What’s up with SUP?

Kneeling on the stand-up paddle boarding
Just like babies have to crawl before they can walk, you have to kneel before you can stand on a SUP.

For the last several years during my beach vacation I’ve been seeing people standing on surf boards with big paddles.

Curious but too timid to tackle this sport on my own, I finally got a taste of stand-up paddle boarding (or SUP as it’s commonly known) this week during a work retreat at Chickamauga Lake in Chattanooga, Tenn.

As I suspected, balance plays a part in your enjoyment of this sport.

I was able to get upright my first time, and managed to stay up for about 90 seconds before wiping out and losing my sunglasses – a small price to pay for a new experience and laughter by onlookers.

Standing unsteadily on a stand-up paddle board
I’ve often been accused of being unbalanced. Here’s photographic evidence.

At 6-foot-four, I was also somewhat of sail, being “blown about by the wind and tossed,” to quote Scripture. My colleagues took to it a little bit easier, but I won’t let my physique be an excuse.

After a couple of days of SUP, I did a little research and found out stand-up paddle boarding is taking the New South by storm.

Like all forms of surfing, the sport has its origins as a form of transportation among the islands of the Pacific. It made a resurgence in Hawaii in the 1960s before surfers exported it to California where it experienced something of a renaissance in the mid-1990s.

Now it’s migrating to the East Coast where you can see stand-up paddle boarders in rivers, lakes and the ocean from Florida to Maine. The Yolo board company calls Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., just outside of Destin, its home. That just so happens to be where my family vacations. No wonder we’ve been seeing stand-up paddle boarders!

Proficient at stand-up paddle boarding
After only one day, I’m a pro.

My colleague and talented photo blogger Patricia Heys tried paddle boarding during a recent vacation to Venice Beach, Calif. Patricia has a symbiotic relationship with the sun and enjoys water sports, so naturally she took to the sport with addictive fervor. When she returned to Atlanta, she found a used paddle board online and equipped her family’s lake house with the newfangled watercraft.

“I just like to be on the water,” she said. “It’s calming… and it’s a good workout, particularly for your core.”

And the more you fall, the more cardio is involved. It seems every time I took a plunge, I fell backwards, sending the board shooting off 20 or 30 yards away. The paddle doesn’t float, so swimming one-armed to the board was enough to burn a few hundred calories in about 15 minutes.

Sweet victory
The thrill of victory…

And everything I observed and read is that women are better at it than men.

I need more practice to master this sport, but never having surfed, I think this is a realistic alternative for me. And it doesn’t require waves or even saltwater. Perfect for the backyard pond or lake, I can see stand-up paddle boarding taking hold in the New South in a big way.

There are only a few more weeks of summer, so if you’re going to try it, better hurry.

Paddle on, friends.

Have you tried stand-up paddle boarding? What was your experience? Leave a comment below and share your story.

Method to my madness

Today marks the 52nd weekly post of New South Essays, and it’s high time I let you in on a little secret: I started this blog a year ago to capture your attention, entice you to engage with my writing and whet your appetite for my book.

chapter 1
I'm five and a half years into my first book. Hopefully the others will take less time.

This journey began in 2006. Two years after completing an MBA, I was in need of a new intellectual pursuit, a challenge that provided a creative outlet. I needed a mental exercise that matched the physical exercise of my foolhardy marathon hobby. So I returned to my first love – writing.

My day job in public relations had progressed to the stage in which I spent more time managing budgets than crafting sentences. My need for written expression was going unmet. During our family vacation to Santa Rosa Beach in July 2006, I wrote a chapter a day on the novel I had been kicking around in my head for a few years.

For the next four years I got up early each Saturday and wrote a chapter. My only reader was Carla, who found the book captivating enough to anticipate the next week’s installment with her Saturday morning coffee. A loving but unhesitating editor, she offered instant feedback, telling me when a character was inconsistent, a plot line implausible or dialogue hollow.

By the time I finished the first draft, while on vacation in Santa Rosa Beach exactly four years later, I had generated 146,912 words in 76 chapters. Disjointed and choppy, amateurish and unwieldy, the as-yet-unnamed project was a long way from being finished. I put it aside for six months, dreading the hard work of paring it down to a more reasonable length and a more comprehensible story.

