Following his advice, I put my hands down on the board and moved from my knees to the balls of my feet until I was fully upright.
Next, we practiced maneuvering around the inlet. To move forward, you run the paddle slowly against either side of the board; to turn paddle away from the board. And that's it. After ten minutes, we set off across the lake moving together in a large group as a boat trailed behind us carrying our gear.
Toward the middle of the lake the wind picked up. We had to pull a little harder and learn to work with the breeze and the small waves. I quickly learned to paddle against the wind to keep myself going straight; in rhythm with the waves. On the other side of the lake we walked onto the shore for some pineapple and beer.
After that confidence boost, I got back on the board to try a tripod headstand. Surprisingly, I succeeded, or at least I did for a few seconds before falling into the water.
Getting in Touch with the Lake
My terrible posture caught the attention of another paddler, who was a yoga instructor. Taking me deeper into the lake, she demonstrated the proper way to do a tripod headstand on the water. With my hands spread wide on the board and the crown of my head pressed against the board, I pivoted my pelvis and brought my legs up finding comfort upside down – then tumbled back into the water.
SUP emanates tranquility; maybe it's the sound of water, or standing in the center of a lake. Either way, rolling with the motion of the lake while taking in clear views of Arenal Volcano, everything else is forgotten.