One foot into the chilly water of Fernan Lake was the motivation I needed: I would not be falling off that paddleboard. And I didn’t, which says more about the peaceful waters and the calm teaching of Kym Murdoch than my own poor technique. “You’re doing fine,” said Murdoch, the owner of Coeur d’Alene Paddleboard Company, who discovered the sport five years ago in Hawaii. She liked it so much, she was teaching the sport three months later. “I just fell in love with it,” Murdoch said. “It’s super easy, it offers serenity, and you’re getting a great workout and you don’t even know it.” She’s not the only one.
According to a report last year by the Outdoor Foundation, standup paddleboarding, or SUP, was the most popular outdoor activity for first-time participants, winning over 56 percent of the newbies among sports. Sales in 2012 totaled $15.6 million, or 22 percent of total surfboard sales, according to the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association.
A good starter paddleboard costs about $1,000.
A combination of surfing and kayaking, SUP has become a fixture anywhere there’s a body of water.
Not surprisingly, Coeur d’Alene has embraced the sport. Several businesses, including Murdoch’s, offer individual and group lessons.
One lesson takes the serenity of paddleboarding to a new level: group yoga on the water. That sounds great, being one with the board and all, but I was willing to settle for just keeping my feet dry.
On a recent afternoon, I followed Murdoch’s truck past Sanders Beach – “too choppy,” she said – to peaceful Fernan Lake, where fishermen’s conversations could be heard from 50 yards away.
The only ripples in the water were left by a passing otter as it swam to a nearby dock.
We placed the boards – Murdoch’s high-performance board and my not-so-high-performance model – in the water, and it was time for me to perform. As instructed, I waded into knee-high water, then put those same wet knees on the board.
After a few moments, Murdoch told me it was time to stand up. My mind wandered nine months ago to a paddleboard outing on Waikiki, where waves pounded my intermediate-level board and sent me falling – I am not making this up – at least 20 times, until I finally gave up and downed a few mai tais to forget the whole experience.
“The hardest part is learning to relax,” Murdoch said. “Everybody tends to tense up, and that makes the board tense up, too.”
I certainly could feel the tension – when is that yoga class again? – as I faced the moment of truth.
Paddle in hand, I slowly rose, spread my feet shoulder-width and … nothing happened.
In other words, I didn’t fall. As Murdoch extolled the virtues of her sport, I paddled with increasing confidence from one side of the inlet to the other.
Getting up is one thing – staying there is another, so I ignored my itchy nose and plowed ahead. “Be one with the board,” I told myself.
“And look straight ahead,” Murdoch reminded me.
At the end of 45 minutes, I half-wished for a tougher challenge, but was grateful to stay warm.
And eager to go back.