In 2000, my oldest daughter, Izabella, was closing in on five years old - just old enough to bring her in the water and get her acquainted with surfing. To teach her, I started riding these tandem boards with her. They were 12 feet long, big enough to accommodate two people. We'd have our lesson, and then I would stay in the water goofing around on them. In surfing, you ride the wave, lie back down and paddle out waiting for the next big wave. On these bigger boards, I would ride the wave and then stand there as the wind blew me back to shore. The ride didn't have to end.
Standing up gave me this completely different perspective of the water. After surfing for 32 years, I know the ocean well but, let's face it, there comes a lull in the waves. Don't get me wrong, the opportunity to ride Hawaii's JAWS and Tahiti's Teahupo'o were unparalleled experiences, but I have always had this desire, this drive to keep life interesting, to change things up, to take risks. Stand up paddle boarding (SUP) gave me this new, refreshing way to enjoy – and approach – the water.
Paddle boarding is like walking on water. Standing atop a board in the middle of the ocean, you see everything from sea life to the coastline and across the channel. Having that sweeping expanse in front of you, you just want to go exploring. I found myself tackling new maneuvers, exploring different bodies of water and learning tricks in both big and small surf that I had never done in all my years surfing. Paddle boarding offered this different kind of freedom.
As I started doing it exclusively, I noticed my body getting stronger. Like swimming, paddle boarding is an all-body workout. It strengthens your core and stabilization system, requiring your connective tissue to generate power through your hands and out your feet.
But more than just the physical rewards, paddle boarding restores your balance and calms your spirit. My friend, Maria Baum, is living proof. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and took to the paddle board to help her cope until her eventual recovery. It was her calm amidst the storm. The simple act of standing up on that board, one of my boards, in fact, changed her life.
More information: Laird will be joining Maria this week in in New York's Sag Harbor as The Breast Cancer Research Foundation's Paddle for Pink raises money for breast cancer research. Paddlers can still register for the event.