The Saturday after the 2011 blizzard had kept all of Atlanta homebound for a week, I met a friend’s dad for coffee. He is a published author, and I had arranged to talk with him ostensibly about what was involved in the publishing process. Sam gave me all that and more. I came away from our conversation with a renewed commitment to seeing the task through, and picked back up on the rewrite.

I’m now 54 chapters into the first rewrite, splitting my early morning writing time between editing and writing New South Essays. I’ve loved the weekly discipline of writing the blog, and your response and feedback has only encouraged me to continue. For an old newspaper hack like myself, a weekly column is a familiar medium and the consistency of it appeals to my regimented and disciplined side.

My free-spirited side is fed by working on the book. If I’m honest, I’d have to guess that I’m still a year or more away from having a polished manuscript to show prospective agents and publishers. An editor friend and former roommate has the first five chapters, working to help me improve it, one installment at a time.

Macon post card
Before you can leave Macon, you have to go there first.

What I’d describe as contemporary Southern fiction, the book is tentatively titled “Leaving Macon,” and it chronicles the life of a young junior leaguer who in one tumultuous year discovers her husband is unfaithful, her three-year-old is unruly, her acquired wealth is unfulfilling and her identity unsettled. Through a series of new relationships, including her son’s redneck Tae Kwon Do instructor and an African-American woman restaurateur, she uncovers her true self and finds courage to move forward with her dreams.

Thank you for coming along with me and giving me courage to move forward with my dreams. There’s plenty more to discover and report on in the New South, and I welcome your ideas and participation. Who knows where this will lead.

Some beach, somewhere

Southerners don’t just go to the beach anymore. They go to a particular beach.

Carla's toes at Santa Rosa Beach
Carla's view from her beach chair at Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. This year the seaweed washing ashore has affected the visual beauty, but the beach is still the beach.

These beaches aren’t just the popular ones: Panama City Beach, Daytona Beach, Myrtle Beach, Virginia Beach, Hilton Head. In the New South, it is fashionable to go to a boutique beach with its own charming small-town feel.

There are still thousands of people who flock to the popular beaches each year. Clearly the Destins and Panama Citys and Daytonas are still popular, but the trend I’ve noticed over the last few years is how specific everyone is now about where they stay. It has almost turned into a competition to see who can come up with the most obscure beach. I’m beginning to think half of these beaches don’t really exist.

My friend, John, pointed out this trend back at the beginning of the summer when he asked when and where we were taking our family vacation.

Santa Rosa Beach. It’s between Destin and Panama City.”

“Oh, yeah,” he replied. “Everybody goes to one of those beaches these days. No one says
they’re going to Destin anymore.”

In the weeks that have passed since that conversation, I’ve given this some thought. I believe he’s right. Maybe it’s pretentiousness, maybe it’s pride in finding something we think is relatively undiscovered or maybe it’s rationalization for spending so much money on vacation, but it seems some of us need to go to a smaller beach so we can feel special.

We discovered our boutique beach about 10 years ago. Friends told us about the beautiful beaches in Florida’s panhandle. My wife went online, did some investigating and, voila, we rented a condo in paradise. I knew a little about the beaches of South Walton County from interning back-to-back summers in the early ’90s at The Destin Log. Not as crowded as Destin and Panama City, these beaches, such as Seaside, used principles of new urbanism to guide their development.

30A logo
Doesn't this make you want to go to these special beaches?

So each July we make a trek from Atlanta to Scenic Florida Highway 30A. If you see the little “30A” bumper circle, that’s what they’re hinting at: bragging about their little boutique beach. Another common way to show off your beach is the “SoWal” square, which stands for “South Walton” as in “the beaches of South Walton County.”

Those of you who have discovered these communities of Rosemary Beach, Seagrove, Seaside, Alys Beach, Watercolor, Grayton Beach and Blue Mountain Beach (still haven’t found the mountain) etc., already know the flavor and appeal of a boutique beach.

I have to resist my own snootiness when it comes to my beach vacation. The fact is, there are only so many things you can do at the beach, and people do the same things at the beach no matter which beach it is. Sure, the sand may be a different color and texture or the water may be colder or wavier, but the beach is still the beach.

Maybe I’ll adopt the practice of my children. When asked where they are going on vacation, they say simply “the beach.” Isn’t that all that really matters?