Stand-Up Paddleboarding

text and photos by Jessica Stammen

“I looked up and there she was, like Botecelli’s Venus rising out of primordial mists.  I fell in love; and I think I’d have followed her anywhere.”  So said Drew towards the end of our six mile swim adventure. His Venus was Kea Tessyman, a member of our support team who led the way through cover of early morning seasmoke on her stand-up paddleboard, the sun’s first rays gleaming off her tan legs, a beacon before us.  Truly, Drew swam by her side the whole way.

Unlike Botecelli’s ghostly pale icon Kea was confident and powerful.  She had a commanding view of our watery field, and while we thrashed away using the aptly named crawl she went gliding across the surface on two feet.  The elegance of the stand-up paddleboard (SUP) was enviable. What’s that Kea?  You’ll be running a demo-workshop in a couple weeks?  I’m so there!

I swim because I love the water and paddleboarding would simply allow for another way to appreciate the lakes, rivers and coastline around me.  Of course, if it gave a guy reason to compare me to Botecelli’s beauty I wouldn’t mind that either.  In this I was not alone.  After Kea’s demo I joined fellow six mile swimmers Kathy and Shannon for an afternoon-long SUP excursion on Megunticook Lake.

Kea met us at the boat launch with a zinc-white nose, Roxy suit and red-rimmed sunglasses secured in place with twine.  It was 90 degrees, dead noon, and although we couldn’t wait to get out on the water Kea was first and foremost professional.  There was a waiver form to be signed, lifejackets to be fitted, and safety protocol to be explained.  Kea, who comes to SUP through surfing and now works and rents boards through Thorfinn Expeditions takes her job as instructor and guide seriously.  SUP originated in Hawaii in the 60’s as a professional tool for surf instructors.  Standing on the board and using a paddle to maneuver provided the optimal view of their students and surroundings.  It elevated their perspective – and perspective is what SUP is all about.

Kathy, Shannon and I got underway after practicing simple and precise movements that anyone of a moderate fitness level could master quickly – from legs dangling in the water, to kneeling, to the pop-hop of standing on the board.  Kea is a born entertainer.  Just the night before she starred in a dance performance and channeled the various energies of Michael Jackson, Pandora, Bollywood and hip hop.  And as an entertainer she communicates and teaches effectively through doing.  Her dream is to launch Kinetic Energy Alive, a business incorporating all types of movement and physical activity from dance to SUP, snowboarding to massage, combining them with nutrition and dietary consultation to provide an integrative approach to health and wholeness for individuals and communities.  Watching her demonstrate the different paddle maneuvers at the beginning of our lake excursion I thought to myself, She’s going to do it; she’s going to succeed in what she puts her mind to.  Her focus, though fully directed outward towards us, her SUP students, was fully determined on the inside.  Her eyes were intense, the energy of each pull through the water extended fully from her earlobes strait through her core with a bend of the knees and out her toes.  Nothing was wasted.  It was as if she could see how her immediate action fit into her larger life’s movement.  Later in the day she actually spoke to this, how SUP is both an activity and a philosophy for her.

Surely SUP is total body; but it’s also extreme core.  As we paddled I looked around at my surroundings and thought of the core of nature surrounding me – glacier-formed lakes and mountains, clean and clear water, an expansive sky framed by gnarly and beautiful evergreens.  Nature’s uncompromising beauty and wisdom can inspire punk kids like Kea and introverted nerds like me to a mature humility and enthusiastic gratitude for having grown up where we did.  Kea graduated just a couple years after me from the same local high school.  Come to think of it Shannon was a fellow alumna as well, though I’m not sure if she was punk or nerd.  Both of us went away and came back.  Kathy was from away and just came.  None of us knew each other then, but here we were now engaging in each other’s lives – crazy swims, dance shows, future business plans and more – through this love of place.  During a break on a beach we pow-wowed about our vocations and avocations.

Perspective continued to be granted through a stand-up position when a bald eagle flew low and directly over-head.  The afternoon was lengthening but the sun was still high and brilliant and hot.  We had been paddling for nearly four miles and Kea had just run us through a battery of interval and core strengthening drills followed by some modified yoga and pilate movements on board.  We were simultaneously exhausted and elated from the balancing act that engaged muscles and concentration we never knew we had.  The heat gave us a good excuse for an occasional tumble off the board for relief.  Shannon and Kathy were in the water when the eagle flew over.  It seemed low enough to touch!  As it passed a plume of glorious white puffed away from the bird and caught the breeze floating back over us and up, up, up into the air.  I knelt down on my board.  We just stared, necks craned up, mouths agape.  It reminded me of the scene in American Beauty with the plastic bag dancing in the wind: That’s the day I realized there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid ever…. Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it…and my heart is going to cave in. We think walking on water is a miracle, but sometimes it’s the simple things that are most profound – the simple activity of board on water, an afternoon out of life, a quick shift in knowing someone I thought I already knew, a simple reflection.

Paddling back to the boat launch across open water I followed the dancing slivers of long white paddles and red and yellow life jackets stretching across the surface between me and my friends ahead.  Reflections begot reflection and suddenly my perspective shifted and floated weightless like the eagle’s plume.  I fell in love with a revelation of beauty and benevolence, purpose and determination I had not known before.  And it’s this – this love – that I’d follow anywhere.

For more information on SUP in the Midcoast and Thorfinn Expeditions call 207.322.2293 or visit www.thorfinnexpeditions.com.