“Hey, do you wanna SUP next week?” Lex called. My brain scrambled to give meaning to this Canadian slang, the most logical one being, – did I want to dine next week? However, in Canada hanging out more often than not means pitting your wits against Mother Nature in some wild outdoor activity rather than relax in a warm Bistro. If you are an uncoordinated individual, it doesn’t help that Canada is mostly cold wilderness. Oh sure, there is the promise of hot coffee and donuts later but first, you must survive the cold wilderness.
Lex sent some photos of a bunch of smiling, happy people doing what looked like Yoga on a surfboard on calm waters holding a single oar. “It is a typically Vancouverite thing to do,” she said. Stand-Up Paddling or SUP was born as an offshoot of surfing in Hawaii. It is a more sedate version meant for gentle waves. SUP is particularly popular in Vancouver with its calm waters and sunny days. In theory it works. You stand up on a surfboard from the shore and paddle out into the water.
Sunday dawned exceptionally overcast with a drizzle and wind. We texted back and forth for 2 hours on the wisdom of undertaking this aquatic adventure on a day most people would gladly stay away from water. No amount of bad weather however could daunt my fearless friends, so I took the bus to Deep Cove. Deep Cove is a pretty little bay on the easternmost edge of North Vancouver, popular for kayaking, hiking, canoeing and a bunch of other cavemen activities. By the time Lex, Mariné, Claire and I got onto our paddle boards the rain was pouring down. I bent to leash my leg to the surfboard and smacked Mariné on her head with my paddle. A whippersnapper of an instructor sighed, untangled my foot and re-leashed it. He advised us to start out slowly on our knees in the now choppy waters. ‘Stand up only once you are further out into the inlet,” he cautioned. He then proceeded to strap a GPS device onto Lex’s board, you know, if we got lost out in the water! With every passing moment, this seemed to be a mightier adventure than I had signed up for.
Our knees balanced on our boards, we paddled out into the Burrard Inlet. As the cold rain dripped down my neck, an icy wave washed over my knees but the paddleboard and surprisingly I, remained steady. As we approached the open waters I saw Lex, Claire and Mariné way ahead, already standing up. With rising confidence, I steadied my paddle, slowly raised my knees off the board and fell into the freezing waters. The human brain is an amazing thing! While the body kicked about on auto pilot trying to stay afloat, my brain pictured a page from Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel – Persepolis. Marjane describes how her grandmother used to dunk her breasts into bowls of ice water with rose petals every morning to keep them firm. With new found respect for Satrapi’s grandmother, the feminist movement and its bra-burning brigade, I kicked furiously trying to keep my head above water. My chest felt like 2 icicles, nay icebergs, dragging me down. The board still attached to my leg floated upside down while my paddle started sailing away by itself.
I tried to call Mariné who was closest. “Maa..rr…!”, I belched like a beached whale as a wave washed into my mouth. I spat out the remains of the ocean and tried again. “Marineeeeee…,” Mariné looked back startled and called Lex and Claire who were further up ahead. As the three ladies came to the rescue, I lunged for my paddle that had floated away. Claire and Mariné steadied the board from either end and Lex secured my paddle once she stopped laughing hysterically. I flipped the board over, tried to pull myself up and slid right back into the water. ‘Swing your leg onto the board;’ Lex instructed. Easier said than done, my leg was not just under the icy water but also under several kilos of me. With a mighty heave I kicked my left leg above the water and swung it onto the board. The paddle-board tipped smack into my face. Claire, who is trained in marine rescue instructed me to try to climb back slowly and not flop onto the board like a dead fish. Silently, thanking my parents for the childhood yoga classes, I managed to stretch one leg across the board and claw myself up inch by inch praying I wouldn’t kick and tip over the 3 girls trying to help. The whole incident took less than 5 minutes, however to paraphrase Einstein, the length of a minute depends on which side of the surfboard you are on. Burping out water at regular intervals, frozen and grinning like a fool, for the remainder of the Stand-Up Paddling I stayed firmly seated, my core lodged in my gut, glued to the board on my butt, slowly taking in the breath-taking Canadian scenery.
Meanwhile Lex, Mariné & Claire set up gorilla tripods, took out phones from dry sacks, took photos, navigated the waters and practically cartwheeled on their paddle boards while staying balanced. British Columbia is gorgeous but even more so when meandering around a bay framed by panoramic views of ice-capped mountains, lush green woods and clouds. We saw seals, jellyfish, sea gulls, the iconic Canadian Loons and the most gorgeous coloured rocks and shells. SUP is a particularly pretty way of exploring a place, from the middle of the water, as life passes by on the shores. After paddling around for almost 2 hours we reached back to the shore and I dunked as much of my body as I could under the bathroom hand dryer. No trip to Deep Cove is complete without a pitstop at Honey’s Donuts & Goodies whose donuts are so famous that Kate Winslet ‘pines’ for them! Anyone can SUP in the sunshine, I thought, as I gobbled up my donut. I think it merits a few real Vancouverite points to SUP in the pouring rain after being dunked into an icy ocean and still have a blast!
- Jericho Beach.
- Kitsilano Beach.
- Lighthouse Park.
- English Bay
- False Creek. (Not recommended for beginners)
- Deep Cove.
Cost: Renting a Paddle board can cost anywhere between $50 for 2 hrs to $85 a day. Look for discounts and special deals. The Deep Cove Kayak Center has a Ladies Special on Thursdays starting at $35.